Issue: Theatre programmes, blurb in theatre brochures – why is it all so samey (or is it?). Publicity: a wasted opportunity?

Convener(s): Miriam Murtin

Participants: Lian, Ed, Simon, Sally, Lyn, Carolina

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We started out with the question why the language in blurbs for companies (announcing shows) is often very samey and why many theatre programmes seem to follow certain formulae (with biogs, bland descriptions, using buzz words etc.).

We approached the question both from the audience’s and companies’ p.o.v.

Lian related a story of a rewrite for her Fringe show blurb that differed so drastically from the original that they decided to withdraw the show. As it turned out, this was a deliberate action on behalf of the Fringe organisers, who wanted to ‘dumb things down’ and make everything sound the same. Using ‘dynamic Fringe speak’, they wanted to draw more people to the festival.

Rewrites by people who either don’t (seem to) know what they are talking about seem or are following a particular agenda are not just irritating – they can really influence who will come and see a performance.

We would like to see more honesty in theatre programmes.

Often, lack of funds (and not prioritising presentation) can lead to sloppy publicity.

Programmes should be free (ideally) though it was acknowledged that the sale of programmes helps companies supplement their income.

Programmes can get in the way of an artist communicating with their audience.

We discussed alternative creative and cheap ways of designing programmes – including a fold-out map.

This raised the question: which is better: a beautiful, (expensive) and well designed programme OR a simple photocopy? It probably depends on the kind of performance for which it is used.

Why have programmes at all? They are not sustainable.

Several people would rather receive a programme on the way out than at the beginning of a performance as it could undermine an illusion in the show or change the way in which a piece is interpreted (e.g. director’s commentary, finding out in advance that there are only 2 performers in the show instead of who knows how many?)


Sally said that in dance biogs were not usually used.

Miriam hates biogs in programmes.

Ed finds them useful because a list of plays can often give you an insight into the person/ artist. Ed surprised Miriam. J

Sometimes a relic or an artefact (a ‘take-away’ piece of art) is a good alternative to a programme (e.g. a little boat, a packet of seeds). It can be satisfying when a programme is integrated with a performance, when it follows the ethos of the piece. A record of inspirations can be an interesting addition to a programme.

Programmes and artefacts are the shadow that’s left after the performance. Sometimes it can be a false shadow.

Theatre programmes are a convention. How to break this convention?

‘You can’t use public money for [little trinkets to give to your audience]’

Who says?

 Marketing tool

Lyn mentioned that one company that performed for younger audiences had produced a CD ROM instead of a paper programme. It contained links to the company’s website, thus forming an effective marketing too.

When dealing with a small ensemble, perhaps publicity is more integrated.

As companies grow, it seems that, frequently, the distance between roles (creative content and marketing/ publicity) increases. How can we keep the small ensemble ethos in larger ventures? 

Miriam Murtin