Drama Book Shop Celebrates 100th Anniversary

by Michael Eddy
The Drama Book Shop
The Drama Book Shop

The Drama Book Shop, currently located at 250 West 40th Street in NYC's theatre district, celebrates its 100 years of service to all interested in the performing arts and its 100 years as being a vital part the performing arts community. The TONY award-winning Drama Book Shop will commemorate its 100th birthday with an all-day celebration on Monday, October 2nd, 2017 open to the public. The schedule of free events includes seminars with actors, directors, and playwrights plus a one-on-one interview by legendary newsman Bill Moyers with playwright Robert Schenkkan. 

The Drama Book shop began on a small scale as a tiny startup in the offices of the Drama League of New York. It was a hundred years ago, in 1917, that the new Drama Book Shop offered a few books for sale and has since grown and prospered to serve the world-wide performing arts community. In the early 1900s, scripts were not available to the general public. Marjorie Seligman, a determined stage-struck theater lover and Drama League member, saw the need to put the scripts in the hands of the theater going public who wanted to read what they had just seen. The public loved it and they wanted more. The shop incorporated in 1923, opening a storefront of its own. Inventory expanded to include additional subjects about performing arts: producing, designing, make-up, lighting, criticism, and more. Almost 100 years later, in 2011, in recognition of its place in the theater community, The Drama Book Shop received a Tony Award for Excellence in the Theatre, the first such award given to a book shop.

In 1958, Arthur Seelen, an actor friend of Marjorie’s, bought a share of the shop from Seligman, now on West 52ndStreet, and with her retirement, he and few other actors took over the concern completely. Seelen expanded the inventory and shepherded its growth and its place in the performing arts community all while keeping the shop cozy and manageable. He met his wife, Rozanne, when she came to work at the shop, and they expanded again with a new location on the 2nd floor at West 48th Street and 7th Avenue. They made the shop a place to meet and greet, to find everything you need as an actor, a director, a designer. They included more books about all aspects of performing arts, even as the largest part of the inventory deals with theater.

Arthur and Rozanne ran the shop together until Arthur’s death in 2000. Rozanne continues to run the shop, now with her nephew, Allen Hubby. In 2001, they moved the shop to a storefront location, 250 West 40th Street, complete with a black box theater—The Arthur Seelen Theater—where book events, shows, classes, rehearsals, and much more go on all day. In The Heights music poured out of the theater for months as the award-winning show was written there. The shop has a resident theater company, The Story Pirates, who have their office in the shop and use the theater for shows on a regular basis even as the company travels around the country. The first year on 40th Street, the big bay window hosted a large mannequin, her dress made out of the facsimile of the hand-written pages of one of the first plays written by a woman, Aphra Behn. Modeled after Elizabeth Inchbald, a beacon to writers, the mannequin spent the entire first year in the window, and now lives inside the shop. The shop boasts an extremely knowledgeable staff—well versed in the performing arts, most of who have worked in front or behind the curtain, and some still do. Dedicated patrons return again and again.

In 2016, after a pipe burst above the shop and ruined inventory and structure, patrons from all over the country joined in to help get the shop back up and running. Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of Hamilton, took to social media and asked all his fans to buy books at the shop. His efforts brought in old and new customers alike, and all were central to aiding the shop while it was working on repairs. A few months later, the shop hosted the launch of Hamilton, The Revolution, the complete book of the Broadway smash hit, Hamilton, and saw a line form around the block. The shop sold over 1,600 books in one day—an historic launch.

On October 2nd, 2017 The Drama Book Shop's 100th Anniversary Open house's schedule of free events includes seminars with actors, directors, and playwrights will include: actors Kathleen Chalfant, Cass Morgan, André De Sheilds, Patti Mariano; directors Trip Cullman, Liesl Tommy, Mark Brokaw; and  playwrights Charles Busch, Colman Domingo, Stephen Karam, Max Posner, and Sarah Ruhl. As well as the one-on-one interview by legendary newsman Bill Moyers with playwright Robert Schenkkan.

Further information from the Drama Book Shop and the 100th Anniversary celebration: www.dramabookshop.com