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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 490

Theodore Komisarjevsky papers


Papers documenting the British and American career of Russian-born theater director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky.


  • Creation: 1912-1970

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English, Russian, French, and German.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


17 linear feet (26 boxes)
17 linear feet (26 boxes)

Includes: correspondence, compositions, production records, programs, clippings, photographs, contracts and some personal items of Theodore Komisarjevsky. Materials represent his career in theatre directing and design in Great Britain and United States from 1919 to 1954.

Scope and Contents

Box 26 was inadvertently skipped during numbering.

Biographical / Historical

Theodore Komisarjevsky was a leading 20th century theatrical director and designer, particularly known for his productions of plays by Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare in England in the 1930s.

Born into a theatrical Russian family, a son of an opera singer, and a younger step-brother of a prominent Russian actress Vera Komissarzhevskaia, he was raised in Italy and Russia. In 1903 he joined his sister's company in Saint-Petersburg as a director and designer. He moved to Moscow in 1910, where he opened his own studio and worked with a number of companies staging and designing dramas and operas. After the October Revolution of 1917, he was named Director of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 1919 he left Soviet Russia and shortly afterwards settled in England.

In the 1930s his productions of King Lear and Macbeth for the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Memorial Company were widely acclaimed as the most innovative of his time. He also published a study of theatrical costumes, translated and wrote plays, and gave lectures at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1930s he designed interiors for a number of landmark movie theatre buildings of the Granada Theatres Ltd.

Komisarjevsky moved to the United States in 1939, where he staged a number of productions at the New York City Opera, gave lectures on theatre, and opened Komisarjevsky Theatre Studio in New Haven, where he taught summer courses and staged versions of Russian classics with his students. He died in Darien, Connecticut in 1954.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Compositions
  3. III. Production records
  4. IV. Printed material
  5. V. Photographs
  6. VI. Biographical material
  7. VII. Additional material

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

92-93.076.02. Gift of Ernestine Stodelle Chamberlain; received: 1957-1993.

Separated Materials

Separated from this collection were costume designs and set designs, Shakespeare prompt books, and non-annotated printed material from his personal library.

Designs were cataloged as part of the Russian theatrical designs at the Harvard Theatre Collection project and are listed in the Harvard VIA catalog under the designer's name. Prompt books are cataloged in Harvard's HOLLIS catalog.

Processing Information

Processed by: Irina Klyagin and Jonathan Gray

Komisarjevsky, Theodore, 1882-1954. Theodore Komisarjevsky papers, 1912-1970: Guide.
Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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