With Theaters Still Closed, 136-Year-Old ‘Playbill’ Does A Quick Online Pivot

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With theaters across the country closed due to COVID-19, Playbill has had to pivot quickly. «We find ourselves incredibly fortunate to be associated with this ridiculously fantastic art form that we miss oh, so much,» says Playbill vice president Alex Birsh.

Dean Greer/Playbill


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Dean Greer/Playbill

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«These full on hour and a half benefit concert spectaculars that you are more accustomed to seeing on CBS after a hurricane is something that you are now seeing on Playbill.com and Playbill’s YouTube channel instead,» Fierberg says.

With Broadway idled, Playbill has been able to get all kinds of theater stars to appear online, like BD Wong, Alexandra Billings and Brandon Victor Dixon. Vice president Alex Birsh says this has been a big shift for the company.

It has been a remarkable 180 to be serving within theaters, at productions, and then now producing productions ourselves online.

«It has been a remarkable 180 to be serving within theaters, at productions, and then now producing productions ourselves online,» says Birsh.

Playbill’s photo editor Marc J. Franklin did his last photo shoot on March 6, so he’s had to figure out new ways to create content. «A lot of times, it feels like you’re making something out of nothing, because we don’t have opening nights or red carpets or events, which kind of was the bread and butter of what I do,» he says. So Franklin has dug into Playbill’s archive to create new photo galleries during the pandemic.

Playbill is creating quizzes and contests online as well – and has seen an uptick in engagement. «My philosophy has always been, let’s create a digital community of Broadway fans,» says social media director Felicia Fitzpatrick. «Theater kids have so many opinions — they love sharing them.»

Playbill’s publisher, Philip Birsh, says he’s proud of the way the company has adapted to the moment, but knows it’s going to be a while before theater comes back.

«We’ll have to reinvest our own capital back into the company in order to bring it up to speed, once Broadway is back,» Birsh says. «But the online is functioning and keeping us in the public’s eye and keeping the doors, you know, partially open, the lights on dim. But we will return.»

In the meantime, theatergoers will get their fix of show tunes and high kicks … online.

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