|Publisher||Philip S Birsh (Rights and Permissions)|
|First issue||1884; New Series 1982|
|Based in||New York City|
Playbill is a monthly U.S. magazine for theatregoers. Although there is a subscription issue available for home delivery, most copies of Playbill are printed for particular productions and distributed at the door. Each issue features articles focusing on artists, new plays and musicals or special attractions. This "wraparound" section is the same for all Playbills at all venues each month. Within this wraparound, the Playbill contains listings, photos and biographies of the cast; biographies of authors, composers and production staff; a list of scenes, as songs and their performers (for musicals); and a brief description of the setting for the particular show. It also lists the number of intermissions and information for the theatre housing the production.
In lieu of the cast and show information, the subscription edition of Playbill contains listings of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions and news from London productions and North American touring companies.
Playbill was first printed in 1884 for a single theatre on 21st Street in New York City. The magazine is now used at nearly every Broadway theatre, as well as many Off-Broadway productions. Outside New York City, Playbill is used at theatres throughout the United States, including in Baltimore; Birmingham, Alabama; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; East Lansing, Michigan; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.. Circulation as of September 2012 was 4,073,680.
The Playbill distributed on opening night of a Broadway show is stamped with a seal on the cover and the date appears on the title page within the magazine. These "Opening Night" Playbills can be purchased on the Playbill website sealed in a wrapper.
The Playbill banner is yellow with black writing. As of June 1, 2014, the Playbill banner has only changed the yellow to another color on six occasions in its history:
- October 2008 – green for the fifth anniversary of Wicked
- October 2011 – royal blue for the tenth anniversary of Mamma Mia!
- October 2013 – green for the tenth anniversary of Wicked
- Every June since 2014 – rainbow for LGBT Pride Month
Playbill launched Playbill Online in January 1994. The free website 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, and is updated regularly. It also offers discounts on tickets and dining for its members.
In 2000, Playbill added www.playbillstore.com, an online shopping store offering official Playbill merchandise and merchandise from most current Broadway and touring productions.
In 2006, Playbill released its first records on Playbill Records, an imprint of SonyBMG. Releases included Brian Stokes Mitchell's eponymous solo Compact Disc and two compilations of show tunes entitled Scene Stealers, The Men and Scene Stealers, The Women.
In 2011, Playbill launched Playbill Vault, a comprehensive online database of Broadway history.
Playbill launched their first app, called Playbill Passport, on January 4, 2016.
Competition with Stagebill
For decades, Playbill concentrated on Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters, while Stagebill focused on concerts, opera, and dance in venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. However, by the late 1990s, Playbill was extremely profitable; Stagebill was not, losing millions of dollars annually by 1998. To increase revenue, Stagebill entered Playbill's turf: The truce was first breached in 1995 when The Public Theater quietly defected to Stagebill, and more noisily in 1997, when Disney contracted Stagebill for its musical The Lion King at its newly opened New Amsterdam Theatre. The main point of contention in the latter case was control over advertising content: Playbill 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.
In response 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 its properties. Now with an alternative, Disney switched from Stagebill to 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 Playbill, as are Disney productions at other theaters.) The Ford Center for the Performing Arts also commissioned Showbill for its inaugural production of Ragtime, presumably to exclude other automakers' ads. 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.
Additionally, Playbill responded further by producing publications for classic arts venues, aggressively courting many venues that were once Stagebill clients. In the spring of 2002, Playbill signed a contract with 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. With the acquisition of the programs for performing arts venues, Playbill broke from its typical format and began publishing completely customized programs in the vein of Stagebill. This coupled with continuing fiscal troubles signaled the end of Stagebill as a publishing entity: Later that year, Stagebill became insolvent after five years of head-to-head competition with Playbill, which acquired the Stagebill trademark.
Playbill Vault provides records of Broadway productions from 1930 to the present. Information on the website includes original and current casts, actor head shots, production credits, Playbill cover images, scanned Playbill Who's Who pages, production photos and videos.
- "National Rate Card" (PDF). Playbill. January 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- "Wicked Playbill Will Be Greenified for 10th Anniversary on Broadway". Playbill.com. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Playbill Staff. "Playbill Passport App Launches: The First-Ever Mobile Companion to Broadway Programs" Playbill.com, January 4, 2016.
- "Showbill vs. Playbill". Broadway World Message Board. 2 June 2007. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Jones, Chris (10 June 2002). "Stagebill is sold to rival Playbill". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Brodesser, Claude; Jones, Oliver (9 March 1999). "Melodrama at Met". Variety. variety.com. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Mandell, Jonathan (25 August 2002). "Theater's memory bank expands". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Pincus-Roth, Zachary (18 October 2007). "Ask Playbill.com: Playbill® and Showbill®". Playbill. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- "Playbill? Showbill? Stagebill?". Talkinbroadway.com. 19 March 1998. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Hofler, Robert (9 June 2002). "Playbill corners legit market". Variety. variety.com. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Dries, Kate. "Daily Rehearsal: Theater nerds rejoice over Playbill Vault". WBEZ Onstage/Backstage. wbez.org. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
- "PlaybillVault aims to be IMDB for theatre". CBC News. CBC.com. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 2013-11-14.