Resources for researching a play or role

Drama research may involve finding the text of a particular play or preparing yourself for an audition or role.  The questions below will help direct your search.


Are you looking for a particular play?

The Books guide will help you navigate the online catalog to find it.


What is the setting of the play?  What was the political situation?

Use the Databases guide to learn to use databases for period or historical research.  Also, look at Print Journals for material not covered by the databases.


What would life have been like at that time? 

​Search the online catalog using search terms like daily life in to explore further.


Are you searching for a particular play or playwright?

Check the online catalog.  Search for plays by title, author (last name first), subject or keyword. Keyword searches by author or title may indicate whether a play is listed in an anthology or collection of plays.

What is is the setting of the play?  What was the political situation?
Use the online catalog to search for history materials and maps for a certain area or time period.

What was current in fashion, music or art?  What was daily life like? 
Keyword searches in the online catalog such as  daily life in colonial america will return useful results.
Older newspapers and magazines are good sources for historical research in that they show a snapshot of life in a particular time period. These materials are housed on the second floor of the library.

Browse the Collection

Reference collection:  2nd floor

Circulating collection: 3rd floor

Materials in the library are classified and shelved by subject.

Drama sources are shelved primarily in the PN2000 call number area.

Be sure to browse both the reference and circulating collections for a thorough search.

Print Reference Sources

The books listed below are just a sample of what is available in the drama section of the reference collection on the second floor.

more informationHistorical Dictionary of American Theatre | Ref. PN2266.3 .F57 2008

History of the modernist era in theatre (1880-1930) through chronologies, biographies and coverage of individual plays.

more informationInternational Dictionary of Theatre | Ref. PN2000 .I474

Multi-volume encyclopedia covering plays and playwrights, actors, designers and directors.

more informationOxford Companion to the Theatre | Ref. PN2035 .O9 1983

Encyclopedia of theaters and plays with biographies of actors and playwrights included



Databases are online collections of materials such as journal articles, images, sound recordings and even entire books. Use the Drama and History databases to locate plays, journal articles about theater subjects and historical information about the setting of a play.

View all library databases (Browse A-Z or by subject)

Drama and History Databases

The AP Photos will provide pictorial research using news photos beginning in the 19th century.  This list also includes some general online drama reference works.

more information20th Century North American Drama | Access Online

Plays, production information and photographs.

more informationABC-CLIO E-book Collection | Access Online

Electronic books discussing daily life from ancient times through 1990s (Select "D" to view "Daily Life..." titles); literary resources also.

more informationAP Photo Archives
more informationBilly Rose Theatre Division (NYPL) | Access Online

The Billy Rose Theatre Division of The New York Public Library is one of the largest and most comprehensive archives devoted to the theatrical arts. Encompassing dramatic performance in all its diversity, the division is an indispensable resource for artists, writers, researchers, scholars, students, and the general public.

more informationDrama Online | Access Online

Full-text access from earliest plays to modern day accompanied by criticisms and biographical information.

more informationInternational Bibliography of Theatre and Dance | Access Online

Theater and dance articles.

more informationNorth American Theatre Online | Access Online

Covers Canadian and US theater.

more informationOxford Encyclopedia of Theater and Performance | Access Online

History of the theater from ancient times to current tv performances.

more informationPlay Index | Access Online

Index to plays published since 1949.
Print version available, coverage from 1949-1992: Ref. PN1721 P53

more informationShakespeare Collection | Access Online

Collection of Shakespeare's works, reference materials, criticisms and journal articles.


Print Journals, Reviews and Criticisms

Journals and newspapers are valuable for arts research not only because they provide current treatment of a subject but also for their coverage of performances and reviews.  A list of the library's drama periodicals can be found by searching the library catalog using the subject search drama periodicals

In addition, the  library has a collection of 19th and early 20th century theater periodicals on microfilm as well as photos of New York stage productions from 1919-1961 on microfiche.  Both collections are housed in the microfilm room on the 2nd floor.

 The New York Times and the Times of London are highly respected newspapers with broad coverage of arts subjects.  Their access information is listed below.

more informationNew York Times | Microfilm (2nd Floor)

Print Index in Reference Collection: Ref. AI21 N44

Current 4 weeks are also available in print in the library lobby.

more informationTimes of London | Microfilm (2nd Floor)

Print Index in Reference Collection: AI21.T46 T55


Articles on specific subjects are located using an index.  The Reader's Guide and Play Index provide citations to journal articles on drama and theater subjects. Simply look up the subject and note the citation information for the individual article.


more informationReaders Guide to Periodical Literature | Ref. AI3 R48

Print index shelved in Reference.

more informationPlay Index | Access Online

Index to plays published since 1949.
Print version available, coverage from 1949-1992: Ref. PN1721 P53

The library does not subscribe to all the journals indexed by the Reader's Guide and Play Index so check the online catalog to be sure the library has the journal you need.

Locating Plays, Reviews and Criticisms

more informationNew York Theatre Critics Reviews | Ref. PN1601 .N4

Coverage from 1940-1996; excerpts of reviews from major NY publications

more informationNew York Times Theater Reviews | Ref. PN1581 N38
more informationDrama Criticism | Ref. PN1625 .D72

Excerpts of criticisms of major dramatic works; continued online by Literature Criticism Online

more informationShakespearean Criticism | Ref. PR2965 .S43

Excerpts of criticisms by leading Shakespeare scholars; continued online by Literature Criticism Online

more informationLiterature Criticism Online | Access Online

Search Poetry Criticism, Drama Criticism, 19th century Literature Criticism, Shakespearean Criticism, Short Story Criticism.