Since 1969 the Library has been acquiring theatre collections, but it was really during the 1980s after the formal establishment of Archival and Special Collections that Leonard Conolly’s leadership as chair of the Drama Department (1981-1988) and later as Associate Vice-President Academic (1988-1992) helped firmly establish the University of Guelph as a destination for the study of theatre history. It was through Conolly’s contacts and discussions with significant Ontario theatres such as Phoenix and Tarragon in Toronto and the Grand in London, that soon led to their boards to agree to donate what was then a precious but endangered cultural heritage for Canadian drama and theatre. These rich and varied holdings, now known as The L.W. Conolly Theatre Archives, have become a major resource used by Guelph faculty and students as well as researchers within Canada and from around the world.
The collections are focused on the work of Bernard Shaw; modern Ontario theatre companies; and playwrights, actors, directors, designers, cutters, and administrators active in Ontario theatre life. Over the years, the Library's commitment has grown significantly to the point that it has become the largest collection of Canadian theatre and Shaw-related materials in Canada with more than 200 collections in its holdings.
Major theatres in regional centres are well-represented in our holdings: the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, the Grand Theatre in London, and the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa.
A great many smaller Ontario companies such as the Blyth Festival, and Le Théâtre Français de Toronto, Theatre Terra Nova from Hamilton; the Blyth Festival; and the Lighthouse Festival from Port Dover are represented in the collection.
The records of many companies such as the Toronto-based Phoenix Theatre, NDWT, and Toronto Workshop Productions, as well as Theatre and Company (Kitchener), alas no longer in operation, have also been acquired and preserved.
In addition to holdings representing theatre in Ontario, many individuals have generously donated their own personal papers and materials which represent not just their work in Ontario but also internationally. Our library is much richer with holdings from Christopher Newton, William Hutt, Richard Rose, Judith Thompson, Hilary Corbett, Cameron Porteous, Tony van Bridge, Neil Munro, Susan Benson, George Walker, Barry Morse, and many others.
Children's theatre (Young People's Theatre, the Carousel Players, Theatre on the Move), First Nations theatre (Native Earth Performing Arts), LGBTQ theatre (Sky Gilbert fonds, Buddies in Bad Times), feminist theatre (Windsor Feminist Theatre, Nightwood Theatre) multicultural and community theatre (Black Theatre Canada, Cahoots Theatre Projects, Eramosa Community Players), and various forms of theatre outside the mainstream (Toby Gordon Ryan Collection, Theatre Smith-Gilmour, Theatre Columbus Outaouais Popular Theatre, and Necessary Angel) are other facets of the rich complexity of Ontario and Canadian theatre reflected in the Guelph archives.
Archives of major national professional organizations are also housed at Guelph, including the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, the Associated Designers of Canada, and the Playwrights' Union of Canada, while the archives of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research and the records of the 1991 International Women Playwrights Conference provide two examples of the preservation of important research and scholarship resources.
By far the majority of collections relate to twentieth-century theatre, but there are one or two interesting exceptions, including the Garrick Family Papers. Other exceptions include small collections on a nineteenth-century Toronto Opera House, British actor Edmund Kean, late nineteenth-century U.S. and Canadian music halls and theatres, and London's Independent Theatre.
|Associated Designers of Canada||A professional association that acts as a bartering agent primarily for set designers. This collection focuses on Canada's participation in the Prague Quadriennale.||1966-1988|
|Association for Canadian Theatre Research||This professional association is dedicated to preserving Canadian theatre by bringing arts and academics together. It publishes in Theatre Research in Canada/Recherche du théâtre au Canada.||1976-1990|
|Black Theatre Canada fonds||Primarily production and publicity records for one of Canada's best known late-twentieth century Black theatre companies, which has since ceased operation.||1973-1988|
|Blyth Festival||This is a smaller company that operates out of Blyth, Ontario, and focuses on featuring and producing exclusively Canadian content.||1975-present|
|Cahoots Theatre Project||Cahoots is a multicultural theatre company that promotes and supports new writing projects. It now functions under the name Cahoots Theatre Company.||1986-1991|
|Cameron Porteous fonds||Set models, technical and costume drawings, reviews and articles, photos covering some of the work done by Cameron Porteous during his career with Shaw Festival and other theatres across the country,||1972-2005|
|Canadian Players||Canadian Players was a professional theatre company that toured Canada, primarily performing the works of George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare. It has since ceased operation.||1955-1965|
|Canadian Stage Company fonds||Administrative and production records of this major professional theatre company in Toronto, ON, formed from a merger of Toronto Free Theatre and CentreStage.||1988-present|
|Caravan Stage Company||This is a touring stage company that has reached international recognition, premiering shows in Greece, Turkey, Austria and Croatia.||1970-2001|
|Carousel Players||Designed for a younger audience, this theatre company focuses on encouraging the innovation and creation of new works by school-aged children.||1972-2014|
|CentreStage||Production, publicity, and administrative files of CentreStage, a professional theatre company in Toronto, ON, which merged in 1988 with Toronto Free Theatre to form the Canadian Stage Company.||1965-1988|
|Citizens Theatre (Glasgow)||An international Scottish flagship company based in Glasgow.||1944-1985|
|Creative Trust||This professional organization worked with theatre, dance, and music companies to help with organizational sustainability and improving financial standing. It has since ceased operation.||1998-2010|
|Crest Theatre||Operating between 1954-1966, Crest Theatre was a company that focused on both modern and classic works. It is no longer in operation.||1954-1966|
|Earle Grey Shakespearean Festival||Formed by British actors Earle Grey and Mary Godwin, the Earle Grey Shakespearean Festival is a topical festival focusing solely on the works of William Shakespeare. It ceased operation in 1958.||1949-1958|
|Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres||A collection featuring two theatres that operated in the same building. These theatres are no longer producing live performances.||1914-15, 1987-1990|
|Equity Showcase Theatre||This not-for-profit organisation encouraged the artistic development of theatre professionals.||1959-2007|
|Eugene Benson fonds||Contains first editions, draft editions and working copies of creative works by Eugene Benson, correspondence, newspaper clippings, photos and slides.||1915-2012|
|Factory Theatre||Factory Theatre is an experimental theatre based in Toronto which creates and features new Canadian Content only.||1970-1996|
|FLIP Publicity||A PR agency with a focus on public communications and media for all those involved in theatre or public performances.||1988-2010|
|Gaiety Theatre (Manchester)||A now closed theatre that was used throughout the early to mid 20th Century in England.||1904|
|Grand Theatre||A professional Ontario theatre that opened in 1901 and is still producing live performances today.||1985-Present|
|Great Canadian Theatre Company||Formed in 1975, this Canadian theatre was created by U of Ottawa Students and Professors.||1975-1993|
|Ground Zero Productions||This controversial topical theatre was originally based in Toronto but has since moved to Alberta.||1982-1997|
|Guelph Light Opera Company||A small company, focused on vocal talent, that is no longer in operation.||1971|