GET WITH THE PROGRAM ! (Theatre Program, that is!!)

BY Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]

“You can’t tell the players without a program” is a frequently used expression. If you go to a play, 99 percent of the time you will receive a program that is free, which lists the actors, their roles, technical staff, and additional information to help you enjoy the production.

You will occasionally hear programs referred to as “playbills.” The American Variety Stage Collection at the Library of Congress says there is a distinction between playbills and programs, although both serve the purpose of delivering information to theatre-goers. Technically, a playbill is a long, narrow theatre announcement printed on one side, and is frequently posted, rather than distributed. In contrast, a program is a document of folded sheets printed on both sides.

As critics, we appreciate programs that include biographies with photos, a practice which is especially helpful when productions have a large cast, as in many musicals. However, the addition of photos requires expense and time, and is often not possible for theatres with a limited budget or not reasonable for productions with a short run. An alternative approach we have seen is providing the audience with a program printed on a single sheet of paper listing the participants, and posting biographies on a wall or folding screen in the reception area for patrons to read.

The program will also contain information about the play you are going to see. Usually, the time and place of each act or scene change is noted. It pays to arrive early enough to read this material before the initial curtain, as it is often difficult —and distracting—to try to read during the show.

Be sure to read the director’s notes, as they written to give the audience an idea of the director’s concept of the script, and the related interpretation by the actors. In some programs, you may find notes from a dramaturg, who has thoroughly researched the history of the play and relevant information about the playwright. The research provides background for those involved in the production, and is shared with the audience to provide further insight.

Also read the credits for costumes, choreography, stage and musical direction, sets, and other aspects of the production. You will soon find that you will develop favorite designers, choreographers, and directors.

Biographies of individual actors are an important part of any program, particularly when they include information about stage experience. First time on stage? Returning after an absence of several years? Graduated from a fine arts program and has appeared in many musicals? When well done, viewers can appreciate a play even more when they know something about a performer’s background, and as critics, we depend on biographies to help us evaluate performances.

We do have a pet peeve about programs. Some theaters allow actors to write their own biographies and publish them without editing; the results can be unprofessional and unsatisfying. We’re okay with thanking Mom, Dad, the Director, and religious entities, but we draw the line at the inclusion of those with unidentified roles. We appreciate that actors may be grateful for the assistance of someone named, for example, Magnolia, Myrtle, or Rupert, but who the heck are these people and does the audience really care? In professional theatre, actors like to thank producers and we suppose that might help them get another job, but then the actor probably got the part in the first place because they were talented and right for the role.

Read the advertisements in programs and consider contacting the advertisers if you need the services or products offered. Our experience is that most theatre program advertisers are usually theatre patrons themselves, and we have received exceptionally good service by mentioning that we came to them as a result of seeing their ad in a theater program. We recommend trying it.

So appreciate the program you receive the next time you attend a theatre and read it while you are there. You can take it home as a keepsake, and additionally, can support the theatre by posting a photo of the cover on social media. If you have no interest in keeping it, turn it back in when you leave so the theatre group can recycle it. In most cases, a lot of effort and expense has gone into that program, and your comments to a group representative are welcome.

Well, we will see you at the theatre and one final request. Please unwrap your candies and silence your cellphones before the show begins. Thank you.


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.