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Theatre and Performance: Background Research for Performers & Designers

Why We Do Background Research

What was happening in the time and place when your play takes place or while it was being written? What fashion trends or design elements can help you situate your production in certain setting or act as inspiration for a new interpretation of a classic play? Actors, directors, and designers are just as likely to need to do background research as theatre historians and dramaturges. This section of this guide is designed to help theatre makers get started with that research, offering resources for learning more about a historical setting or images to serve as visual inspiration. 

Setting the Scene: Research a Play's Place and Time

Use these databases to begin learning more about the context of a play, including the history of the setting, current events at the time the play was written or is taking place, and major themes. 

Historical Newspapers & Magazines

Newspapers and Magazines can be helpful resource for learning about the context and current events that were taking place during the time in which a play is set. They can provide images for reference and inspiration for production design (costumes, set design, etc). Historical newspapers are also good sources for finding reviews and theatre criticism, which help us understanding how the play was received at the time it was originally produced.

Listed here are a handful of databases that you can use to find historical newspaper articles.

Finding Images

Photos, newspaper images, and other visuals can help with background research, providing ideas for tone and aesthetics as we work to design a production.

Visit the "Art, Design, and Finding Images" page of this guide for some helpful resources for tracking down images.