[new] Circle in the Square papers

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Collection Data

Documenting the history of the Off-Broadway theater company Circle in the Square and two of its founders, Paul Libin and Theodore Mann, this collection consists of material relating to Circle in the Square's produced works, development material for unproduced works and abandoned projects, correspondence, administrative documents, financial and legal records, personal and office papers belonging to Libin and Mann, photographs, and other material relating to the day-to-day operation of a not-for-profit theatrical company.
Mann, Theodore (Creator)
Brooks, Patricia, 1933-1993
Elmer, George, 1940-2021
Goldman, Seth
Kazan, Elia
Lardner, Ring, Jr., 1915-2000
Leroy, Warner
Libin, Paul
Newman, Paul, 1925-2008
O'Neill, Eugene, 1888-1953
Papas, Irene
Quintero, José
Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975
Woodward, Joanne, 1930-
Circle in the Square (Organization : New York, N.Y.)
Malyĭ teatr SSSR
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1906 - 2004
Library locations
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Shelf locator: *T-Mss 2005-005
Repertory theater -- New York (N.Y.)
Theater -- New York (N.Y.) -- History
Theatrical producers and directors -- United States
Circle in the Square (Organization : New York, N.Y.)
administrative records
Costume design drawings
financial records
Records and briefs
Promotional materials
Biographical/historical: Circle in the Square Theater was founded in 1950 by Theodore Mann and José Quintero in an abandoned nightclub in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The name refers to the fact that it was a theater in the round located at 5 Sheridan Square. Mann and Quintero had become acquainted while doing summer stock with the Loft Players at the Maverick Theater in Woodstock, New York, and hoped to create a year-round repertory company in the City, and ultimately, their project became the epicenter of a national movement for Off-Broadway theater. Circle in the Square was conceived as a not-for-profit theater, and at the time that it ceased operations as a producing entity in 1996, it remained one of the only not-for-profit theaters operating on Broadway, as well as one of the oldest producing theaters in New York City. Circle’s first production was Howard Richardson and Richard Berney’s Dark of the Moon. Tickets were sold for $1.50 apiece. City officials determined that the Sheridan Square space had been zoned as a cabaret, so tables were built around the stage, and the audience was served cookies and punch in order to meet the requirements of the cabaret laws. Other shows staged during Circle’s inaugural season included Jean Anouihl’s Antigone and Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma. In 1952, Circle produced a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke starring Geraldine Page, which had failed on Broadway a few years earlier. New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson attended the opening night performance, and stated in his review that “nothing has happened for quite a long time as admirable as the new production at Circle in the Square.” Summer and Smoke became Circle’s first hit, and the Off-Broadway theater movement took root. Mann and Quintero had lobbied tirelessly since Circle’s inception for permission from Carlotta Monterey O’Neill to produce one of her late husband’s plays, and in 1956 permission was granted for a production of The Iceman Cometh starring Jason Robards, Jr. Circle’s burgeoning reputation was solidified by the production which, like Summer and Smoke, had originally been a Broadway failure. This success has been credited for re-establishing Eugene O’Neill as one of America’s greatest dramatists, and brought Circle numerous awards. It was followed up later that year with the American premier of Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, and Jason Robards, Jr. The production garnered Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actor for Frederic March. Over the course of its lifespan, Circle in the Square produced nearly all of Eugene O’Neill’s major works. The company moved to a new performance space at 159 Bleecker Street in 1960, the original home of the Amato Opera Company. The Bleecker Street Theater’s three-sided stage allowed for democratic seating, use of a minimal amount of scenery, and for the audience to be close to the action. This style, pioneered by Circle in the Square, later became a mainstay of regional theater. Also at this time, Quintero left the company to pursue other opportunities. Mann remained at the helm as Artistic Director, a position he would occupy until 1993. His partnership with Paul Libin, Circle’s long-time Managing Director and Producing Director, began in 1963 with their production of The Trojan Women. Throughout the 1960s, Circle continued to develop as a home for both revivals of classic works, such as Othello and Iphigenia in Aulis, and for new and experimental works such as the American premiers of Jean Genet’s The Balcony and Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow. Additionally, Circle presented three critically-acclaimed seasons at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 1972, Circle moved its base of operations once again, this time at the invitation of Mayor John Lindsay to the Joseph E. Levine Theatre, a 650-seat house at 50th Street and Broadway, though the Bleecker Street theater continued to house workshops of experimental plays and productions of new works until the late 1970s. The first production in their new home was O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra starring Colleen Dewhurst. Circle in the Square Uptown, as it came to be known, was also the home of the Circle in the Square Theater School, which opened in 1971 and remains a highly regarded acting conservatory. Although Circle in the Square is most often associated with Off-Broadway theater, they had been producing shows in Broadway houses as far back as Alfred Hayes’ The Girl on the Via Flaminia in 1954. With the opening of the Uptown theater, Circle had a permanent home on Broadway. The increased expenses related to producing for Broadway took a toll, and by the end of their second Broadway season, Circle was struggling financially. By the mid-1980s, the company’s deficit had become a serious concern, in spite of such critical and box office successes as Tina Howe’s Coastal Disturbances and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The situation became increasingly perilous by the early 1990s, and in 1993, Circle very nearly closed up shop. That same year, Josephine Abady was brought on board to serve as co-Artistic Director with Mann, but the mounting debt continued to cripple their efforts, and in 1996, after continued conflict with Abady, Mann resigned the position he had held for forty-five years; many of his fellow Board members followed suit. Later that year, Abady was fired by the Board of Directors. An award-winning production of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie starring Al Pacino covered their immediate debts, but it was clear that Circle in the Square could not continue as a producing entity and the organization filed for bankruptcy. The theater at Broadway and 50th Street is currently still operating as a Broadway house, and retains the name Circle in the Square. In its 45-year history, Circle in the Square launched or reinvigorated the careers of many playwrights, actors, and directors. Among the notable figures who worked on Circle productions are Alan Arkin, Philip Bosco, Zak Brown, Michael Cocoyannis, David Carradine, Richard Chamberlain, Liviu Ciulei, Mildred Dunnock, Marsha Eck, Jules Feiffer, Jules Fisher, Hallie and Horton Foote, Lillian Gish, George Grizzard, Rex Harrison, Rosemary Harris, Dana Ivey, Anne Jackson, Salome Jens, James Earl Jones, Frances McDormand, Leonard Melfi, Eve Merriam, Joe Namath, Geraldine Page, Mary Louise Parker, Stephen Porter, Ellis Raab, Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, George C. Scott, Vitali Solomon, Eli Wallach, Tennessee Williams, and Thornton Wilder. Circle in the Square founder and Artistic Director Theodore Mann was born Theodore Goldman in 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. 1924. He attended Erasmus High School, received an A.B.A from Salinas College and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. Mann co-founded Circle in the Square with José Quintero in 1950 and remained its Artistic Director until his resignation in 1996. He continues to own and operate the Circle in the Square Theater Uptown. Additionally, he has produced and directed a number of shows under his own auspices, including The Cherry Orchard, General Seeger, A Great Day in the Morning, Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Cameri Theater (Tel Aviv), Pygmalion, and Serjeant Musgrave's Dance. In addition to the theater, Mann worked in opera, directing La Bohème at Juilliard in 1974, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw for New York City Opera in 1988, and Gianni Schicci. His wife, Patricia Brooks, was a soprano with the New York Opera Company and appeared in several Circle productions. Circle in the Square’s long-time Managing Director and Producing Director, Paul Libin, was born in Chicago in 1930, and attended the University of Illinois and Columbia University, where he earned a B.F.A in drama. Although he had originally intended to become an actor, his first job in theater was as designer Jo Mielziner’s production assistant. He soon found success as a stage manager and, later, as a producer. In 1958, he produced his first show, an Off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, at the Martinique Theater on 32nd Street, which he leased and operated. In addition to producing Off-Broadway, Libin and partner Carol Schwartz created the Peppermint Players, a company which produced children’s theater in New York City and at various venues in the tri-state area. Libin became acquainted with Theodore Mann in 1958 when the two founded the League of Off-Broadway Theaters together, an organization created to foster theatrical productions produced in Off-Broadway theaters; their professional partnership within Circle in the Square began in 1963. After twenty-seven years, Libin left Circle in the Square to become the Producing Director for Jujamcyn Theaters, of which he is currently Vice-President.
Content: The Circle in the Square papers document the forty-five year history of the Circle in the Square theater company, and also contain the papers of Circle’s long-time Managing Director and Producing Director, Paul Libin, and its founder and Artistic Director, Theodore Mann. The collection consists of material relating to Circle in the Square's produced works, development material for unproduced works and abandoned projects, correspondence, administrative documents, financial and legal records, personal and office papers belonging to Libin and Mann, photographs, and other material relating to the day-to-day operation of a not-for-profit theatrical company. The Circle in the Square Theater School has a nominal presence in the collection, but this should not be considered an exhaustive source of information on the history or activities of the school. The collection is rich in material relating to Circle’s produced works, and productions are represented by a variety of material including correspondence, advertising, financial and legal documentation such as box office reports and contracts; press and marketing material; and stage managers’ prompt books and scripts. Productions from the 1970s and 1980s are more thoroughly documented than Circle’s early shows or its final seasons in 1996. In some cases, particularly the early works, a very limited amount of material is available; the 1951 production of John Steinbeck’s Burning Bright, for example, is represented by a single promotional postcard. The revivals of Eugene O’Neill’s works, for which Circle in the Square is particularly well known, are well represented, from the 1956 revival of The Iceman Cometh starring Jason Robards, Jr., to the 1996 revival of Hughie starring Al Pacino. Abandoned projects—shows which entered development but which were not ultimately produced—are represented by correspondence, casting files, and scripts. Circle in the Square also rented its venues for a variety of special events, such as political rallies and fundraisers, including a 1964 rally for Robert F. Kennedy; fashion shows; conferences; and play readings. Files documenting these productions have been maintained. Correspondence comprises a significant portion of the collection. As Circle in the Square often fostered relationships with the playwrights whose work they produced, letters from the playwrights can often be found with the productions, such as those from Israel Horovitz relating to Morning; from Tina Howe regarding Coastal Disturbances; from Bernard Sabath relating to The Boys in Autumn; from Herman Wouk discussing The Caine Mutiny Court Martial; and with Thornton Wilder (and his sister, Isabel) relating to The White Devil and Three For Bleecker Street, a trilogy of plays written specifically for Circle’s Bleecker Street theater. These relationships were sometimes contentious, as evidenced by exchanges between from Theodore Mann and Henry Livings (Eh?). In addition to correspondence, the life cycle of Circle’s theatrical works is illustrated through a range of material: The typical costs associated with putting up an Off-Broadway production in the early 1950’s are detailed in a proposed production budget for Dark of the Moon(1951); an annotated prompt book from The White Devil belonging to Jules Fisher gives insight into the production from the perspective of an award-winning lighting designer. The creative and logistical tribulations of translating a production developed for Circle’s theater-in-the-round into a touring production are documented in the production files for Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Box office records quantify the financial success of many productions from opening night to the final performance. Actors Equity contracts define the evolving terms of employment for actors working in Broadway and Off-Broadway theater. Scores for the few musicals Circle produced are available, as are technical drawings such as blueprints, design plans, posters, and lighting plots. Nearly all of Circle’s shows are visually preserved through extensive production photography that, in many cases, includes not only production stills, but rehearsal and opening night photographs. The independent works of Paul Libin—and to a lesser extent, Theodore Mann—are also represented in the Photographs series. Photographs of Circle’s founding staff (including Emily Stevens, Leigh Connell, and José Quintero); of early productions by the Loft Players in Woodstock, New York; and of Circle’s performance spaces at 5 Sheridan Square, 159 Bleecker Street, and Circle in the Square Uptown, have also been preserved. Financial and legal material is abundant, particularly for the 1970s through early 1990s, and consists primarily of reports and ledgers. A quantity of payroll-related material is extant, although some items are restricted due to the prevalence of Social Security numbers throughout. The files of Circle’s Development office demonstrate their tireless efforts of a not-for-profit theater to gain financial backing not only from private donors, but through corporate sponsorship and the support of charitable organizations, while subscription materials document the marketing campaigns geared toward maintaining and growing their audience base. The papers of Paul Libin, who acted as Circle’s Managing Director and Producing Director for nearly thirty years, are solidly represented here, and give insight into Circle’s day-to-day operations. Libin’s papers illustrate the depth and breadth of his administrative responsibility, but he was readily consulted on creative matters as well, as is illustrated by correspondence with a wide range of theatrical professionals including Kitty Carlisle Hart, Edward Kook, Warner Leroy, and Floria Lasky. Material relating to his children’s theater company, the Peppermint Players, and to his work for and with the Martinique Theater, document his theatrical career prior to and outside of Circle in the Square. His work as a producer and general manager is documented in the Produced Works sub-series, and include material relating to the original production of Hair and Warner Leroy's Between Two Thieves. Some personal papers and vital records are also present in the collection. The papers of Circle in the Square's founder and artistic director Theodore Mann contain a significant amount of personal and professional correspondence, as well as personal papers, office papers, and material relating to works Mann produced and directed independently of Circle in the Square. His work with Moscow’s Maly Theater in the late 1980s is also documented. These papers give insight into the day-to-day operations of Circle in the Square at both the executive and creative levels, as well as illuminating the body of work Mann produced outside the auspices of Circle. Correspondence illustrates Mann's personal and business relationships with many luminaries of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater, including Elia Kazan, Ring Lardner, Irene Papas, and Thornton Wilder. The 1960s and 1970s are particularly well represented. His correspondence also includes communications with various non-profit and educational organizations, many of which sought him as a supporter or speaker. Mann's--and by extension Circle's-- relationship to the works of Eugene O'Neill is illustrated through correspondence with the Carlotta Monterey O'Neill, the O'Neill estate, Tao House, and with individuals developing books, television, and film projects about the playwright and his works. Libin and Mann’s professional acumen is further highlighted by files documenting their work as the American agents for J. C. Williamson Theaters, an Australian producing entity. Libin and Mann were responsible for scouting American theatrical properties for production in Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s-1970s, most notably Gypsy and No, No Nanette. Other administrators, including George Elmer (Libin’s successor as Managing Director) and literary advisor Seth Goldman, are represented in the collection to a lesser extent. Material belonging or relating to other founding members, such as José Quintero, Emily Stevens, and Leigh Connell, is only superficially present, and this collection should not be considered a comprehensive resource on their careers or their work with Circle in the Square.
Physical Description
Extent: 457.73 linear feet (754 boxes)
Type of Resource
Other local Identifier: *T-Mss 2005-005
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17055067
MSS Unit ID: 21843
Archives collections id: archives_collections_21843
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): d75b0000-4bd2-013b-4eb3-0242ac110002
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