NYC Theatre Research Project

Act I: Place-based research

  1. With your partner, select an existing theater in one of the five boroughs of NYC to research. The list of approved theaters is here. You can use this Story Map to select a theater by neighborhood, for convenience.
  2. Identify which of the following categories your theatre belongs to: non-profit Broadway; non-profit off-Broadway; non-profit off-off Broadway; for profit Broadway; for profit off-Broadway; concert or other large event venue.
  3. Purchase a ticket to a production at that theatre. Make sure the date of performance is before the due date for the submission of Act I. You do not need to attend a performance on the same night as your partner. 
  4. Working independently from your partner, conduct a visual study of the immediate vicinity of the theater (no more than a 10-block radius, which is 5 blocks in any direction from the theater location). Complete this Site Report, using the archives, repositories, and databases below (some require CT login), and first-hand observation.
  5. Sketch the facade (elevation) of the theater building and one interior element from your point of view (the proscenium, a detail of a decoration, the ceiling, a lobby area, etc.). These two sketches should be done in the same sketchbook used for classroom sketching.
  6. Submit Site Report I as a PDF on OpenLab, attaching to it a) image of ticket to production and b) sketches. Submit Act I (Site Report and attached images) individually. 

Here is an example of an excellent Act I report: 1) an off-Broadway theatre

Databases for virtual place-based research

NYCity Map

Google Maps (try Street View and Satellite View)

Google Earth

Art Full Text


Social Explorer



Act II. Archival dig

  1. Architectural elevations, plans, and sections, with attributions (citation). Do not use seating charts in place of architectural plans. 
  2. Historical photographs of the theater, inside and out, with attributions.
  3. Annotated bibliography: three sources (minimum one print media source) containing historical and architectural information. Here is information about citation formatting for electronic sources and annotated bibliographies (Purdue Owl). Here is an example of an annotated bibliography (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Here is another.

Each annotation should be one paragraph in length (written in complete sentences) and contain historical information about the following:

  • Answers to your research questions from Act I.
  • Date theatre was designed and built. Is the theater a purpose-built or adapted performance space? If adapted, what was the original building designed for? What architectural changes were made when converted to a theatre? Who was the architect of the purpose-built and/or adapted space?
  • Description of the architectural styles of the facade and interior elements.
  • What is the stage/audience arrangement? How are seats and sections in the auditorium arranged? Describe the dimensions and uses all the areas available to patrons.
  • What are the dimensions of the stage? What are the technological capacities for production? Discuss backstage, wings, fly space, etc.
  • Describe the neighborhood in which the theatre was originally built. Was it residential, industrial, or retail? Was it a known theatre district? For what types of productions or audiences was the theatre built? 

Here are examples of excellent Act II reports:  1) A Broadway Theatre  2)  An off-Broadway Theatre

Databases for historical research

NY Public Library Digital Collection: Streetscapes

NY Public Library Digital Collection: Photographic Views of NYC, 1870s-1970s

NY Public Library Digital Collections: Billy Rose Theatre Collection

NY Public Library Digital Collections: NYC Theatre Marquees

Digital Culture Metropolitan NY

Museum of the City of New York

OldNYC (Mapping NYC history by blocks)

Spotlight on Broadway

Guide to Researching the History of NYC Buildings, Gray


Act III (Working in groups of two)

Step One: Data mining and Georeferencing

Handout instructions:

Setting up a public ArcGIS Online Account


MapPLUTO 20v6 

PLUTO Data Dictionary

Using Georeferencer to create an importable layer for ArcGIS Online

Understanding raster georeferencing (Esri)

Step Two: Collect data and create a GIS map

  • commercial and retail activity 
  • food, cafes, restaurants
  • transportation access (pedestrian, automobile, mass transportation)

Create a GIS map with urban artifacts and infrastructure. Use the PLUTO database for zoning and demographic information. Search the Living Atlas (online) for other layers such as Street Trees, Subway Entrances, Transportation NYC, Sidewalk Cafe, etc. The The map should include a labeled marker for the site of the theatre and a .5 mile radius buffer for the neighborhood.  Once you have pulled the data into your map, edit the symbology for effective, clear communication of the information. 

 Step Three: Story Map presentations

Create a Story Map—which combines your maps with text narrative and media, and import your GIS maps into the Story Map.

Handout instructions: Creating a Story Map

ESRI Getting started with Story Maps

Example Story Maps;

Design pages, continue perfecting symbology. Each team will create a single Story Map, drawing research, data and map layers from individual work in previously completed (Acts I and II). Include your sketches, historical and contemporary photos, architectural plans. Use fonts and other design elements that gives the sense of the period in which the theatre was built.

Sections in Story Map:

  1. Title Page with unique sub-title (for instance: “The BAM Harvey Theatre: A Ghost of the Past”)  
  2. Architecture: exterior (photographs, drawings and elevations) and interior (stage arrangement and auditorium, photographs, drawings and plans). How did the stage arrangement, size, architectural elements inform your appreciation of the play? For instance, how did the proscenium (or lack of), social spaces (lobbies, bathrooms), and seating areas affect the experience of your time at the theatre? This section should include up to three different “slides”. 
  3. ArcGIS map that shows neighborhood context (residential, commercial, industrial with legend), subway /other transportation (MapPluto data, etc.). Discuss supporting infrastructure and services of contemporary neighborhood. Include pop-out images. How does your subject theatre building “perform” in its urban environment? Is your structure inviting, or is it hermetic? How does it decorate the streetscape? Does it encourage passers-by to “spectate” — appreciate the facade? What does the facade recall for you (a time, a memory, a feeling)?  You may show 2-3 different versions of the neighborhood map in order to discuss different data layers. 
  4. Synthesis (see full instructions below). Describe the ideal performance form for the space of your subject theatre space. Make historical comparisons with your subject theatre. Deliver your synthesis orally (bullet points in Story Maps).
  5. Bibliography. Complete citation information, APA, MLA or Chicago. Just be consistent across citations. Images and citations: Every image must have an attribution. All sources used must be included in the bibliography. Your images must be titled. Provide a Creative Commons license for images when relevant. Refer to this PDF for formatting citations for bibliography (articles and images) and image titles (title, artist, source, date, creative commons license).

Examples of student StoryMap presentations from the past (keep in mind that not all are perfect)

King’s Theatre

St. Ann’s Warehouse

Walter Kerr Theatre

The Public Theatre

Lyceum Theatre

The Brick

Synthesis and Presentation

Synthesize the information you gathered from in-person site visits, archival and secondary source research, and GIS modeling.

1) Read the mission statement of your theatre company and discuss how the audience/stage arrangement and the entire building support that mission statement.

2) Think about how the mission statement and past productions of the theatre serve the surrounding community (as analyzed in Acts I and II and Map Pluto). Certain types of people (tourists, highly educated audiences, working class people, college students, other artists, corporate types, families, after-work crowd) are interested in different kinds of plays. Does the theatre serve the immediate surrounding community?

Here’s a more full explanation:

Based on your analysis of the neighborhood, mission statement, ticket prices, architectural elements of the building and stage, technological capacities of the theatre, and your historical research, describe the ideal performance form for the space of your subject theatre space. Think about audience size and social class and demographics (age, economics, education) and refer to an historical example when explaining your reasoning. You can use historical examples discussed in class to make comparisons with your subject theater.

Consider the material conditions of the theater itself when conducting your analysis. Historically, certain types of stages and theaters have lent themselves to specific types of performances. Amphitheaters convey a sense of community and equality (Theater Dionysus), black-box theaters have often been used to stage plays with political or social messages (Théâtre-Libre), bare stages often rely on language to convey meaning (Shakespeare’s Globe). Theaters equipped with prosceniums create a space where the audience can disappear into the world of the play (much like a film) and forget they are at the theatre. Think about stage arrangements and conditions that support dance and auditoriums that allow greater or lesser audience participation. Think about  how certain seating arrangements designate class divisions. 

Here is an (incomplete) list of plays/performances you might consider:

Greek tragedy
Religious rituals (speaking/singing/dancing) or sermons
Noh theatre
Puppet theatre
Dance concerts (be specific about type)
Music concerts (be specific about type)
Vaudeville (variety shows) or circus
Shakespeare plays
Brechtian theatre (political theatre)
Symbolist drama and other avant-garde theatre
Large-scale musicals
Chamber musicals (intimate musicals)
Plays that engage social issues
Children’s theatre

Here’s another way of explaining: Certain types of productions (musicals, dramas, children’s theatre, puppet shows, stand-up, Greek tragedy, realism, avant-garde, etc.) work well in specific architectural arrangements (amphitheater, thrust stage, proscenium stage, black box, etc.). 

The presentation should be about 10 minutes long, and no more than 11 minutes. You need to rehearse the presentation ahead of time to make sure you don’t go over the 11 minute mark. Divide up the presentation so each member of the team has equal opportunity to speak and explain the images. Make sure you can articulate your ideas clearly. Work from a speaking outline so you remember the major points.

Grading Rubric