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Guide to the Magic Theatre Records, 1967-1990
BANC MSS 81/184 c  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational History
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Magic Theatre Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1967-1990
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 81/184 c
    Creator: Magic Theatre
    Extent: Number of containers: 12 cartons, 3 oversize boxes, 16 oversize folders, 1 volume, 2 tubes Linear feet: ca. 18
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: The Magic Theatre records contain the administrative, production, financial, and publicity records of a theatre company that grew from a handful of graduate students to a well respected company known for its support of new theatrical works. The collection, which spans the period of John Lion's tenure as Artistic Director and General Director, includes corresondence, bylaws, manuscripts of writings and speeches, programs, posters, financial statements, and clippings. Includes documents relating to the relationship between the Magic Theatre and Sam Shepard, who followed Michael McClure as an important playwright for the company.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers

    Access

    Collection is open for research, with the following exception: In Carton 6: Salary Surveys by the Theatre Communications Group are restricted.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Magic Theatre Records, BANC MSS 81/184 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: Magic Theatre Scripts,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 81/14 c

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Photographs have been transferred to Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library.
    • Videotapes/sound recordings have been transferred to the Microforms Collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Magic Theatre Scripts were received as part of the Magic Theatre Records, purchased by The Bancroft Library, via Serendipity Books, in three installments, in 1980, 1988, and 1990.

    Funding

    Funding for the 1980 acquisition provided by a gift from The Friends of The Bancroft Library, and with donations made in memory of Theodore R. Meyer. Funding for the 1988 and 1990 additions were provided by the Richard Henry Chabot Dieckmann Fund.

    Organizational History

    The Magic Theatre was founded in 1967 in Berkeley, Calif., with a production of Eugene Ionesco's, The Lesson, by a group of University of California, Berkeley graduate students, headed by John Lion, who had an interest in the newly emerging, avant-garde European playwrights, including Ionesco, Genet, and Beckett. They had no intention of starting a theatre, but with the success of The Lesson, the company moved into the Steppenwolf Bar on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, and began producing plays as the Magic Theatre, a name adopted from Hesse's novel, Steppenwolf.
    European playwrights dominated the Magic Theatre's early productions, but these were soon augmented by American authors emerging from the political, social, and artistic ferment of the 1960s, including Leroi Jones, Michael McClure, and Sam Shepard. The work of the Magic Theatre reflected the social upheaval of the time, with the intention of presenting different aspects of a chaotic world without becoming polarized to one point of view. Magic Theatre's goal was to concentrate its efforts on newly scripted works, with the purpose of developing new playwrights and giving an alternative, experimental forum to established writers. They drew not only from the theatrical community but from the talents of people in many areas of the arts -- painters, sculptors, film makers, poets, musicians, and dancers, and deliberately represented no particular political point of view except that of free expression.
    Over the past twenty-five years, the Magic Theatre was housed in some ten locations, not including touring bookings. There were several stints each at Steppenwolf and Mandrake's Bars in Berkeley. They also performed at the University Art Museum, and in a theatre the staff built in an old building at the corner of University and Shattuck Avenues until 1972, when the company moved permanently to San Francisco. It was located briefly in the Firehouse Theatre (now the Lumier Cinema), the Museum of Erotic Art (now defunct), the Intersection Theatre, and the Rose and Thistle Pub on California and Polk Streets. In 1977, the Magic Theatre finally moved to a permanent home at Fort Mason, and eventually built two playhouses of its own.
    From the very beginning, John Lion assumed the role of general and artistic director, and brought the theatre from a group of college students with no base and no funding to become the Bay Area's leading producer of new plays. In 1976, Lion recruited the British theatre critic and essayist, Martin Esslin, as dramaturg. His early books on Brecht, the theatre of the absurd, and avant-garde European plays had been the strongest guidelines to the originators of the Magic Theatre.
    Not every production at the Magic Theatre has been a smashing success. But the experimental theatre has witnessed an increasing number of subscribers and plays each year, and both local and national critics have been following their progress with much interest and acclaim.

    Scope and Content

    The Magic Theatre Records, 1967-1990, contain the administrative, production, financial, and publicity records of a theatre company that grew from a handful of graduate students to a well respected company known for its support of new theatrical works. The collection, which spans the period of John Lion's tenure as Artistic Director and General Director of Magic Theatre, includes correspondence, bylaws, manuscripts of writings and speeches, programs, posters, financial statements, and clippings. An extensive collection of scripts received with the company's archives have been separated from these records and are collected as Magic Theatre Scripts, 1966-1990 (BANC MSS 81/14 c).
    The records of the Magic Theatre provide insight into how a theater company can survive and become established in financially difficult times, while maintaining the avant garde spirit of its original productions. For this reason, much of its financial records consist of grant applications and funding requests, while publicity records contain mostly information about ticket subscription campaigns. In the administrative files, correspondence documents the company's contact with playwrights, actors, and contractors concerning the theme of the plays, payment, and stage design, and along with the organizational files, present an overview of Magic's general operation, mission, and history. The artistic relationship between Magic Theatre and Sam Shepard, who followed Michael McClure as an important playwright for the company, is well documented. In its attempt to support other artists, Magic Theatre also sponsored exhibits of contemporary art in its lobby and hallways, took part in arts festivals, and sponsored interns and training programs.
    The public reaction to Magic Theatre's plays was best reflected in the production files, which contains reviews of individual plays, and in the press reviews, which contains articles about the company. The collection also includes posters from many of Magic Theatre's productions from its earliest years until the early 1980's.