The Filson Historical Society’s theater program collection offers a fascinating look at Louisville’s past via the footlights and curtain calls of the stage. Such collections of ephemera are valuable records of the city’s lesser-known stories that can easily be lost in the annals of time. The collection showcases Louisville’s theaters and thespians, and provides a glimpse of the city’s theatergoers and their milieu preserved through advertisements, articles, and reviews.
The theater program collection encompasses over ninety boxes of loose programs and scrapbooks housed in Special Collections. The earliest programs in the collection are from the mid-nineteenth century, and provides evidence of Louisville’s first large influx of dramatic artists. Later items include handbills from the turn of the century theater boom and programs documenting the rise of the motion picture house. In addition to the vast array of Louisville programs, the collection contains programs from various cities throughout Kentucky and a selection of other states and countries. Among the venues represented are those well known to Louisvillians of today: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Iroquois Amphitheater, and Memorial Auditorium. However, many programs in the collection provide evidence of theaters demolished or forgotten, such as Liederkranz Hall, Avenue Theater, the Masonic Temple Theater, and Amphitheater Auditorium. Also included are school recitals, church pageants, drama societies, and performances given before local social clubs, such as the Wednesday Morning Music Club.
Perusing these programs reveals a vibrant and fascinating picture of Louisville’s past and the part the city played in the country’s burgeoning theater scene. This bygone era of elegant stages and scintillating performances laid the foundation for the thriving theatrical community that graces Louisville today, and reveals not only a great deal about the city’s theater history, but also about the people who patronized these venues.