Inside the Iconic Playbill Print Shop: A Family's 60-Year Devotion
If you've been to New York City and have attended a Broadway show any time since the 1950s, you've probably held the iconic Playbill with the trademark yellow banner splashed across the top of the front page. Although what we know today as the Playbill has evolved since its introduction in 1885, one thing has remained the same, its dedication to the arts and the ever evolving theater scene in New York City.
Recently, ABC7 News featured one lesser-known, but equally as important and interesting, facets of the legendary Playbill: the print shop behind it all, called Playbill in Woodside, Queens.
In the video, Alex Birsh, COO and vice president at Playbill and the third generation in this family to own and run the company, explained that the company distributes somewhere between 3-3.5 million Playbills, which is no easy feat considering each edition reflects specificities to the show, its actors, and any other details that might change on a moment's notice.
Playbill's are an instant keepsake, a commemoration of a time you enjoyed at the theater and that Birsh echoed that feeling in the video, showing that it's not just important to the theatergoers, but to the family behind them.
"What Playbill truly means to me and my family — it's our lifeblood," he said.
Although the company began pushing out one-sheet Playbills in 1885, the Birsh family entered the scene in 1963, when Alex's grandfather Arthur Birsh began working at the company as a plant manager, eventually working his way up to president. Philip S. Birsh, current CEO and president of Playbill, explained that it's been the "family's devotion for 60 years."
In fact, Philip explained, "Playbill has survived, by our account, two World Wars, 14 regional conflicts, two pandemics, five depressions, and 25 recessions. ... How we've survived, it cannot be our brains, it must be our brand."
And what an iconic brand it is, Philip explained that the yellow came into existence when the company "finally found the money to have a two-color press," Philip said. "And my father's short-handed solution to the color was to ask the ink salesman what the cheapest color was and [they] said yellow."
Although its hard to imagine Playbill with any other color now, as Charlie Williams, host of the video, mentioned, Philip responded, "You can't, but had purple been cheaper, it would have been purple."
If you're wondering why Playbill is the size that it is? There's no hidden reason there, "it's what fit the press," Philip quipped.