AskDefine | Define playbill

Dictionary Definition

playbill n : a theatrical program; "he couldn't find her name on the playbill"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A poster advertising a theatrical performance.
  2. A program / programme / pamphlet for a theatrical performance.


  • 1830 John Bernard - Retrospections of the Stage - Page 155
    On strolling about the town, I perceived a playbill, and at the head of it the name of that celebrated itinerant, James Whitely.
  • 1853 George E Baker - The Works of William H. Seward - Page 561
    I confess my regret, although meliorated, was not banished by reading upon my playbill the name of Madame Malibran as the principal singer.


Extensive Definition

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; St. Louis; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington, DC. Circulation is currently just below 4,000,000, comparable to magazines such as Time.
Many Playbills are considered collector's items, especially if signed by a performer in the show. 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

From the late 1990's, 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.

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. 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 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. 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.
Taking umbrage at Stagebill's upstart incursion, Playbill began to produce "Showbill," a sister publication that allows greater advertising control for the show's producers, for a fee. 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.) The Ford Center for the Performing Arts also commissioned "Showbill" for their inaugural production of Ragtime, presumably to keep out 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 Stagebill once controlled. In the spring of 2002, Playbill successfully 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.


External links

playbill in Spanish: Playbill

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agenda, batting order, bill, bill of fare, blueprint, budget, calendar, card, carte du jour, docket, lineup, list of agenda, menu, program, program of operation, programma, prospectus, protocol, roster, schedule, slate
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