Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
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This week's question was sent independently by three different readers: Cassandra W. of Davenport, IA; Lisa Morey of Salt Lake City, UT; and Mark Saylor of Northampton, PA.
Question: What is the difference between a Playbill and a Showbill? Answer: To answer this question, Playbill.com spoke with Philip Birsh, the President and Publisher of Playbill Magazine.
At all Broadway theatres, theatregoers receive a Playbill — except at the New Amsterdam Theatre (currently showing Mary Poppins) where theatre attendees receive a Showbill.
Playbill prints programs for theatres nationwide, but not all of them have the trademark Playbill at the top. Some are called Stagebill, On Stage or Showbill. Stagebill, in fact, used to be a separate company, but when it went out of business, Playbill assumed its trademark.
Each of these titles reflects a different arrangement with the theatre where the programs appear. On Broadway, Playbill pays the theatres for the privilege of having its Playbills handed out, as the advertisers value the Broadway audience. A Stagebill is generally used outside New York, for a commercial job — when a theatre pays Playbill to print its program. The title On Stage is generally used for commercial jobs within New York — perhaps for Off Off-Broadway or smaller Off-Broadway theatres.
Showbill is another one of these titles, and there's a specific use for it: The New Amsterdam Theatre is owned by Disney, which has a worldwide policy that prohibits the promotion of liquor and tobacco products on its property. Therefore, Showbill is similar to Playbill, but with the prohibited advertisements omitted. (For the record, Playbill no longer accepts tobacco advertisements.)
Why not just call it a Playbill? Well, Playbill does not want its advertisers showing up to Mary Poppins and rifling through the program, confused as to why their ad is not there. They use the Showbill brand to signify that the mix of advertisers is different.