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Playbill Takes the Stage: The Rise of America's Foremost Theatrical Program

Hoskins, Vicki (2020) Playbill Takes the Stage: The Rise of America's Foremost Theatrical Program. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This project presents a history of Playbill, the New York-based company that publishes all theatre programs for Broadway, as well as several other commercial theatres across the entire United States. Theatre programs, or playbills, offer a wealth of information about a production event, including dates, creative team details, and cast biographies. As such, theatre programs have become important primary documents for theatre scholars. However, few studies analyze and interpret these material objects beyond their usefulness in the archive. This project attests that playbills are highly communicative objects that both convey institutional sway and reflect shifting sociopolitical contexts and audience demographics. Playbill, as the leading provider of theatre programs since the early twentieth century, proves an excellent case study for examining how American theatre programs developed over the years. This project sets out to address three primary research questions: (1) How did Playbill contribute to the development of a commercial Broadway theatre? (2) In what ways does Playbill shape editorial content and imagery in order to appeal to potential audiences? and (3) How has Playbill stayed afloat while their competitors have folded? Through an archival exploration of several playbills from roughly the 1850s through 2020, as well as additional primary documents, such as correspondence and institutional manuscripts, this project tracks changes to Playbill’s business model, circulation, and editorial content within the shifting American sociohistorical milieu and correlative audience demographics. Through this examination, I argue that Playbill rarely takes risks, by either maintaining the status quo or by venturing into arenas that are relatively “safe” from potential backlash. I further attest that depending upon the sociopolitical moment, Playbill shifted its reputation either closer to or away from its associations with New York City and Broadway culture, ultimately utilizing this cultural cachet when it suited their business needs. In doing so, Playbill crafted a brand that is embedded in and important to both NYC and American culture.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hoskins, Vickivlh19@pitt.eduvlh190000-0001-9276-307X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGranshaw, Michellemkg31@pitt.edumkg31
Committee MemberCroot, Cynthiaccroot@pitt.educcroot
Committee MemberGeorge, Kathleengeorgeke@pitt.edugeorgeke
Committee MemberReeser, Toddreeser@pitt.edureeser
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 24 April 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 27 May 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 291
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: broadway, american theatre, commercial theatre, print culture, playbills, theatre programs, commercialism, advertising, theatre
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 14:04
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 05:15

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