Playbill of Goods

Whenever I find myself trapped in a theater with another lousy production of another dreary play or musical, I always turn to my friend the playbill. I've destroyed my eyesight peering into the dark at these marvels of bad syntax and questionable grammar, but it's been worth it. Because playbills -- even the ones printed on glossy stock by our more highfalutin theater companies -- are often more entertaining than what's happening onstage. They always contain at least one good unintentional laugh, a couple of hilarious head shots, and enough scary insight into the performers' lives to keep me amused at least until intermission.

Actors and other theater types wanting to clean up their mini-biographical act might consider the following guidelines for better playbill copy. But they almost certainly won't. Which is fine by me -- I can always use a good laugh.

Never thank deities. There are places for thanking God for good stuff that's happened to you, and it's not called The Bio in Your Playbill. Supreme beings do not read playbills. And if they did, thanking them for life and the opportunity to appear as Sneezy in a little theater production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wouldn't necessarily change their minds about casting you down into Hell for your dinner-theater performance as Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music last season.

Don't share past triumphs. We really don't care that your favorite roles include Hodel in Poughkeepsie Light Opera's Fiddler on the Roof and Second Orphan on Bridge in your high school production of Annie. In fact, no one cares about your favorites except you. Not even your mother is reading your bio and thinking, "Gosh, I didn't know she loved playing Girl #3 in Playhouse on the Park's Butterflies Are Free in 1987." This isn't a Tiger Beat questionnaire, it's a playbill bio. If it's space you're trying to fill, tell us something interesting, like how many of the chorus boys you banged during rehearsal or which one of the leads pads his dance belt.

Lie. If you absolutely must bore us with a long list of past roles, make up some good ones. Claim to have played Griselda in the Broadway production of Cats (hey, that could have been you under those plastic whiskers) or the lead in Evita in the West End. What are we going to do, check up on you? We don't care enough to. And we'll be more impressed to read that you played Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Lincoln Center (even if you didn't) than that you appeared opposite Jeff Conaway in an episode of Fantasy Island.

Don't thank anyone who can't read. I'm certain that your 18-month-old son will be delighted in 15 years that you mentioned him by name in the playbill for Tempe Little Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors. In the meantime, you look like an idiot because you're thanking an infant. Which isn't as ridiculous as thanking your cats, which a surprising (okay, maybe not so surprising) number of actors do. Note to thespians: Fluffy does not know that you're an actor.

Get a new head shot, you moron. If your head shot is more than 10 years old or shows you when you still had all your own hair, and you allow it to be published in the playbill that accompanies your performance, you need to know that every single person in the audience thinks you're an asshole. You could be up there giving the best dramatic performance of your career, and all we're doing is staring at you and then glancing down into our laps at an ancient photo of what you looked like before gravity took its toll. You are not Dorian Gray, and we're not fooled by old photos. Time to call Olan Mills.

Refrain from sucking ass. A playbill bio is meant to be a soporific or a laxative, not a platform from which to advance your career. Please don't make us read how you're indebted to your director, who really believed in you and gave you the greatest opportunity of your whole entire life. We already think you're a loser for appearing in Lost in Yonkers in a strip mall in Sun City; don't force us to be cruel about it.

Nobody cares that you're not gay. Male actors married to women (who in any context other than theater would be referred to as "heterosexual men") are forever mentioning their wives in their bios. As in "Bill would like to thank his wife, Katie, for her support and blah, blah, blah." We got the message, pal: You want us to know that you're straight. That not all actors are gay. And that you've never put a casting director's penis into your mouth, ever. And here's a message for you: We don't care. What's more, we don't believe you.


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