Virtual Theater Bookshop
The Perfect Little Bookshop for Theater Folk
Just imagine it: a hand-painted green sign and a creaky door just off a little alley off Broadway, right next to another door labeled "Stage Entrance."
Inside - a long thin room, a little dim, a little dusty, filled with the mellow smell of books. The shop cat looks up as you enter, then goes back to washing her ear. The shop's long walls are lined with bookshelves - floor to ceiling - that seem to disappear into a book-filled distance. Along with the books are pictures, statuary busts - look! Shakespeare! - and what seem to be bits and pieces of scenery. Surely that chair was once King Arthur's throne? Was that Sweeney's chair? (Must remember not to sit in that one.)
Right by the door stands a round mahogany table with lion's feet. On the table, piles and piles of books. Big books, small books, new and old books, illustrated books spread open to display gorgeous illustrations - - -
And they're all hand-picked books about theater!
Thought-Provoking Theater Book Reviews
As I find online reviews of worthwhile theater books, I'll post them here.
- Towards a Poor Theater by Jerzy Grotowski @ Boing Boing
A thoughtful discussion of this seminal theater book, in a article written by Antero Alli
Let's start with the building itself
The theater is a very very old architectural form. The earliest performance space must have been a ring of logs pulled round a fire to be closer to a storyteller and the first theater was built when a busker laid a plank across two barrels so he
(it was usually a "he" in those days) could be seen by a crowd. Performance spaces - whether theater, opera, or cinema - are some of our most beautiful public gathering spaces. Some are legendary: the Globe, La Scala, the Paris Opera House.
In our virtual theater bookshop, architecture books are tucked into an alcove, an inglenook framed by columns. Inside it is a handsome old fireplace (now filled, naturally, with over-sized books). On the mantel sits a carved wooden model of a Greek amphitheater.
Books on the actual, you know, STRUCTURE. The performance space itself.
Websites on Theater Architecture
- Modern Music Halls
Exciting new performance spaces.
- American Theater Architecture Archives
The Theatre Historical Society of America's bibliography of theater collections and records.
- The Ancient Theater Archive
Greek and Roman theaters.
- National Building Museum
Lessons from the Study of Historic Theater Architecture
- Great Buildings
Links to great theater buildings.
And what does a virtual theater book shop desperately need? - Virtual theaters!
An Aladdin's Cave of toy theaters, reproduced from Victorian designs, from matchbox size on up - even an iPhone app (and what's more virtual than that?).
- Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop
A Fantastic virtual toy shop full of miniature theaters.
For audience and actors, it is the scenery that sets the world of the story. Theater sets may be imitations of real life architecture - painted or built in three dimensions - or sets may be stylized or completely abstract.
In our bookshop the scenic design books live in a small room that's hard to find at first because it's behind a door that looks just exactly like another bookcase, except that the shelves are only an inch deep and the volumes of poetry are flatly painted on the back of the bookcase. There's a beautifully painted bust of Poe sitting on top of the case, with a trompe l'oeil raven.
Other than actors, scenery is the main thing you SEE onstage.
Searching for the Technical Theater Dept.
Wandering through our dim and slightly dusty bookshop, it's hard to find the technical books. Where are they?
In the back, of course.
Wandering down a long, book-lined, hall, we see a sudden shaft of light through a doorway. A waft of music. Of course! Where all the light and sound is - that's where the Techs hang out. And here it is: a long, high room with bays of books and an upper balcony. The balcony has lights hung on it, of course, because there are lights hung EVERYWHERE, even that statue over there holds a Fresnel instead of an urn. Plus electric cables. Cables festoon the room like jungle vines reclaiming an Aztec temple. But the statue's robes are beautifully draped. Other costumes, on manikins, stand around. Bits of scenery lean here and there. And books. Lots and lots of books.
"Technical" means pretty much everything onstage except the actors.
Now lighting is an area I don't understand as well. But I DO know that the design of stage lighting is part technology and the science of light... and part poetry.
This is just barely scratching the surface...
Business of Theater
Nothing happens on stage unless someone organizes it. Finds money, people, time, and a venue. Who are these desperately organized "someones"? The producers.
In our bookshop the Business of Theater books are tucked into cubbyholes next to the manager's roll-top desk - - - whose top may never roll down again unless he does something about the bookshop paperwork. Look at it! it's slid to the floor. The shop cat has made a nest in it and curls there now, purring.
Producers don't get nearly enough credit. Not only are they the workhorses that make theater happen, they are wonderfully Organized while they do it. Bless 'em, I say!
All in Service of the Text
All this fuss is because of the words. The script, the play, the book, the lyrics (and music).
Texts fill most of the walls of our bookshop - thousands of them. Book after book filled with monologues, skits, and plays ranging from one act to four and more. Marble busts of their authors look down at us as we browse. Euripides looks pretty secure on his ledge and Sheridan looks oddly smug - - - except for a couple, a dusty bust labeled "John Augustus Stone" and a newer one, "Sarah Kane," which seem to have fallen off their perches.
A get-you-started assortment for the study of the literature of the theater.
It's all about words and ideas isn't it?
THE English playwright (sometimes we forget there are others) William Shakespeare.
There are so many Shakespeare books that the bookshop gives them a whole room. It's lovely. Walls are paneled with Elizabethan linen-fold paneling and windows are lively with colored glass characters. See the fairy queen! And the silly man with the ass' ears.
Probably THE basis for English language theater.
And those people up there remembering all those words?
Acting books get the room with all the mirrors, naturally. There are a few busts here too, but mostly hundreds of head-shots high up on the wall: elegant engraved portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries, many more black & white photos. Look! There's Carol Channing - between Hugo Weaving and Miz Piggy. That full length oil portrait is the Divine Sarah glaring over at Mrs. Siddons.
Books on the art and craft of acting...
Uta Hagen on YouTube
Hear this great acting teacher for yourself.
Theater for Children
The busiest and brightest room in the whole bookshop is for children. It used to be a stair hall, but now the steps lead up to a high, tree house-like window seat that looks into the bookshop's little garden. Who knew there was a secret garden here, so near Broadway? There are lots of surprises and treats here: a little cubby under the stair, racing library ladders, a hidden compartment behind a bookshelf, and hollow books with secrets inside.
Theater for Children
A couple promising books about making theater for and with children. Theater by and for children is a big part of many theater companies mission.
The "Green Room" Book Shop is undergoing renovations.
The stock changes now and then, getting better, more select. And the shop itself seems to keep growing.
Other Theater Book Shops
If you haven't found what you need here, try some of these other book store specializing in theater books:
For Serious Theater Scholarship
When you really want to dig deeper.
(A developing list)
- The McNay - The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts
One of the best collections of theater artifacts in the USA, primarily books, but also artifacts.
- Harvard Theater Collection
Primarily historic material - a varied collection including some set models.
- Wisconsin History - Theater Collection
Broadway and regional theater material.
- Chicago Public Library - Chicago Theater Collection
Theatrical life in Chicago.
- University of Bristol - Theatre Collection
One of the world's largest collections, with an increasing library of digitized images in the Visualising Theatre project.
Other People's Suggestions
Lists and bibliographies of good theater books of all kinds.