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Even after the curtain closes and the magic of a theatrical performance begins to
fade, theater memorabilia has the power to keep the spirit of the stage alive. From
grand debuts to memorable revivals, theater posters and playbills chronicle
important theatrical moments for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
The association between theater performances and posters promoting them can
be traced to the Middle Ages, when members of theatrical troupes would parade
around town either sporting a banner or verbally announcing an upcoming show.
This tradition grew in scope over the subsequent years, with placards and playbills
announcing approaching performances incorporating increasingly-catchy prose and
The advent of lithography in the field of poster art allowed for multicolor and
more dynamic poster and playbill designs by the end of the 19th century. Growth in
the advertising industry gave rise to the multi-page program now customary in
theaters. Though the World Wars dampened enthusiasm for theater and
increasingly-lavish promotional materials, the tradition of theatrical poster and
playbill design continues to captivate theatergoers and theater historians
The earliest English playbills date to the late 1580s. French poster
designers created the first two color playbills (black and red) in the late 1670s
The immense popularity of some plays and performances led to the creation of
stock posters in the early 1900s, wherein theater promoters simply had to add the
pertinent text to an predesigned poster
The iconic playbill, immediately recognizable by its black text on a yellow
banner across many prominent theaters' programs, began production in 1885 and
continues more than 130 years later