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April 6, 2011

There are some things that come standard to us that I feel we always take for granted.  In this country (and I believe we are the only ones who do this) the benefit of having a program comes to us for free.  In most other countries, you have to purchase your playbill like you would a pre-show cocktail or snack.  But here we having always been privilege to free information.  And that is what the playbill is, information.

But recently it has become increasingly clear that American playbills are only offering the bare bones of what is being presented.  You have the basics: cast list, bios, production list, and, of course, the last 6-8 pages dedicated to those wonderful donors who make theatre possible.  Now I am not saying that we should sacrifice any of these items to the chopping block, but I want more!

Maybe it’s different in the academic world, to see work at Universities, graduate and undergraduate alike — it had more depth, more insights, and all around more information.   As a dramaturg, traveling to different schools to see shows, you get ideas for what to include and what is erroneous to the spectator.  Yes it is nice to see your name in a playbill if you’ve given funding to make that show possible; it’s the least they can do, and I honestly believe they deserve their inch of bill space; but what about those who’ve given money and time to come see this specific performance?  We walk blindly into a dark room to observe images moving before us, with no thought to what it means, or how it came to be in front of us.

I suppose it’s easier with classics or even modern classics, they have more background to give and possibly years of research to condense into a page of program notes. And that page of program notes is all that most professional theatre companies allot their dramaturgs, so as to leave ample space for sponsor ads (also important to the survival of any company).  But new plays as well!  Even a brief statement of purpose/intent/meaning would make such a difference.  It could come from the director, writer, or even from those who selected the plays: what was the development process like?

If we, as a community, could set a standard for playbill content, think how the experience of going to theatre would be enhanced.  What would you like to know before a performance?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 12:12 am

    I’m always curious to know why the company chose to include that particular play in their season. What drew them to it?

    • The Restless Dramaturg permalink
      April 14, 2011 9:52 pm

      That is a great one! The selection process is an essential part of the Dramaturg’s job as collaborator. Especially if there are a series of plays, like a festival, would this be very beneficial. Even in a standard season, the selections are never (or rarely) random and almost always try to enforce the Theatre’s mission through a lens of what the collaborators think is most currently relatable.
      I would definitely include it in my ideal playbill.

  2. April 7, 2011 9:28 am

    I love the comment you made to me that having a run time in the program is valuable — not something I ever would have thought about, but now something I’m always going to wonder about and look for! 🙂

    • The Restless Dramaturg permalink
      April 14, 2011 9:53 pm

      I like to know what I’m in for 😉

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