The Play’s the Thing…in Buffalo

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“Sari” at the Star Theatre. Buffalo, NY, 1914. [Playbill]

Buffalo theater-buffs had plenty of entertainment options during our illustrious history, and the Grosvenor Room has the playbills and programs to prove it!  Vaudeville, dramatic theater, and musical comedy were all popular, and hundreds of venues have come and gone from Buffalo’s theater scene.  Major stars of the stage graced our city, and some were even from Buffalo.  We won’t go too much into our very extensive theater history, but you can read a fascinating timeline on this Buffalo History website.

Thanks to donations to the library from those theater-goers, largely during the 1940s and 50s, the Grosvenor Room has thousands of programs and playbills from over 90 theatrical venues in Buffalo and Erie County.  The earliest date from the 1850s and 1860s, but most of the programs are from 1900 to 1950.  We continue to add recent productions from local theaters, as well as donations of historic programs.

The programs are a treasure trove of printed design trends; covers reflect the era’s style, from ornate illustrations to minimal typography.  Here are some of our favorite finds from the collection:


The quintessential theatre-going couple adorn “Dishonored Lady” at Shubert-Teck Theatre, 1930.


Julius Caesar at Star Theatre, 1903. Note the ticket stub pasted inside, along with the initials of the people who attended with the owner of this program.


Cat and the Canary at Teck Theatre, 1926. Delightfully spooky.

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A mythological dancing faun at the Shubert-Teck, 1928.


A charming illustration on “The Cat on the Oregon Trail” at Studio Theatre, 1961.


Playbills printed on cloth, likely for special events. Left: My Brother’s Sister at Academy of Music, 1889. Right: The Dutch Champion at Lafayette Theatre, 1911.

And last, but not least: One local theatre-goer was so overcome with emotion after seeing Sarah Bernhardt that she wrote on the program below “She’s wonderful—But she tears one to pieces. I wasn’t fit to be seen for a week after.”  According to the program, the “World’s Greatest Artiste” performed the “Death of Cleopatra” and other tragic scenes.


Sarah Bernhardt at Star Theatre, 1916.

For more on our programs and Buffalo theater history, including a list of all the theaters in our collection, see our updated research guide.

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