MEDIA PROFILE: Venerable theater guide takes its enduring show on the road

When a PR pro wants to make a splash in New York's performing-arts scene, one publication takes center stage. And, as Matthew Arnold discovers, Playbill has its sights set on a theater near you.

When a PR pro wants to make a splash in New York's performing-arts scene, one publication takes center stage. And, as Matthew Arnold discovers, Playbill has its sights set on a theater near you.

The longest-running act on Broadway, Playbill and its iconic black-on-yellow banner have greeted theatergoers since 1884, when adman Frank Vance Strauss came up with the concept as a means of bringing advertising to a captive audience of affluent consumers. No longer content to play exclusively on the Great White Way, however, Playbill has been branching out in recent years with the addition of an online version a decade ago and more recent forays into radio, books, and even wrapping paper. And with the recent demise of Stagebill Media, its only rival, Playbill has its sights set on a nationwide expansion. Stagebill and its Performing Arts magazine produced programs for 81 theaters across the country, and Playbill is picking up the slack as fast as staff and budgetary constraints allow. The venerable guide, which runs to approximately 100 pages, is distributed at theaters free to all ticket holders, but die-hard fans can subscribe from anywhere in the world. Theater lovers can also keep up on Broadway through Playbill.com, which functions as the theater industry's news wire and is operated by a dedicated editorial staff of around 10. The guide itself employs an editorial staff of around seven, which produces a monthly "wrap," a mix of Broadway gossip and feature articles that make up the bulk of the guide. Production guides listing the cast, songs, and sequence of a given play, along with the layout of the theater, are put together by the play's staff and folded into the center. The guide's editorial team is led by editor-in-chief Judy Samelson, who serves as the primary contact for any publicist. Samelson is best pitched by phone or fax, and pitches should be delivered four months before your target publication date. Playbill consists of one or two features spotlighting actors or current productions, along with "On the Aisle," a light-hearted gossip column written by Harry Haun; "Theater Quiz" by Andrew Gans; "A Brief Encounter," a Q&A with an actor or actress edited by Raul Esparza; "Celebrity Choice," a restaurant review section edited by Bob Edison and featuring the selections of two famous stage names; and "A Theatregoer's Notebook," a column by Charles Nelson that focuses on stage celebrities. Playbill also features the work of Louis Botto, the legendary Broadway chronicler. Botto, 78, has kept his journals on Broadway for over a half-century and can tell you authoritatively whether Oklahoma! opened at the St. James or the Majestic in 1943. He writes two historical columns for Playbill - "At This Theatre" and "Backward Glances" - along with "Passing Stages," a review of industry news. Playbill.com offers publicists a better opportunity for getting their client a mention, as it provides exclusive content in addition to the columns and articles featured in the print edition. The site is edited by managing editor Robert Simonson, who recommends pitching him or the writers directly via email or fax. Playbill's online offering runs as many as 40 news stories per day, and the site's Features section includes a music review by Steven Suskin; "Diva Talk," a mix of reviews and gossip by Andrew Ganz; "Stage to Screen," a monthly column on the intersection of theater and film by Eric Grode; a similar column on theater and television by Michael Buckley titled "Channeling Theatre"; and Simonson's own "Week in Review." The website also includes listings for Broadway, off-Broadway and touring shows; job listings; an online store; and the Playbill Club, which offers its mostly out-of-town readership discounts on hotels and tickets. Finally, Playbill's classical arts division, which employs an editorial team of 15 and is headed by former Stagebill executive editor Clifford Tinder, publishes specialized production guides for some 16 major performing-arts centers, including the New York Philharmonic and the Houston Grand Opera, and is quickly expanding into the gap left by the company's vanquished rival. Tinder, who prefers pitches by fax or mail, says the company is growing rapidly from its roots in the cloistered world of Broadway. "We've had incredible, exponential growth over the last 10 years," says Tinder. "We've moved from being a New York-based publication to being a truly national publication, and we're now in almost every market." ----------- Contact list Playbill Address 525 7th Ave., Ste. 1801 New York, NY 10018 Tel/Fax (212) 557-5757/697-3516 Contact Judy Samelson, editor-in-chief Playbill.com Tel/Fax (212) 557-5757/682-2932 Contact Robert Simonson, managing editor, Playbill.com Playbill classical arts division Tel/Fax (718) 565-6500/565-6669 Contact Clifford Tinder, publisher, classical arts division, and SVP, Playbill Media

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