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Harvey Fierstein Donates $2.5 Million to New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Stage Directions • Theatre Buzz • June 16, 2021

The gift will establish the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab for students and teachers

The Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab logo. Artwork by James McMullan (New York Public Library)

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts announced today that it will establish the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab, creating a new dedicated educational space in the building, thanks to a $2.5 million donation from theatre legend Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein has also named the Library for the Performing Arts as a beneficiary of the Harvey Fierstein Trust, securing his legacy as a major supporter of the library’s ongoing efforts in documenting, collecting, and preserving the performing arts, and inspiring the next generation of artists.

“As the son of a librarian it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to this project,” says Fierstein. “The recent pandemic proved that there is no substitute for live theatre but what we do onstage exists only in that moment and then is gone. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ collections of photos, recordings, scripts, and live video capture offers a unique way to preserve a glimmer of theatre’s magic. My hope is that this new Theatre Lab will provide a space to not only revel in the past but inspire artists to create the theatre of tomorrow.”

The Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab will become a hub of theatre education, offering a window into the library’s archives, and encouraging young people to learn about and appreciate theatre in all its many forms. The programs and activities developed for the Lab will inspire creativity and promote literacy, building students’ knowledge of the world of theatre and familiarizing them with the free resources and collections available at the Library for the Performing Arts.

Free programming for the Theatre Lab will provide a variety of educational opportunities for formal class visits, afterschool and weekend teen programs, professional teacher development, research seminars, workshops, panel discussions, interviews, and demonstrations by theatre professionals representing all aspects of theatre arts.

The Theatre Lab will occupy what is currently a 770 square-foot meeting room and office on the Amsterdam level of the Library for the Performing Arts. It will be designed and outfitted as a flexible space for students and teachers from middle school through graduate school. The collections within the Billy Rose Theatre Division—including scripts, set models, photographs, costumes, and lighting designs, plus recordings from the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT)—will provide an unending set of resources for students, teachers, theatre professionals and theatre lovers to study and explore. The Lab’s offerings will be free to the public and will be offered during the school day, after school and on weekends.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to create a unique platform for theatre learning, and are deeply grateful to Harvey for his generosity, support, and enthusiasm,” said Jennifer Schantz, the Barbara G. And Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. “The Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab will be an incubator of creativity and embody the library’s mission to inspire lifelong learning using the Theatre Division’s unparalleled archives. The Lab will be one of the only theatre education programs in New York City that finds its source of inspiration from archival collections and will help ensure that all students have access to materials, recordings, and resources that showcase the magic of live theatre.”

This announcement marks a major highlight in the Theatre Division’s 90th anniversary year since it was founded in 1931.

Fierstein’s career is well documented throughout the Billy Rose Theatre Division’s holdings, in scripts, photographs, and recordings in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. As with all the library’s materials, access to these materials is free and open to the public.

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