Rollo Peters Costume and Set Designs
Scope and Contents
The materials in the collection document the varied theatrical and non-theatrical artistic activities of Rollo Peters from his youth until his later years. The collection includes original pencil, ink, and watercolor scene and costume designs created by Rollo Peters for theatre, dance, and opera productions. Included are designs for productions of the Provincetown Players, the Washington Square Players, The Theatre Guild, various Broadway productions, and others. Peters’s non-theatrical artworks include portrait drawings of unidentified subjects from the early 1910s, an undated sketch of Ethel Barrymore, two sketchbooks, and a few drawings and watercolors relating to his real estate and wartime activities. Photographs include several of Peters’s stage designs, Peters in acting roles, and a photograph of his sketch of Barrymore. A poster for the Theatre Guild’s production of The Faithful, containing a drawing by Peters, and a poster advertising Peters’s production of Ruth Draper at the Wharf Theatre in Monterey, are also included.
The costume and scene designs are interfiled and arranged alphabetically by title of production. Peters’s portrait drawings are arranged by date. The photographs are arranged alphabetically by subject. Oversized materials are housed in Box 4. For preservation reasons, some of Peters’s designs that were matted for exhibition purposes during his lifetime have been removed from the mats. Notations on the mat board by Peters and others were photocopied onto acid-free paper and foldered with the drawings. Information in brackets ([ ]) was supplied by the archivist who processed the papers.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright has not been transferred to Yale University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Bequest of Rollo Peters.
Organized in three series: I. Costume and Set Designs, 1917-1958. II. Non-theatrical Drawings, 1912-1952. III. Photographs and Posters, 1919-1965.
1 Linear Feet (4 boxes)
Language of Materials
The materials in the collection document the varied theatrical and non-theatrical artistic activities of Rollo Peters from his youth until his later years.
Biographical / Historical
Charles Rollo Peters, III was born in Paris, France, on September 25, 1892, the son of the American artist Charles Rollo Peters, Jr. and Mary Murphy Peters. He spent his early childhood in France, but moved to his father’s native California when he was five years old. He attended schools in Monterey, California, and while a freshman at Pacific Grove High School he participated in theatrical productions at the Work Theater of Monterey. Following his first year in high school his family moved abroad and Peters studied to be a portraitist in London, Paris, and Munich. He returned to the United States in 1914, and began working in New York City as a portraitist, poster painter, and art teacher.
Within a few years of arriving in New York, Peters began working with experimental theatre companies including the Washington Square Players, for whom he designed the sets for Life of Man in January of 1917. Later that year he designed the sets and acted in Night, a production of the Provincetown Players. Peters also designed for Broadway productions including Madame Sand with Minnie Maddern Fiske, Lady of the Camellias with Ethel Barrymore, and One Night in Rome with Laurette Taylor. Peters was one of several theatrical scene designers (including Lee Simonson and Norman Bel Geddes) to be chosen to exhibit their work at the Bourgeois Galleries in New York in April 1919. That same spring, he was named company director of the Theatre Guild, a company formed by Lawrence Langner and other members of the Washington Square Players, which had disbanded the previous year. He designed and acted in the company’s first two productions, Bonds of Interest and John Ferguson, but in the fall of 1919, he resigned his directorship reportedly over a disagreement with the board of managers over script changes for the production of The Faithful.
In the 1920s, Peters designed and acted in numerous Broadway shows, including one of the most renowned American productions of Romeo and Juliet (1923). His design of the set and costumes and his acting in the role of Romeo opposite Jane Cowl were highly praised. In 1921, Peters designed costumes for George Pierce Baker’s The Pilgrim Spirit, a tercentennial pageant celebrating the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts. And in 1925 he designed the costumes for Adolph Bolm’s ballet of La Falla’s Amor Brujo in Chicago. In the summer of 1927, he directed his own stock company with Ann Harding in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1931, Lawrence Langner established the Westport Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, as a summer venue. Peters designed various productions during the first summer there, including The Streets of New York, which moved to the 48th Street Theatre in New York in October of 1931. Peters designed, directed, and acted in touring productions of Shakespeare in 1935 and 1936. He was asssistant director to George Cukor in Hollywood in 1935, and was advisor on the MGM production of Romeo and Juliet (1936). During World War II, he toured England in Blithe Spirit as part of the USO Camp Shows.
In addition to his stage work, Peters was involved in renovating and building homes in Rockland County, New York, in the late 1930s and 1940s. During World War II he was a volunteer member of the San Francisco Office of Civilian Defense and worked in the camouflage shop of the navy air force. Following the war he returned to New York State, but moved back to California in the 1950s. In 1965, a number of his designs were exhibited at the Tantamount Theatre in Carmel Valley, California. He died in Monterey, California, on January 21, 1967.
- Costume design -- United States
- Costume designers -- United States
- Drawings (visual works)
- Peters, Rollo
- Provincetown Players
- Set designers -- United States
- Theater -- Stage setting and scenery -- United States
- Theatre Guild
- Washington Square Players (New York, N.Y.)
- Watercolors (paintings)
- Westport Country Playhouse (Westport, Conn.)
- Guide to the Rollo Peters Costume and Set Designs
- Compiled by Susan Brady
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.