Playbills: What is all the fuss about?

Becky Wallis @beckymusicals discusses the trend for Broadway Style Playbills and whether or not it is time for the West End to ditch the show programmes in favour of them.

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The image of a Broadway playbill has become rather iconic. The sight of the bright yellow stripe that remains the same no matter what the show is well known. It has become a trend for photographs of the playbills with the stage in the background as theatre goers sit excited in their seats before the show. Now, it is well known that Playbills are free and their printing costs included in the price of the ticket. Every person going to see the show receives a playbill, full of all the information needed to be fully informed about the shows cast and crew. This is of course similar to the programmes that are available in all West End Theatres. Main difference being, you have to pay for a programme. This fact has lead many to not buy a programme, leading to them then stating that they were not informed about the cast.

Recent discussions across social media platforms have lead many to start asking the west end to start using playbills instead of the much more expensive programmes. After all, many believe that we already pay more than enough for our tickets, why should we pay for programmes to know about the cast?

Now, I might be someone to go against the trend here because I would rather the west end stick to selling programmes then going to the Broadway style playbills. For many reasons

The Souvenir factor

Now, I am not saying that Playbills aren’t good to collect for souvenir purposes, of course they are, but to me collecting them does not have the same appeal. From what I have seen (having never been to Broadway) Playbills do not appear to be of the same high quality standard of the bigger glossy West End programmes. Most shows are now offering two programmes per show, a smaller cast book with all the cast and crew information and the larger souvenir book with the lovely high quality glossy production photographs and sometimes additional information about the show. I, for one, have over 70 show programmes including cast books and souvenir books, all of which I have happily paid for. For me, the programmes are part of the theatre going experience and I keep all of them as souvenirs to look back on.

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Much like with Playbills, programmes are also used as something to be signed at stage door. This, for me, adds to the souvenir factor and I treasure my signed programmes. People who chose not to pay for the programmes may then not have something to be signed, some instead choosing for their show tickets to be signed. Each to their own I guess.

The Cost

 The big one. Yes, I understand that sometimes the programmes can be considered expensive seeing as they are only a small book of information, but that does not stop me from buying one. I want to have that information about the cast and as a self proclaimed musical theatre geek, I love the additional information about the making of the show often seen in the bigger souvenir books. With most shows now offering the two programmes, most have started bundle deals, an offer when both programmes are brought together and this is an offer that I often take advantage off. My argument is that Broadway tickets are in majority much more expensive then west end tickets. If playbills were to be introduced in London, I fully believe that the tickets would in turn become more expensive in order to cover the printing costs.

To be honest I would much rather pay for the programmes then pay some other theatre costs. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily pay a restoration levy but have some issues regarding the seemingly growing cost of booking fees. Sometimes you aren’t even made aware of a booking fee, at least you are fully aware of the cost of a programme.

 The Cast Board Issue

Now, for the people who chose not to buy a programme, the only other way to know what cast are on for that performance is to look at the cast board. Easier said than done in some theatres I have to admit. Some shows do it right, Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables for example, with a large and hard to miss cast board in the foyer as you first walk into the theatre. Other theatres use a small television screen as their cast board and these can be easily missed, especially when not placed in an obvious place. For this reason, I do believe that there should be an announcement before the show if there are any understudies and swings on for that performance. This would not only inform the audience of who they are about to see perform, but also give the performers the recognition they deserve.

What do you think? Should the West End offer Playbills or stick with its programmes? Would an introduction of free playbills see ticket prices soar even more?

One thought on “Playbills: What is all the fuss about?

  1. I love collecting the programmes. I have over 130 at last count and I regularly look back through them. Especially when you see actors who you have seen previously in shows. With theatre costs already high I think the West End should stick to programmes. Keep the ticket cost down and then people can buy them if they want. Only thing I do wish for is that the souvenir programmes had the same information in. I often have to buy both which does add up.

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