City Life Org – Theater on Film and Tape Archive celebrates 50th anniversary with retrospective exhibition, opening July 14
Image: used with permission. All rights reserved, Playbill Inc.
The exhibition, Center Stage Focustells both the history of theater and how TOFT has changed the way we remember that history over the past half-century
The last half-century of the theater’s documented history is showcased at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ new exhibit, Focus Center Stage: 50 Years of Theater on Film and Tape Archivesopening July 14. Spanning two floors of the library, the exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of its world-renowned Theater on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT), featuring clips from the many productions the division has filmed since its founding in 1970. Along with Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theater productions, the exhibition also includes interviews and dialogues with important personalities, rare photographs of the behind-the-scenes work of some of the talented artists dedicated to creating theater productions, as well as the staff and TOFT video crews save them for future generations.
Originally scheduled for 2020, but postponed due to the pandemic, the exhibition, Focus Center Stage: 50 Years of Theater on Film and Tape Archivesopens July 14 and is slated to run through February 25, 2023. It spans two floors of the Shelby Cullom Davis Museum at the Library of the Performing Arts in the gallery section of the Lincoln Center building’s hallway.
“With literally thousands of productions to choose from, it was a truly daunting task to put together this exhibition,” said Patrick Hoffman, who has served as director and curator of TOFT since 2001 and served as its assistant curator for 8 years prior. . “Above all, we wanted to showcase and demonstrate the depth and breadth of our TOFT archive and its phenomenal collection of video recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theater productions. None of these recordings would have been possible without the incredible support of the theater community at large, the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds, producers, playwrights, directors, choreographers, designers, actors, orchestral musicians, conductors company, production managers, and grips, as well as the TOFT staff and talented video crews whose work makes TOFT’s mission possible. It’s been fifty years of hard work behind the scenes to make this all happen, and I’m proud to finally lift the curtain on Center Stage Focusat the Performing Arts Library.
Dozens of clips from all types of theatrical productions are categorized by theme in nine video reels around collection areas. It includes a grand global reel of TOFT’s collection of a wide range of theatrical performances, plus:
- musicals, including a sparkling array of works by artists such as Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Meredith Willson, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeanine Tesori;
- pieces dating back to revivals of Greek classics, Lorraine Hansberry and Tennesee Williams, and contemporary figures, such as Martin McDonagh, Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel;
- interviews and dialogues, including a selection from more than 400 documented discussions on theatre;
- social movements that highlight the many examples of diverse and inclusive productions, as well as a wide range of social issues and concerns, that have always been a hallmark of TOFT’s documentation efforts.
The title of the exhibition, Center Stage Focus, evokes the direction of the camera where archive staff and video crews have directed their attention in documenting and preserving performances over the past five decades. Visitors can access all of these recordings for free in the Lucille Lortel Screening Room on the third floor of the Library of the Performing Arts with a New York Public Library card.
The exhibit also includes a memento of TOFT founder Betty L. Corwin, who convinced the New York Public Library, theatrical unions and guilds, and creative artists to realize her vision of recording live theatrical performances for the future generations. Such an archive was unprecedented, and Corwin’s dedication to building the collection was paramount to its success; she was instrumental in raising funds to support her work, established critical relationships with theater unions and guilds, and forged new groundwork on best practices for videotaping theater productions without existing templates. Corwin launched the TOFT archive by recording Golden Bat, an avant-garde, all-Asian, off-Broadway rock musical. The inaugural shoot defined TOFT’s mission to not only archive Broadway’s finest performances, but also to capture the breadth, diversity, and variety of the theater world – essentially, what makes the field so unique and so appreciated by those who, in the theatrical professions, create it and by the public.
The exhibit materials represent the tip of the iceberg in a collection that encompasses a wide range of performances and offers visitors a sense of the extraordinary breadth and depth of the archive over the past 50 years. Since its inception in 1970, TOFT has preserved live theater productions and documented the creative contributions of distinguished artists and legendary figures in theatre. The collection includes more than 5,000 plays, musicals, classics, experimental and avant-garde productions, as well as an additional 3,000 videos of interviews, dialogues, film and television adaptations, awards shows and other theater-related programs. The TOFT Archive remains today the largest and most comprehensive collection of live theater in the world.
Center Stage Focus will be on display at the Library for the Performing Arts from July 14, 2022 through February 25, 2023 at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, New York. https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/focuscenterstage
The Schloss Family Foundation is the main sponsor of Focus Center Stage: 50 Years of Theater on Film and Tape Archives. Additional sponsorship support is provided by the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc. and the Ted Snowdon Foundation.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts thanks Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman for their leadership support. Additional support for the exhibits was provided by Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg and the Miriam and Harold Steinberg Foundation.
About the Theater Archive on Film and Tape (TOFT)
Since 1970, TOFT has preserved live theater productions and documented the creative contributions of distinguished artists and legendary figures in theatre. It is the first and, remains today, the largest archive of its kind in the world. With the consent and cooperation of the theatrical unions and guilds and the collaborators and artistic actors of each individual production, TOFT produces professionally shot video recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatrical productions, as well as dialogues with personalities notables of the theatre. These historic recordings are available for research in her Lucille Lortel Screening Room, located on the third floor of the Performing Arts Library.
About the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most comprehensive combinations of circulating, reference and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge at any time, along with a wide range of special programs including exhibitions, seminars and performances. An essential resource for anyone interested in the arts, whether professional or amateur, the Library is particularly known for its prodigious collections of non-book material such as historical recordings, video recordings, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, scores, scenographies, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. The library is part of the New York Public Library System, which has 92 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and is a leading provider of free education for everyone.