Hi all! This is a thread to discuss the different parts of the playbills you may come across on the site. I've done a little bit of an intro below, would love to hear thoughts from others or interesting examples of playbill structures you've come across!
The pages of the playbills in the ItS collections often have lists of the cast, scenes, and any innovative ‘machinery’ involved in the production. Whilst the most famous actors obviously needed to be emphasised and drew more crowds (eg., any playbills featuring Mr Kean tend to have his name in huge letters), from the playbills in the site's volumes that doesn’t always seem to be the case with playwrights. Sometimes they’re mentioned by name, but in many cases the unnamed playwright of a piece of theatre will turn out to be one of the most famous names. I’ve speculated previously that this could be because these playwrights were so famous that perhaps audiences would hear by word of mouth or press that a new play was out by them, so it was assumed that there was no point in adding the name as audiences would already know?
The basics of a playbill are: the main title of the performance, a subtitle, often the current date, future or past dates of performances, the cast and characters, scenery, short or long summaries of the scenes to be acted, whether the performance is to benefit anyone, and where tickets can be bought from. There are definitely surprises though: we've also come across apologies from theatre managers for actors who were scheduled to perform not turning up, or performing drunk! Crowds would often react negatively if the scheduled performers weren’t on stage. Gilli Bush-Bailey also notes in The Performing Century (2007) that crowds would be used to seeing the same minor actors reappear across several parts of the performance and playbills, stating that ‘playbills show that only the lesser actors and actresses in the company appear in both the main piece and the following farce or afterpiece’ (p. 185), with bigger names at theatres royal committing to either a tragic or comic performance.
From our late 18th century playbills on the site, users can see quite a standard format in structure and font. In this 1797 playbill (attached below) from the Margate volume, the font is uniform, with variations in size to emphasise names and performance titles.
In the 19th century, all kinds of new and exciting fonts are introduced, as well as more experimental styles in the structuring of playbills. The type of performance also influences the layout of the playbill, for instance, a circus playbill be often be divided into a grid-like structure to describe each act and feature illustrations, and early magician playbills often change orientation half-way down the playbill to give more space to describe their tricks and stage.
This 1834 Birmingham playbill (attached below) is much lengthier than the previous example, showing a variety of fonts and featuring more densely packed text. Although this may look more like an information overload, the mix of fonts and variations in size still make the main points of the playbill eye-catching to passersby.
James Gregory’s ‘Parody Playbills’ article (http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2018articles/pdf/ebljarticle62018.pdf), stimulated by the In the Spotlight project, contains a lot of great examples and further insights into the deeper meaning of playbills and their structure, and also check out Christian's related thread on typography! https://community.libcrowds.com/d/25-typography-in-playbills/4