Programmes, Programs, Playbills, call them what you will I like them! I love having a delightfully curated tiny book about the show I’m currently seeing. In recent years, and especially since the theatres were able to open back up, there’s been a push towards digital programs which you can scan on QR codes on posters in the lobby. I want to talk about why I understand, and yet lament, the decline of the program.
Especially at first, when we weren’t totally sure how everything was going to work, I understand the desire to not be handing out pieces of paper to strangers. Scanning a QR code requires no contact at all whereas handing someone a program means you’re likely less than 6 feet away. I get it; live performance venues have had to be extra super careful in the early days of attempting to reopen. This was for very good reason and I’m happy to do my bit to keep everyone around me healthy. I also understand that a lot of companies want to become more eco-conscious, which I absolutely applaud as it’s something I myself strive to do daily. Programs printed on glossy paper aren’t exactly easily recycled. However, I feel like there are eco-friendly solutions to programs, which I’ve seen some companies deploying, which still include physical copies rather than being purely digital. Printing them on regular paper in just black and white makes them easier to recycle. Also, having the ushers collect up programs which the patrons don’t wish to keep is an easy way to make sure they make it to the recycle bin rather than on the floor or into the garbage.
My quandary is this: you want me to turn off my phone during the show, but my program is now on my phone, so what’s a gal to do? I always turn off my phone during a performance. To me, whoever needs me knows I’m at a show; they can wait until intermission or until the show is finished. But there are times when I might want to glance at a name or a face in the program and I can’t do that without a physical copy. I also don’t like leaving shutting off my phone until the last minute; I will not be that girl whose phone goes off mid-performance. So my phone is usually off and securely in my bag long before the house lights go down.
From a professional perspective, I find it immensely easier to write when I can have the program sitting next to my laptop rather than having to flip between screens. I can quickly find the info I need and type it out rather than trying to hunt on a webpage. Some of the digital programs that I’ve had to use in the past haven’t been very well laid out; some just have a list of actors, no roles or anything beside them, and that makes things extremely difficult for me to try and reference as I’m writing.
On a personal note, I adore my collection of programs. I’m going to nerd out a bit here so brace yourselves. The vast majority of my programs are in plastic slips in binders which are then categorized by city, and then by company. I’ve been attending the Stratford Festival since the 2003 season so there are many binders especially reserved for the Festival and I still have my programs from the first shows I ever saw there. I started taking all of this seriously when I was in my late teens, and I realized that my passion for theatre was going to be a life-long one, so I wanted to start really compiling and cataloguing my programs. I have beautiful signed copies with signatures from all manner of theatre greats; these are so beloved and I love to show them off. When I moved in with my partner, I was so happy to clear myself a shelf for my programs, they are my prized possession. So it’s very odd for me to think that now that I’m in a position to see more theatre than ever before in my life, my program collection won’t reflect that. I also understand that I’m not your average patron in any way, and that most people don’t really give a fig if they get handed a piece of paper or not. For me, this is a memento, a resource, and a treasure for me to have for years to come.
Frankly, if it came to it, I wouldn’t even mind shelling out a buck or two for a program like you do in the UK. As long as they’re of a similar quality, I don’t think many folks would mind either. And then the company knows that they’re not going to be printing off a huge amount and having most go to waste; only the folks who really want one (like yours truly) will pay for one. And while I’m not sure there’s a universal solution for this, I do hope that we see an uptick in program creation, this theatre-goer will certainly be thrilled.