About the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive

History of the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive

Since 1970, the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) has preserved live theatrical productions and documented the creative contributions of distinguished artists and legendary figures of the theatre.  With the consent and cooperation of the theatrical unions and guilds and each individual production's artistic collaborators and cast, TOFT produces professionally-shot video recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatre productions, as well as dialogues between notable theatre personalities.  

The Archive was founded by Betty L. Corwin, a former script reader and assistant to Broadway producer Martin Gabel, who approached the Library for the Performing Arts with the idea in November 1969 and proposed preserving visual records of live theatre performances.  Despite many obstacles and after lengthy negotiations with the theatrical unions and guilds, TOFT was established and created its first video recording on November 12, 1970.  As TOFT's first Curator and Director for 31 years, Corwin guided all aspects of TOFT's video production, public service, and operations for 31 years, until September 2000.  A permanent plaque dedicated to her service and memory is installed at the entrance to the TOFT screening room. 

The collection has become the foremost archive of live theatre performances in the world and a role model for similar archives in the United States and abroad and consists of a collection of over 5,000 plays, musicals, classics, experimental and avant-garde productions, and an additional 3,000 videos of interviews, dialogues, film and television adaptations, award presentations, and other theatre-related programs.  The TOFT Archive remains today the single largest, most comprehensive collection of live theatre anywhere in the world.

Over its five-decade history, each year theatre professionals and researchers come from every state in the U.S. and dozens of countries around the globe to New York City to view videos at the Library.  They are today's, as well as tomorrow's producers, playwrights, composers, lyricists, directors, choreographers, actors, designers, stage managers, dance captains, conductors, musicians, and other theatre professionals, plus critics, journalists, professors, teachers, students, and scholars.  For them TOFT has become an indispensable, vital tool for studying past productions, for inspiring, creating, and refining new ones, and for adapting productions for film and television.

The TOFT Archive recordings have revolutionized theatre research, ensuring that today's performances will be tomorrow's legacy, available to future generations for study and inspiration.  Endowed, in part, by producer Lucille Lortel, TOFT is housed in a modern screening room named in her honor.  Titles in the collection may be found in the Library's online catalog or by e-mailing or telephoning TOFT.  Advance appointments are strongly recommended for viewing.

Questions? Call (212) 870-1642 or email toft@nypl.org.

Learn how to access TOFT