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Playbill (Theatre Edition): the national magazine of the theatre and Performing Arts Centers
EDITORS: Blake Ross, Andrew Gans, Ken Jones
Categories Theater
Frequency Monthly
Circulation 2785000 unspecified
Publisher Philip S Birsh (Rights and Permissions)
First issue 1884; New Series 1982
Company TotalTheater
Country United States
Language English
ISSN 0032-146X
For a program, see Programme (booklet).

Playbill is a monthly U.S. magazine for theatregoers. Although there is a subscription issue available for home delivery, most Playbills are printed for particular shows to be distributed at the door. Articles within the Playbills change monthly to reflect new shows and artists performing in plays, musicals or special attractions; this wraparound section is the same for all Playbills across all venues at any given time. Within this wraparound, Playbills contain a cast list, cast photos, cast biographies, song lists and who performs the songs (if a musical), and a list of scenes for the particular show.

Playbill was first printed in 1884 for a single theatre on 21st St. The publication is now used for nearly every Broadway show, as well as many off-Broadway productions. Outside New York, Playbill is used at theatres throughout the United States, including in Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, OH; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Birmingham; Indianapolis; St. Louis; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington, DC. Circulation is currently just below 4,000,000, comparable to magazines such as Time.

On the opening night of a Broadway show, Playbills are stamped with a seal on the cover. The opening night date appears on the title page within the magazine. Special "Opening Night" Playbills can also be purchased on the Playbill website. These are sealed in a bag and have an "Opening Night" seal on the front page.


Other media

Beginning in January 1994, Playbill has operated, a free internet news service which offers breaking news about the theatre industry, focusing on New York shows but including regional, touring and international stage happenings. It is read by show fans and theatre practitioners alike, and is updated as news happens. It also houses discount ticket offers for its members.

In 2006, Playbill began releasing records on Playbill Records, an imprint of SonyBMG. Releases included Brian Stokes Mitchell's eponymous solo CD and two compilations of show tunes: Scene Stealers, The Men and Scene Stealers, The Women.

In 2007, Playbill introduced Playbill Radio, a new 24-hours-a-day Broadway music station. The new entity features news, podcasts, and a musical library of over 20,000 titles.

In 2008, Playbill launched, an online shopping store offering official Playbill merchandise and merchandise from most of the currently running Broadway shows and other shows touring around the country.

Competition with Stagebill

For decades, Playbill concentrated on legitimate Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters, while Stagebill focused on concerts, opera, and dance in venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.[1] However, by the late 1990s, Playbill was again profitable; Stagebill was not, losing millions of dollars annually by 1998.[2] To increase revenue, Stagebill entered Playbill's "turf": The aforementioned "truce" was first broken in 1995 when the The Public Theatre quietly defected to Stagebill, and more noisily in 1997, when Disney contracted Stagebill for their musical The Lion King at their newly-owned New Amsterdam Theatre.[3] The main point of contention in the latter case was control over advertising content: Playbill itself is distributed free to theaters, relying on advertising revenue that is completely under its authority, whereas per company policy, Disney required a program without cigarette or liquor ads.[4]

Playbill competitively responded to Stagebill's upstart incursion, Playbill began to produce "Showbill," a sister publication that conformed to Disney's advertising requirements for all publications distributed in their properties.[5] Now with an alternative option, Disney switched from Stagebill to Playbill's "Showbill" for The Lion King late in its run at the New Amsterdam. (Ironically, when the musical moved to the Minskoff Theatre, which Disney does not own, it was obligated to use Playbills, as are other Disney productions at other theaters.[6]) The Ford Center for the Performing Arts also commissioned "Showbill" for their inaugural production of Ragtime, presumably to keep out other automakers' ads. This restriction ended with the show's departure.[7] In a different circumstance, the producers of the Broadway revival of Cabaret wished to maintain the atmosphere of a sleazy nightclub at its Studio 54 venue, and insisted on handing out Playbills after the performance. Playbill, sensing missed exposure for its advertisers, offered the show's producers "Showbill" instead.[8]

Additionally, Playbill responded further by producing publications for classic arts venues, aggressively courting many venues that Stagebill once controlled. In the spring of 2002, Playbill signed Carnegie Hall; this milestone was bookended by the earlier acquisition of the valuable Metropolitan Opera program and the ensuing contract with the New York Philharmonic—both tenants of Stagebill's erstwhile stronghold Lincoln Center.[3] (With the acquisition of the programs for performing arts venues, Playbill broke from their typical format and began publishing completely customized programs in the vein of Stagebill.[4]) This coupled with continuing fiscal troubles signaled the end of Stagebill as a publishing entity:[citation needed] Later that year, Stagebill became insolvent after five years of head-to-head competition with Playbill, which acquired the Stagebill trademark.[9]


  1. ^ Broadway World Message Board
  2. ^ Jeff Garigliano, "Stagebill buyer seeks a better performance: Fred Tarter interview" in Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, 15 March 1998.
  3. ^ a b Claude Brodesser, Oliver Jones, "Melodrama at Met" in Variety, 9 March 1999.
  4. ^ a b Jonathan Mandell, "Theater's memory bank expands" in The New York Times, 25 August 2002.
  5. ^ Broadway World Message Board
  6. ^ Broadway World Message Board
  7. ^ Broadway World Message Board
  8. ^ Broadway World Message Board
  9. ^ Robert Hofler, "Playbill corners legit market" in Variety, 9 June 2002.

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