How The Playbill Gets To The Show
By: Roma Torre Playbill, the national theater magazine, celebrated its 125th birthday this week with a party at
the Bon Appetit Supper Club in Manhattan, and NY1 joined the party with a behind-the-
scenes tour of the magazine's factory in Woodside, Queens. NY1's Roma Torre filed the
Consider it one of the oldest members of the modern theater community. For more than a
century, Playbill Magazine has been keeping audiences in the know when it comes to city
productions and beyond.
Founded in 1884 by Frank Strauss, the theater-goers' guide has seen a number of owners and
"The magazine was started in 1884 by a man named Strauss who had the idea that he could
make some money by printing up a bill, literally a bill, like a bill on one page," says Philip
Birsh, Playbill's current president and publisher. "And have some advertising and tell the
people who was in the show and it evolved from there."
With six printing locations across the country, Playbill rolls out approximately four-million
programs for a hundred theaters nationwide every month.
As for the creation of the magazine, it all begins with Playbill's editor-in-chief Blake Ross.
"The editorial part of Playbill starts with me," says Ross. "Pretty much keeping my pulse to
the ground, trying to figure out what to write about, what's coming up, what people are going
to want to see and just basically try and get more people to consume theater."
Once the content is complete, the printing of the magazine takes place at the main Playbill
factory in Woodside, Queens. The editorial information is turned into plates, and the plates
are brought down to the factory - where the printing begins.
After the printing, issues of Playbill are packed, bound and shipped, based on the show it's
going to be used for. While the purpose of Playbill is to provide information about a particular
performance, some of Broadway's best say it also acts as a theatrical memento.
"Having come from Britain where they charge huge amounts of money for playbills, I'm
delighted that they're free to us theatergoers," says actor Lynn Redgrave.
"I have kept some Playbills [of] amazing, amazing performances," says actor Bernadette
Peters. "Like I just saw 'Mary Stuart,' like those actresses were incredible. I'll keep those."
"What we do in the theater is this ephemeral art that's lost very quickly, and one of the
mystiques about Playbill is that it's actually one of the few things you can hold onto and look
back through," says actor Brian Stokes Mitchell.
It's a souvenir for most theatergoers at just the right price.