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David A. Downs (1946- ) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 20/69

Scope and Contents

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 1, 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.

Addition 2, Boxes 40-51

This addition fills 12 boxes and spans the years 1927-2014. The series is divided into 3 main sections: personal materials, professional materials, and multimedia materials and artifacts. These sections are divided into 8 subsections: general personal materials, correspondence, writing, general professional materials, Northwestern University professional materials, scripts, multimedia materials, and artifacts.

The general personal materials section contains report cards and books from multiple members of Downs’s family; ration book from World War II; drawing books Downs used as a child; Downs’s various artistic projects; cause of death papers for Downs’s father and sister; and papers from Allegheny College, Loyola University, and Bloomsburg University.

The correspondence section contains Downs’s correspondence with various friends, family, and acquaintances, such as Downs’s mother Wilda, his father John, and his sister Jane; and friends and colleagues John Logan, Charles Busch, Kim Williams, and David Schwimmer. This section also contains folders with articles related to some of the people with whom Downs retained contact.

The writing section contains Downs’s college essays and writings, as well as his plays and writings written after college.

The general professional materials section contains identification cards and papers from acting unions and other professional institutions, teaching papers from the Arden Theatre Company, and an article mentioning Downs.

The Northwestern University professional materials section contains teaching journals and materials, identification cards, correspondence, an article about Downs and Zach Braff, all from Downs’s time as a Northwestern professor.

The scripts section contains television scripts from television shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Scrubs, Everwood, Modern Family, and Friends. Most are scripts for television shows in which Downs played a role. This section also contains various other papers related to the filming of Dawson’s Creek.

The multimedia materials section contains cassette tapes and VHS tapes of student films in which Downs played a role, performances done by Northwestern University, and recordings related to Alvina Krause and Downs’s old high school.

The artifacts section contains Downs’s art scrapbook, as well as various pins, pendants, patches, and pocketknives Downs or his father owned during their lives.

Dates

  • 1927 - 2014

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Correspondence with John Logan and David Schwimmer may be used only with the approval of David Downs (see record for Accession 14-80).

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored at a remote campus location and requires 48 hours advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at specialcollections@northwestern.edu or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.

Extent

51 Boxes

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Downs most significant contributions to the field of theatre were in his role as an acting teacher and director, both roles he played at Northwestern University from 1973 – 2007. The David Downs papers are arranged in 51 boxes and span the years from 1927 to 2014. They are organized into five main subseries: biographical materials, correspondence, Northwestern University, publications and professional work, and oversize materials.

Arrangement Note

The David Downs papers are arranged in thirty-nine boxes and span the years from 1946 to 2003. They are organized into five main subseries: biographical materials, correspondence, Northwestern University, publications and professional work, and oversize materials.

The second addition fills 12 boxes and spans the years 1927-2014. The series is divided into 3 main sections: personal materials, professional materials, and multimedia materials and artifacts. These sections are divided into 8 subsections: general personal materials, correspondence, writing, general professional materials, Northwestern University professional materials, scripts, multimedia materials, and artifacts.

Method of Acquisition

David Downs donated his papers to the Northwestern University Archives over several months in 2004 (Accessions 04-31, 04-47, 04-57, 04-62, 04-74, 04-79, and 04-81).

Addition 1: David Downs donated these materials to the Northwestern University Archives on September 20, 2006 (Accession #06-129).

Addition 2: David Downs donated his papers to the Northwestern University Archives over a period of several years from 2007-2016 (Accessions 06-129, 07-32, 07-73, 08-68. 08-158, 10-111, 10-196, 13-161, 14-80, 14-110, and 16-158).

Separated Materials

During processing approximately five linear inches of photographs were separated to the University Archives' photograph collection and filed under the general heading: Downs, David A. Several video and audiocassette tapes were separated to the Archives' collections of materials in those formats. See videocassette 926 through 965 and audiocassettes 1703 and 1704.

Addition 2: Two awards, the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence medallion and the Northwestern Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award, have been separated to the Northwestern University Archives collection of artifacts. Twenty-two videocassettes have been placed with the department’s materials in that format (Accession 08-68, videocassette numbers 1450 through 1471). An audiocassette recording, the soundtrack for Downs’s production of Moon for the Misbegotten, has been placed with the department’s audiocassette holdings (Accession 08-158, audiocassette number 1802).

Processing Information

Meghan Courtney; June-August, 2006.

Addition 2: Skyler Poel, 2017.
Title
Guide to the David A. Downs (1946- ) Papers
Author
Meghan Courtney; Kevin B. Leonard
Date
01/06/2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Repository Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Contact:
Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US
847-491-3635