Ohio State University's Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute is named for two Buckeye natives who collaborated on plays as disparate as "Inherit the Wind" and "Auntie Mame."

The first is an indictment of McCarthyism using the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial as its symbolic framework, whereas the second focuses on the madcap adventures of an eccentric New York City socialite observed through the eyes of her 10-year-old nephew.

What had been simply the Theatre Research Institute was renamed in honor of the Ohio-born playwrights in 1986. It seems only fitting because the collection, like their works, covers a lot of territory, from donated materials related to the "Howdy Doody" show to set designs and models created for theatrical productions by Mathias Armbruster's Scenic Studios in downtown Columbus.

"The Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute acquires, preserves and makes accessible materials documenting the performing arts for the purposes of scholarship, education and enjoyment; provides an active teaching component; serves as a source for new works creation, development and reconstruction; and enriches patrons' experiences of these materials, which reveal our performing arts culture and history," according to its website.

Founded in 1951 and now located in OSU's Thompson Library, the institute is overseen by Nena Couch, professor and curator as well as head of special collections, and Beth Kattelman, associate professor and curator.

Both are residents of Clintonville.

Alan Wood, who also lives in Clintonville, was director of the institute from 1979 until he retired in 2009.

That was the same year the institute moved to the Thompson Library, Kattelman said.

"It's really been a win-win for us because we have our colleagues and collaborators in the same space," she said.

"Teaching is really one of our primary goals," said Couch, who also is in charge of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the William Charvat Collection of American Literature and the Hilander Research Library -- the other three components of the special collections at Thompson.

The institute's collections provide students and researchers a chance for hands-on exploration of items from the history of theater.

"It's one thing to read about it in an assignment and another thing to come in and look at the materials people actually created," Couch said.

For example, the Curtiss Show Print Collection of theatrical ads and show bills created by a company that was founded in Kalida, Ohio, in 1905 but which moved to Continental, Ohio, later because it had two rail lines, was donated to Lawrence and Lee in 2006 "and immediately began to receive significant attention and use," the institute's website notes.

"While collection processing is still underway, the Curtiss Show Print Collection has already been used by theater and dance students for research on minstrel shows and show girls," the institute's website says.

The Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute is actively involved in the university's department of theater as well as the dance and art departments, Kattelman said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1