Get with the Program

program bookletThis is a little bit odd, isn’t it?  I mean, we are in the 21st century:  a century already full of glowing displays and multiple windows on a single screen all beeping and pinging alerts at us for our attention…

… and yet you and I are meeting on good old-fashioned glossy paper.

Feels satisfying to have a tactile experience every once in a while, doesn’t it?

So run your fingers over this program.  Flip its pages.  Experience it.  After all, it’s been through quite a journey to get into your hands.  It started off as a majestic tree somewhere – bark and roots and wood – which got sawed down and ground up and mixed up into a pulpy mash and pressed out and dried out and spun up and cut-up and…

… well!  Here we are.  After a clay coating was added, of course.  This glossy coating makes the paper far stronger and more robust and – let’s face it – more classy.  It doesn’t matter that hardly anyone (if anyone) in the audience is elegantly dressed for this evening’s event… you feel refined because you have this classy little booklet in your hand.

For it’s a theater program.

This fine establishment in which you sit…

– (look around to remind yourself just how fine, I’ll wait) –

…purchased these booklets to enhance your experience tonight.  These booklets filled with all sorts of wonderful information.  Including black and white headshots of the actors next to their biographies.

Would you rather see color headshots?

Go out into the lobby.  They should be there.

Now it’s true:  over the Internet, it’s no harder to display color headshots than black and white ones.  But do you really want to be looking at color headshots if you have to see them over the Internet?  Here’s how that would work:

In the lobby, there would be a “matrix barcode.”  It would look like this:

maxtrix barcode for program

You’d scan it with your smartphone and voilà!  The program, complete with color headshots, would appear on your device.

(Don’t have a smartphone?  Oh, c’mon.  Of course you do.  Everyone has one these days.  That’s why you’ll hear an announcement in just a few minutes telling you not to use them during the performance.)

Now let’s think about this:  would a program on your smartphone be emotionally pleasing?  I suppose your answer will depend on how you feel about not having those little booklets of liner notes that came with CDs now that everyone gets their music via streaming.

And please don’t ask me what a CD is.  (You can look it up on your smartphone.  Because I know you have one.)

Isn’t it more satisfying to your corporeal sense of being to be holding, in a physical way, all of tonight’s show information on fine glossy pages and beneath some fine cover art?

We are still an underdeveloped, physical  species after all.  Everything about our bodily awareness is analog not digital. Continuous not discrete.  And what could be a better metaphor for what is about to happen on stage – as soon as they tell us to unwrap the candy and to not engage our smartphones – than holding onto a theater program?

For the theater is all about mass, not ethereal photons.  The theater is all about flesh, not projected images.  You will feel the actors breathe.  And they’ll feel you breathe, too.

(And hear the crinkle of cellophane so, seriously, unwrap that candy!)

This physical  theater program – with ancient tree sprites ensconced in its smooth pages – is the embodiment of tonight’s performance.  It’s a reminder for us, the ponderously present, that it is not yet all zeros and ones; it is not yet all phosphor and flicker.  It’s a souvenir of an evening when live performers literally sweated for our entertainment and our challenge.

But if you ever misplace this document, do not worry in the slightest.  For all the information within is available at

I mean, we are in the 21st century.

About Kevin Delin

Kevin Delin is a Los Angeles-based writer and scientist. He has 4 degrees from MIT, including a PhD in physics, and co-authored Foundations of Applied Superconductivity, a popular internationally-used textbook on superconductivity. While at MIT, he also took writing courses from author Frank Conroy, poet Stephen Tapscott, and playwright A.R. Gurney, the latter becoming a life-long mentor. After a post-graduate stretch in Silicon Valley, he worked at NASA where he invented and patented the Sensor Web, a unique wireless sensor system suitable for Mars (and Earth). Kevin is also a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company Playwrights Lab. His numerous pieces on art and society have bylines in American Theatre, LA Weekly, Script Magazine, Footlights, and Stage Raw. His adventures include deploying his technology with firefighters in first response operations, inventing the future with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, and solving national security issues with generals inside the Pentagon. He’s the recipient of the prestigious NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and, drawing from his extensive tech background, professionally advises storytellers who want to ground their work in science. He tweets at @kdelin and his stage plays can be found on the New Play Exchange. His other writings are at

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  1. I confess, I do love my collection of playbills. Physical playbills. I love flipping through them pre-show, during intermission and/or post-show. While it’s great to view them online as well, I’m not ready for a substitute. AND not OR, please.

  2. Yes, agreed. I always save my theater programs! Leaves a fond, lasting memory. We’re on our phones too much already…why be on it even more while attending a live performance and in good company? Barcode this. 😉

  3. It’s all about the PULP! I want it in my hands with the color, the smell, the great articles and bios! Got this from being a kid in the third row mezzanine of ever Broadway show list in the back of Playbill!!! So I want all that and then I want to go home, open it up and relive it all over again! I love a good playbill!!!

  4. “You will feel the actors breathe, and they will feel you breathe too.”
    Because it’s not just about seeing our (the actors’) flesh. It’s about us experiencing yours (the audience) too.

    We, on general, offer our audiences about 2 hours of what we can paint for you with our life breathe.
    You can’t take the gift we offer home, but you can take a souvenir.

    You can take a glossy (if you’re lucky. Some of them are computer paper, because budget.) memento with some pictures, some facts about us and a breakdown of the story we gave and maybe some comments from the director.

    Playbills are just one of the many traditions of the theater I love.
    Cheers to those who treasure them and turn them into keepsakes.

  5. Don’t think I’m ready for programs to go digital. I’ve saved all of my Broadway programs and have a section of them on my bookshelf. I love reading over the bios of all the actors. 🙂

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