Chicago Theater

Theater collections at Chicago Public Library document a vibrant local theater community.

Become a playgoer at Chicago’s early theaters. Examine more than 2,000 playbills and programs dating from 1848 to 1922. Of special interest are playbills from shows starring Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson and Sarah Bernhardt at the well-known McVicker’s Theatre as well as playbills from vaudeville houses and neighborhood theaters.

Alongside traditional plays and musical works, numerous genres are represented in the collection, including extravaganzas, juggling and magic shows, among others.

Artifacts from the Chicago Theater collections are housed in the Special Collections and Preservation Division at Harold Washington Library Center.

New Image Viewer

We're using the Chicago theater collections to showcase the Mirador image viewer, which has a number of new features we think you'll enjoy.

Please note these new features may not be accessible to all users, but future versions of Mirador aim to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA. Additionally, the current viewer is optimized for use in a web browser and is not mobile accessible. You can still view all our collections in the current interface on the web or your mobile device.

Please let us know if you have any feedback on this new interface.

Digital Collections

This collection is made up of the following archival collections:
E.B. Gould Programs Collection
The annotated programs of a local Chicago businessman and enthusiastic playgoer.
Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Playbills
Programs, playbills and newspaper clippings from more than 2,000 productions at Chicago’s historic theaters dating back to the 1840s.

More CPL Resources

Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs Finding Aid
The complete and ever-increasing inventory of theater programs past and present, some of which are presented here.
Chicago Theater Collection
A list of collections at Chicago Public Library representing theaters, designers, actors and other members of the theater community.
The Historic Programs digital collection is made possible by a generous grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation through the Chicago Public Library Foundation.