Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway hit musical Hamilton, purchased New York City’s Drama Book Shop with a few of his Hamilton collaborators (including Hamilton director Tommy Kail). The New York Times broke the news, explaining that the store “has struggled to survive the brutal Times Square real estate market.” It was recently announced that the store would be closing its current spot on January 20 and while that’s still the plan, the Hamilton team will be working with the city to ensure that its new location stays in midtown, the heart of New York City theater.
The Drama Book Shop holds a vast collection of plays available for purchase, and much of the theater community’s rich history. It sells well-known theatrical scripts as well as published works by new and developing playwrights and provides a rich resource of monologue and scene study options for actors in need of audition or acting class material. The New York Times’ reported that the Drama Book Shop sells “about 155,000 items a year,” a number that seems too small to support the bill of the shop’s monthly rent and upkeep; however, that number is in part due to the fact that the shop provides artists unable to afford to purchase their scripts a space to read and return them in-store.
Before the legendary store reopens this fall in midtown, here’s what you need to know about the Drama Book Shop:
1. It Has Been Open Since 1917
According to the Drama Book Shop’s website, it was founded in 1917 by the Drama League but became an independent store 6 years later in 1923. When it moved to its current location on West 40th Street, it took on 5,000 square feet of space including a 60-seat black box theater in its basement.
Miranda, Kail, Hamilton lead producer Jeffrey Seller, and Nederlander Organization president purchased the from Rozen Seelen; the New York Times reports that her late husband Arthur bought the store in 1958. Seelen told the Times ““It’s the chronic problem — the rents were just too high, and I’m 84 years old — I just didn’t have the drive to find a new space and make another move.” Though she sold them the store, they “pledge[d] to retain her as a consultant.”
The store has been recognized by its community for the impact it has on new and established artists alike and received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theater in 2011, an award “bestowed on individuals, organizations, and institutions that have demonstrated profound achievement in theater but are ineligible in any of the established Tony categories.”
2. The Drama Book Shop Has an Online Store & Database of Their Collection
If you do not live in New York City or intend to visit before the shop’s closing, their website allows for the online purchasing of a number of plays and theatrical resources. If you know what you are looking for, a search bar is provided for you to input the title, author, keyword, or ISBN number. When your selection pops up, the site will tell you how many days in which it usually ships or if it needs to be specially ordered.
That online resource is also a pretty accurate way of knowing if the materials you’re looking for are carried in-store. In the Drama Book Store itself, there is a database of the store’s stock available, and “a staff of about 20, many of whom are actors or have theater-related interests” ready to assist you. If you’d prefer to call ahead with the title and author or ISBN number, the Drama Book Shop’s number is (212) 944-0595.
2. Miranda & Kail Developed ‘In the Heights’ in the Store’s Basement
Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail (who met as college students at Wesleyan University), brought In the Heights to Broadway. Miranda told The New York Times “I wrote a good deal of ‘In the Heights’” in the Drama Book Shop’s basement. At the time of the 2008 Tony-award-winning musical’s development, Kail’s theater company Back House Productions was a resident in the store’s basement blackhouse.
On Twitter, Miranda also revealed that the 2002 reading of In The Heights, featuring Chris Jackson (who starred in both In the Heights and Hamilton) took place in that same basement.
4. Following the News, the Theater Community Shared Their Drama Book Shop Stories
Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he is known and beloved for doing, took to Twitter to share some of his personal memories and connection to the Drama Book Shop. When announcing the news, Miranda shared on Twitter that the Drama Book Shop was an important part of his life as a teen, and played a pivotal role in shaping his career: “In 2002, I met with Tommy Kail in the Drama Book Shop. It gave us a place to go.”
Following that lead, established members of the Broadway and New York theater communities came out from the Twitter woodwork and began sharing stories of their own, proving the impact that the store has had on the development of artists and theatrical work. Bellamy Young, who starred as President Mellie Grant on Scandal, thanked Miranda and Seelan, adding “@dramabookshop fed our souls, nurtured our dreams & gave us a haven. What a joy to know it can keep doing that for all the dreamers to come.”
5. The Drama Book Shop Will Be Hosting One Final Event at Their Current Location
After announcing the purchase, the Drama Book Shop’s Twitter account tweeted out an invitation to “the last event at [their] current location on January 18.” According to the event info they provided, that event features a conversation about writing for the theater with playwrights Annie Baker and Amy Herzog. Ahead of the event, which begins at 5pm, the Drama Book Shop has Baker’s and Herzog’s plays available for purchase.
The store’s current location remains open for business as usual until January 20. It is located at 250 West 40th Street; its exact location and daily hours of operation can be found here.