Elliot Norton Reviews: A Peek into Boston Theater History

by Jessica Green

Last Monday night, the Boston theater community gathered at the Paramount Theatre to celebrate an impressive season of groundbreaking theater and honor the designers, playwrights, choreographers, actors, and directors that made it such a success. The 29th annual Elliot Norton Awards, originally known as the Norton Medal, were founded in honor of respected Boston theater critic, Elliot Norton, upon his retirement in 1982, after 48 years in the biz.

From 1958-1982, WGBH, one of the sponsors for the awards, was home to Norton’s television show, the Elliot Norton Reviews. Think Inside the Actors Studio with Elliot Norton as James Lipton, no studio audience, and all Boston theater people. Each 30-minute episode features one to three actors, directors, playwrights, or other theater personalities speaking with Norton about their recent or upcoming production, season, or career as a whole. They discuss the writing, rehearsal, and production processes and touch on topics including script analysis, production changes, design choices, acting styles, and casting decisions.

As an intern at WGBH and drama nerd, I have the privilege of cataloging the Elliot Norton Reviews this summer. This entails the joyful process of skimming through the videotapes of each of the 150+ episodes in the WGBH archives and writing a short summary of the topics covered by Norton and his guests. Unfortunately, it would take far too long to watch and transcribe every full episode, but these records will at least make researchers aware of the resources available to them at WGBH.

As a part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported Participatory Cataloging Project, the records for the Elliot Norton Reviews will be published online and available free of charge later this summer. These records, along with other records in WGBH’s Media Library and Archives catalog, will raise awareness of the rich collections available at WGBH.

Researchers and theater enthusiasts will be able to view records of the individual episodes and potentially come to WGBH to view the episodes firsthand, or work with WGBH archivists to access them online. There will also be an opportunity for scholars to enhance the records that are specific to their areas of expertise. In addition, WGBH is planning to work towards supporting and making available streaming archival media. These archival records will be a valuable resource for scholars, students, and all the theater people out there who are looking to remount a production, deepen their understanding of Boston’s rich theater history and find out fascinating tidbits about some of their favorite plays and actors.

– Jessica Green, Intern

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