The David Downs papers are arranged in thirty-nine boxes and span the years from1946 to 2003. They are organized into five main subseries: biographical materials, correspondence, Northwestern University, publications and professional work, and oversize materials.
Biographical materials fill more than one box and are arranged alphabetically by topical headings. These materials feature some of the earliest mementos of Downs's life, including his baby book and primary school report cards. Memorabilia from his high school and college years dominates this section, but evidence of later life, such as vita, clippings, and genealogical records are also present.
Correspondence fills approximately twenty boxes and is arranged chronologically. Some files of correspondence, largely family related, are topically arranged and may be found at the end of this subseries. Letters Downs received from his acting mentor Alvina Krause are available in Northwestern University Archives Series 20/67, the papers of Alvina Krause.
Downs's correspondence files are substantial and give many insights into the personality of their recipient. Letters dating from the early 1970s between Downs and his friends from the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble contain much discussion of Krause and her teaching methods.
Downs's close relationships with his own students resulted in many genuine friendships. These are reflected here. Notable correspondents include David Schwimmer (of the sitcom Friends) (September 2, 1994; Box 15, Folder 4); Kim Williams (of the film Father of the Bride) throughout the 1990's; Zach Braff (of the sitcom Scrubs and the film Garden State) (Christmas of 1998 and 1999; Box 18); Greg Berlanti (writer of Dawson's Creek and Everwood) throughout the 1990's; Stephen Colbert (of the Daily Show and The Colbert Report) (September 10, 1988; Box 10, Folder 6); and John Logan (writer of films Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, and The Aviator) throughout the 1990's. Downs also maintained correspondence with entertainment notables who did not study under him at Northwestern, for example, David Zucker of Warner Brothers Studios.
Also found in the correspondence are many letters of praise and thanks for Downs's teaching. One such letter came from a student's parent and expresses a deep gratitude July 12, 1991; Box 12, Folder 6). Similar items pepper the correspondence.
Letters from Downs to his mother reveal some of his thoughts about Alvina Krause and his hopefulness about appointment to the Northwestern faculty. Most importantly, they provide insight into his daily life during the period that he developed approaches to both acting and teaching.
Files concerning Downs's Northwestern University involvement fill approximately eleven boxes. Teaching and directing files occupy the bulk of this subseries: Downs maintained extensive notes on his endeavors in both areas. A smaller volume of files relate to his university and Theatre Department activities. Teaching files include syllabi and administrative materials on the undergraduate courses B43, C07, C41, C49 as well as on graduate courses in acting.
Following these files on specific courses are folders containing Downs's class notes for each year. These are arranged chronologically, and there is a folder for every year he taught at Northwestern. Class notes typically feature Downs's commentaries on acting exercises as well as critiques of student work. Completing the teaching files are several folders of general administrative materials. Of particular significance is a senior thesis written by Jon Schumacher (Box 27, Folder 10) on the methodology of Downs's teaching. Schumacher discussed Down's teaching style in relation to other Northwestern faculty. Files in the directing category are arranged alphabetically by title of production. These files often hold plans for sets, costume designs, or dramaturgical notes. They always contain Downs's handwritten notes on the production's goals and progress toward meeting those goals. Down's departmental and university activities are reflected in a number of files relating to service on the Committee for the Writing Arts in 1996 and membership in the Gay and Lesbian University Union (a group to gain benefits for partners of University employees) from 1993 to 1997. Other notable files found here concern Downs's teaching awards. These include recommendations from former students, such as David Schwimmer, Greg Berlanti, John Logan, and others.
Files relating to publications and professional work fill approximately two boxes. The first folders contain Downs's work or pertinent reviews and related items. Included here is a copy of The Actor's Eye with annotations by friends. Also included are drafts of David's articles, “Creating a Doll's House from Life,” “Alvina Krause: A Great Teacher of Acting” and “Directing Sophocles' Electra.” Following are folders containing programs and clippings concerning the work of former students. Finally, there are folders on Down's acting and the directing he did outside of Northwestern University. These folders contain notes, programs, and reviews of shows at local theaters as well as a folder of mementos from his work at the Warner Brothers Studios.
Oversize materials include posters from theatrical productions, a set design, and a costume design as well as five scrapbooks. The scrapbooks relate largely to Downs's early life, education, and athletic accomplishments.
Addition, Box 39
This addition to the papers of David A. Downs includes:
one folder of correspondence written by Downs to his mother has been added to the series. The correspondence dates between circa 1988 and 2006 and is arranged chronologically;
notes relating to three acting classes Downs taught at Northwestern in 2006;
a folder of notes and teaching materials relating to acting classes Downs taught in Los Angeles during his 2004-2005 leave of absence from Northwestern University; and
a program from a 1988 Northwestern Summer Drama Festival production of Much "Ado About Nothing" as well as notes and directions from the 2006 Summer production of Shakespeare's R & J. Downs directed the plays.