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One Size Should Fit All

Filichia rails against the varying dimensions of theater programs, dammit! logo

A nice, unobtrusive, normal-sized Playbill
It was time for me to get organized. Too many Playbills had accumulated on the kitchen counter over the last few weeks, so I had to file them away in the cabinets I have just for that purpose. House, Garden, Smelling a Rat, Endpapers, Reno, Sarah Plain and Tall, Lysistrata...

Ah, there's the rub: Lysistrata, from the Philadelphia Theatre Company. All the other programs I mentioned, whether they be official Playbills or reasonable facsimiles, are Playbill sized at 5¼ x 8½ inches, but not that maverick Lysistrata. She came in at 5¾ x 11 inches--too tall to fit on the shelves where I alphabetically stock and stack. Only standard-issue Playbills can be accommodated here, and not these oversized, ungainly programs.

I don't just want to pick on Lysistrata. Any program you're handed at The New York Theatre Workshop is no better, though each is smaller: 7 x 7 inches. That's a nice size for one of those old 45 EPs that held two songs on each side of the record and was encased in a handsome cardboard picture sleeve; but these programs are both too short and too wide to fit neatly in a pile of other alphabetized, beautifully sized, 5¼ x 8½ inch Playbills.

This is not a new dilemma for me. There was a time when the Nederlander Theatre Organization, both in New York and on the road, didn't use Playbills but instead had its own publication, which it called Stage. My opening night program of Sweet Charity at the Palace, my tryout program of Henry, Sweet Henry at the Fisher in Detroit, my road show program from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with Howard Keel at the Mechanic in Baltimore--each of these is 8 by 8 inches.

New York Theatre Workshop's stark
and inconveniently-shaped program
Would that all programs could be Playbill-sized, all in the cause of equality and unanimity. On the other hand, not every Playbill from Playbill is the same size. There was a time in the '50s and even the early '60s when Playbills were 6½ x 9--more than an inch wider and almost an inch longer than they are now. This is the case with my Playbills from Hazel Flagg at the Mark Hellinger, Gypsy at the Broadway, and Fiorello! at the Broadhurst. That last named show is the one in which Marie sings, "I'd like to make the laws." So would I, Marie--and one would be that all Playbills must be of unified size. To paraphrase yet another Sheldon Harnick lyric, would it spoil some, vast eternal plan if they were?

Those who always trumpet the superiority of London theatre over American theater can use British programmes as a metaphor as well: 6½ x 9½ is the size of my An Inspector Calls, Follies, Kat and the Kings, and plenty of others. Of course, in the West End, you get what you pay for because London programmes cost money. God bless Playbill for not charging us--though, to be fair, London programmes are more ornate, contain fewer advertisements, and are printed on paper of much more sumptuous stock. But that doesn't take away the sting that they're too big for my alphabetical heaps. So many of my British programmes are curved on the left or right side, because they've been pushed up or down by the dividers I've placed between the piles. (This injury is, of course, especially galling in regard to the Follies programme.)

And so it goes. The program from that Off-Broadway musical version of the Jayson comic strip? 6½ x 10. Footloose in Las Vegas? 6 x 10. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at BAM? 4¼ x 11. The original production of Wit at Manhattan Class Company? 7 x 8½. The Kabuki in Tokyo? 5 x 7. Sondheim's The Frogs at that Yale swimming pool? 5½ x 12½. All of them are lumped together in one inelegant heap.

One of the big and fancy London programmes
Meanwhile, a look at souvenir programs over the years shows a different trend. There was a time when each and every one of those glossy, stapled brochures--back when they each cost a buck--was 9 x 12 inches. So my Ben Franklin in Paris (which Capitol records inserted into each cast album in 1964) nestles nicely on top of my The Boy Friend from 10 seasons earlier. But just as musicals have worked so hard to seem more like spectaculars, so have their souvenir booklets increased in size (and--need I mention?--price). The Lion King measures 10 x 13. Aida is 11 x 11. Dr. Doolittle in London was 9½ x 13.

By the way, I've often wondered if Two by Two ever gave a thought of having its souvenir booklet measure 2 x 2 feet. And/or did anyone suggest, as a joke, that the Playbill for that show should measure 2 x 2 inches? Don't laugh: I've heard from my technobuddies that the next generation of CDs will be 1 x 1 inch. Can't wait to read the booklets for those.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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