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What's the future of the published program?

posted by Megan Wygant on Tue, Jan 13, 2009
in General theatre talk

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Last week, Bay Area critic Chloe Veltman asked her readers whether they thought that the programs that theatre-goers receive when they visit a theatre are growing obsolete. With the internet offering a variety of  ways to access the same information (and more) she questioned whether the various expenditures--of labor, of ecologic resources, of money--were worth it.

It's something we're talking about over at Berkeley Rep, too. Everyone gets the program, of course, but if you visit the Theatre and we already have your email address, you get "liner notes" emailed to you the week before you come. Basically, it's like the "program plus": all the articles you'd read in the program--and more. Madeleine, our dramaturg, writes a note; sometimes we're able to include expanded versions of the articles that we had to trim due to space constraints in the printed program. We can't print videos in the program; online we can link to Les Waters or Mary Zimmerman introducing their show on the first day of rehearsal.*

VP cover But does a service like this supplement or supplant the role of the production program that you receive as part of your day-of-show experience? Among the many hats I wear here at the Theatre, I'm editor of the program. It's my baby, from running the editorial meeting to taking final responsibility for proofreading (I always wanted to be Lois Lane when I grew up). This week, as the one for In the Next Room heads off to the printer (that's the cover, at left), I gotta say that putting them together is no small task. We're effectively publishing a 40 to 50-page magazine every few weeks, and in many ways, it would be much easier to just put it all online and call it done.

So why don't we? Well, we have specific contractual obligations to the actors and the other artists which include specific credits in a printed program--but I'm sure that the day will come when those credits are renegotiated in such a way that budget-conscious nonprofits (like us!) could extend some form of equitable credit in an online forum. And then we'll have to make a choice.

I can tell you my perspective on it -- which is that even as a very small kid, I always felt that receiving a program as I entered the theatre was part of the experience. At the very least, it's what you do before the show. It's that thing you revisit at intermission, to see how many of the pieces hinted at by the dramaturg and the artistic director are now beginning to fit together. I can't imagine plugging in my iPod at the Theatre to listen to a podcast of the same. But, I recognize this is a topic for debate with many perspectives. So, I wanted to throw it open to you, the Berkeley Rep audience. What part does the printed program play in your experience at the Theatre? Do you think it should stick around? Why or why not?

I'm curious to hear what you have to say.

*If you get our emails, and for some reason you're not getting the liner notes, drop me a line, and I'll figure out what's going on.


40 - 50 pages is pretty massive, my guess is that it gets cut down to the basics, with links listed for where to find everything else. Think you could easily do with a nice, neat 5-10 pager.

Carl Benson | Wed, May 6, 2009

Thanks for the comment, Carl. I guess the question is...what *are* the basics? What do you think must be in print, and what could be cut? (We all have different opinions to that one...even internally.)

Megan Wygant | Wed, May 6, 2009

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