2 Astonishing Digital Theater Archives

Are you a theater history geek? Are you writing a biography of a long-forgotten chorus boy? Do you want endless, joyous distraction from your day job? Try these:

playbillPlaybill Vault. Broadway bonanza! Every Playbill cover and internal pages, searchable by creative and performing artists, awards, theaters, and other criteria.

New York Public Library Billy Rose Theatre Division. If you’ve ever done any theater research in NYC, you’ve run into this vast collection, but might not have been allowed to look at the NYPL_logo1_black_posvideo or document you ached to see. Well, the videos are still tightly guarded (a personal note from Edward Albee might get you in), but now the division is making its massive collection of ephemera available to anyone with an Internet connection. 100,000 pieces are viewable so far, and that’s just the beginning.

Best of all, both of these resources are FREE!


Advice to Sellers of Theater Memorabilia

Any true blue New York theater fan knows the best and coolest place to buy keepsakes from the history of Broadway: At the annual Broadway Flea Market presented by and benefiting Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS. That fact is not up for debate, whether you want a $5 Playbill or a $5000 private tea with Angela Lansbury.

Still, a year is a long time to wait if you’re jonesing to purchase a signed window card or authenticated character shoes. And if you’re into Off-Broadway goodies or tour memorabilia, the BC/EFA shindig might not have what you’re after.

That’s where eBay can be just what you need. Now, I haven’t been a collector for long, and my budget tends more toward the $5 program than the celebrity tea. Yet already I’ve noticed certain issues afflicting some folks who sell theatrical mementos on eBay.

In brief, some sellers are completely clueless, having acquired things they know nothing about in estate sales or while cleaning out their uncle’s old house when he moves to a retirement community. These people end up offering gems for the price of patio stones. Do I take advantage? Heck, yeah! And those pangs of guilt I’ve felt while fleecing sellers, I hereby endeavor to alleviate with this post, which none of them will ever read.


1. Find out how rare your item is, and whether anybody cares that it’s rare. If someone is selling the same item for $9.99, you should probably not list yours for $149.99 unless yours is covered in dried spittle that DNA tests prove to be Ethel Merman’s. And if it has Merman’s spit on it, you’re cheating yourself with a $9.99 Buy It Now price.

Wild Honey

2. When giving your auction a title, include the most valuable celebrity name associated with the item, not just a random name. If you have a 1987 Playbill from Wild Honey, starring Ian McKellen, don’t choose Sullivan Brown as the one name you list in the auction title. (Seriously, I’ve seen the equivalent of this on several occasions.)

3. If you have a photographic image from a show and you don’t know who’s in the picture, find out before you list the item. I’ve snagged crazy deals on rare images of stars by searching for names of shows and recognizing theatrical royalty who aren’t mentioned in the item description.

And there you have it, my good deed for the day. Clip and save, sellers. And if you don’t bother, don’t expect any sympathy from me. There’s nothing more ruthless than a collector with a small budget.