Music, Art & Drama MAD Society
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Playbills & programs & MADBILLS! (How To)

show planning & advice Feb 16, 2024

You have an upcoming show or event that needs paper programs printed! Let me help you out by providing options for how to get them created, printed & decide how many to make, suggest what you should include in your programs and provide inspiration that will ensure your programs are unforgettable and treasured.  

How and where should you print programs?

Hopefully you have an editing program you are familiar with, but if not you can get away with using google docs.  I create my programs in photoshop to the exact size of 8.5 x11 printer paper, take it on a flash drive to my local office supply store, then they print me one on quality bright white cardstock and after they help me get it perfect, then I order them there. (show my program on camera) Remember that if you do a folded program you will have one side of an 8.5 x 11 paper with the entire inside of the program, and on the outside you have the cover on the right and the back on the left, so when it’s printed double sided it folds properly. You don’t have to make a folded program.  You could make a sided half sheet program.

Use the graphics already created for the show if there are some.  If all of this is way out of your element and you have no clue where to start, you can get a subscription to Canva and there is an endless supply of icons & images, templates for playbills and it's a very user-friendly program.  Canva can turn anyone into a graphic designer, I promise!  Whatever editing software or program you choose to use, watch YouTube videos on that software so you know how to use it well.

Make 4 programs per student in your club if you plan to ask people to take one per family, especially if you make high quality programs. Make 5 or 6 per student if you do not want to ask people to take one per family. Also print one fresh Playbill (program) for each student as a keepsake. 

Hint: If you can find a way to design the programs and print them locally, you can quickly get more made if you run out before all the performances are over.  I attended a high school play once where I paid full price for tickets to see one of my students perform and they didn’t have any programs left.  I felt pretty jipped.  

What should you put in your program?

You will need to answer the time honored who, what, where, when, why and how of your event. 

These are all the elements I include on my playbills for my club’s Spring Play:  

  1. Cover: the yellow “playbill box” on the front page with our group’s name in place of the word “playbill”, title of the event, title of the play, icon (graphic design) for the play but this could be replaced by a photo of that cast & crew, and the year, all surrounded by a sharp black border.  If you are marketing something other than a play, don’t use the “playbill yellow.”
  2. The Inside: opening skit & title and author (if you have one), main play title, author & a brief description of the play (the goal of this description is to give the audience a head start to understanding the play), show the cast of characters including a picture of each student either individually or in groups, their first name and the name of their character, maybe some indication of the character’s details if you have space, and a picture of all the non actors with their first names and job titles. 
  3. The Back: “Thank You” from the adult coach/director/producer of the play (whomever is in charge) to recognize the adult helpers, meeting helpers, other leaders, the venue, any places donations came from, etc.  This thank you is the opportunity to put your name on the program without thanking yourself.  Add a note reminding people to visit the concessions and what is being sold, a note about the donation jar for your next play, a quick description of your club or team so people can catch the inspiration for your group, and a “save the date” mention with the date and title of your next big event.  Are there things you could add that would highlight opportunities to support your club?  Maybe a business could pay to have an advertisement or coupon on the program? 

Add a comment below if I missed anything you typically put on your programs.

Remember: Stay with the color scheme for the show if there is one.

Details that will utilize your program to its fullest potential… 

My personal goal for creating a program is to provide a really nice photograph and keepsake for those in my drama club.  The second goal of mine is to provide something for people to read while they wait for the play to start and to give time a little exposure to the play and its characters to jumpstart the audience's understanding of what is happening.  Programs also make the event feel much more important and grand! As a bonus, programs can also be used as a personal fan (fan myself with it) if it’s hot in your venue the day of your show.

Playbill is actually a trademarked word attached to the Playbill company, so you should not use the word “playbill” for your programs.  This is something I learned while making this video. You can, however, replace the word playbill with the name of your club or event, or make up something fun in its place.  My music, art & drama club is called MAD Society.  So from now on, we have MADBILLS.  Have someone help you come up with something cheeky for your program title!

Hint: Remember to keep your receipts and expense the program printing to your club, and maybe even expensing your editing program or software as well.

REQUIREMENT for whoever is making the programs: THESE NEED TO BE FINISHED AND DELIVERED TO THE COACH AT LEAST ONE WEEK BEFORE THE SHOW. Do not pass them out to your cast & crew until the party after the shows are over, just in case you run out at performances, you can print extra for your club members after the performances.  I usually pass them out at the cast & crew party along with t-shirts with the play icon on them.  You might want to give the programs directly to the parents if your students are too young to keep the programs nice and put them somewhere safe.  Tell your students…”your kids will want to see this someday.”  :) 

You might have noticed that I said I do programs for my Spring Play. My MAD Society club produces other performances each year.  Either a Dinner Theater, Variety Show or Talent Show.  For those performances we do short skits or talent acts, so instead of a program, students make a “show poster” to display for the audience next to the stage. 

Hint: as always, if making a program stresses you out, just go without!  Or find someone to do it for you and be content with whatever they produce. Is making programs really the best use of your time as the leader of your group? You could make one with only words and black ink on your home printer, and that’s ok!

~Coach Baldwin

Head to MAD Society Inc

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