Equity Library Theatre
This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Founded in 1943 by Sam Jaffe, representing Actors' Equity, and George Freedley, at the time curator of the New York Public Library Theatre Collection, Equity Library Theatre (ELT) was designed to provide a showcase for young actors, directors, and technicians and to create an audience from among those who could not afford commercial theatre. A non‐profit organization, it originally presented its plays at libraries and charged no admission but asked instead for a contribution to help sustain it. Beginning in 1949, it operated its own theatre, first at the Lenox Hill Playhouse and later at other auditoriums. Actors whose careers were helped by early appearances with the organization include James Earl Jones, Richard Kiley, and Jason Robards. Financial problems forced its closing during the 1989–90 season.
Since Equity Library Theater was established by Sam Jaffe of Actors' Equity and George Freedley, the theater curator for the New York Public Library, some 12,000 actors, directors and stage technicians have worked for no pay in more than 600 company productions. The theater's philosophy was to mount nonprofit productions to provide exposure for actors seeking paying roles in commercial shows. Because a substantial number did get paid acting jobs as a result of their appearances, as many as 700 people would show up to audition for each production.
The long, illustrious list of actors who performed early in their careers at the ELT includes Jason Robards, Jean Stapleton, James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam, John Cazale, Danny DeVito, Lee Grant, Richard Kiley and Tony Randall.
New York playwright and director Johnny Culver resurrected the name and ideals of ELT and currently provides new playwrights a chance to present their works in New York City library performance spaces, in a casual play festival format, at no cost to anyone. Many up and coming New York actors have performed with ELT. In 2014, ELT produced a reading of David Garrick's Catherine and Petruchio, a rarely performed 18th Century adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, as well as a presentation of short plays by John Ladd, and KK Gordon, at the NYPL George Bruce Theater. In 2015, they presented a reading of short plays by writers from the Provincetown Playhouse and other early 20th century NYC writers, including OVERTONES by Alice Gerstenberg, as well as a new play by Pamela Robbins, and a staged reading of THE FATHER. The Village Light Opera Guild joined them for a musical cabaret in 2016 as a benefit. Their new play festival is now in its seventh year. ELT encourages writers and actors to pursue their craft in this space. ELT performs at the George Bruce Theater on West 125th street and at the Alvin Ailey auditorium on West 115th street, courtesy of the NYPL. To date, ELT has premiered more than 140 new plays by talented writers, many moving to success around the country.
In December 2016, they presented "Songs of my Father", short plays written by fathers of celebrated New York actors and in early 2017, a reading of a screenplay by Tom Meade. ELT has also created a "spinoff", the Woodside Player of Queens, who will present rare short plays from late 19th century Broadway at Queens library branches, and produced a staged reading of "Keep Calm,Camilla" a Broadway comedy from 1918, in the fall of 2017, at the ELT space at the Harry Belafonte branch of the NYPL. In December, ELT presented a comedy by Cricket Daniel, "The Night Before The Night Before Christmas", at the new NYPL branch on West 53rd Street. 2018 brings a reading of "The Retreat" by Enzo Gattuccio, "Aunt Maggie's Will" from 1910, and in the fall of 2018, a reading of a play by Hollywood legend, Carol Hollenbeck (Holland).
The Woodside Players of Queens will present their second play festival at the Queens Library Astoria Branch in June 2018.
ELT is not associated with Actors Equity, but enjoys a fluid relationship with their many members and hopes their performances here will aid them in creative success.
ELT also welcomes members of the Dramatists Guild to present their works, at no cost or responsibility to anyone.
More at www.equitylibrarytheater.info
- Yarrow, Andrew L. (23 November 1989). "After 46 Years, Equity Theater May Have to Close". The New York Times.
- Bertolini, Diana. "Equity Library Theatre records 1944-1990". The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts. Retrieved 12 September 2013.