You can find some sort of program in most theaters all over the world. For example, most recently, I saw a production of Chicago in my hometown in Bulgaria, where their program came in the form of an awesome newspaper: with murderous headlines and Roxie and Velma’s mugshots staring menacingly at the theater-goers.
While there are many cool ways to make an interesting program, there is something that sets apart the Playbills from any other kind of theater program. The iconic magazine/program has become a vital part of most on and off Broadway theaters in New York, as well as in over ten other cities all over the United States. “Playbill” has even become the word many folks use to describe a show’s bill, though it is technically a name brand. For some people, a Playbill is just a neat booklet which provides some information about a show’s cast and creatives, some advertisements and a few articles. For adamant theater lovers, however, Playbills are so much more. Collecting the magazine, exchanging various copies from different plays or musicals, or looking for copies with certain actors’ signatures has become a hobby that has been around for decades.
While it’s easy to collect Playbills now (the Internet makes it simple to talk to other collectors and look for certain Playbills, the magazine was first published and 1884), there is no doubt that somewhere, in some old box, someone has kept those old Playbills that look nothing like the ones we know today — the small, glossy magazines with the shows’ names and yellow Playbill logos on the cover.
The Playbill logo itself has become somewhat of an icon: it’s recognizable, memorable, and it stays the same pretty much all the time. It’s always bright yellow with bold, black letters that have become so popular that there is even a computer font called Playbill which anyone can download and use for anything they come up with.
Up until a few weeks ago, the color of the famous Playbill logo had only changed three times in the entire history of the magazine’s existence, and all of those changes happened in the past seven years. The logo was green twice: to celebrate Wicked‘s fifth (Ocbober 2007) and tenth (Ocbtober 2013) anniversaries, and blue once — for Mamma Mia!‘s tenth anniversary in October of 2011. Celebrating some of the longest-running musicals is certainly a great reason for changing the Playbill logo but this month, something even more special is happening.
In the United States, June is officially recognized as Pride Month, and even in other countries this is the month dedicated to events that celebrate and show support for the LGBTQ community. This year, in order to display the solidarity and support of the Broadway community, the Playbill logo has taken on all the colors of the rainbow for the entire month of June.
This is the first time the logo has been changed for something other than a musical’s anniversary, and it is a monumental event. The Broadway community has always displayed its support for LGBTQ people, and organizations such as Broadway Impact and BC/EFA have taken part in Pride parades and organized fundraisers and various events many times in the past. The casts of various shows have performed at events such as the Equality March in DC in 2009 multiple times but that support has never been literally on paper that everyone can take home from the theater until now. But for such an iconic brand to alter its image in this way is huge– imagine Coca-Cola straying from its signature red. It’s unheard of!
There is something incredibly special about seeing the rainbow flag that has grown to be associated with the LGBTQ community on every single Playbill, for every single play or musical, for an entire month. Every theatergoer who visits any show this month will see the logo and pay attention to it. The people who know about the reason for the change will probably be at least somewhat excited about it, and anyone who doesn’t know will wonder about it: they will ask about it, discuss it and learn. This is how such a small change, a seemingly simple gesture of solidarity, becomes something big.
And most importantly, this will certainly feel incredibly special for any LGBTQ theatergoers, and theater creators, who get to see the new Playbills this month. A change like that, while something small, is something that couldn’t have happened in a different time period and is a great sign of solidarity, support and love for the LGBTQ community. This change is like Broadway turning to the LGBTQ community and saying — in colored ink on small magazines– we’re here for you. We stand with you.
I have no doubt that we will be seeing the Rainbow Playbill logo for many years to come. But if you get a Playbill with that logo this month, make sure to save it. Put it safely in a binder or a box and remember how special it is.
I am sure, and hopeful, that one day, there will be a generation of theater lovers who won’t even understand why this little change is a big deal; who will wonder why their parents keep old Playbills from June 2014 and cherish them as something so incredible. But for now, the rainbow logo is literally history in the making, and something that deserves everyone’s excitement and recognition.