From the publisher...

A.S. Waterman

May 2008

Of Types and Typos
Protecting your name in print

Why did the reviewer spell your name wrong? Probably because your printed program did. Most often, that's all that the reviewer — and even the editor or fact checker — has to go by. And in order to be most helpful, the reviewer's turnaround time is short.

But instead of explaining away the problem, why not attack it at its source? Recently, I saw an excellent production with a terrible playbill. Photos of cast members were all different sizes, most with faces grinning blankly at the camera, features blurred and grained by cheap photocopy technology. The text was full of misspellings and grammatical errors, compounded by poor layout and typesetting. And the cover had outdated information on it. This do-it-cheaply-above-all ethic hardly reflects well on a production team that labored extremely hard to create a work of art on stage.

I've also seen playbills badly in need of a proofread that proudly state the name of the proofreader, and expensive, high-gloss programs with glaring layout errors (such as graphics and text blocked out, and even artwork upside down). I've seen programs that spell the same actor's name two or three different ways within a couple of pages. And you wonder why we guess wrong.

It's sad, and it demeans your production.

"But our programs are produced by volunteers!" you say. Certainly, but publications professionals volunteer time as well. You wouldn't put an unskilled performance on stage, so why are you putting one into the hands of every member of the audience? And if you're a producer or director, you wouldn't allow a professional proofreader to stand in for you, so ... well, you get the idea.

If you honestly don't know a publications professional willing to donate services, try the nearest college. Many graphic design and writing students will produce your program for free in exchange for the portfolio piece, and many professionals will consider exchanging services for an ad in the program. And if, after all this, you still insist on sticking with your current system, here are some hints that will yield better results:

  • Follow publishing standards. Use only one space between sentences. Use only typographic (curved) quotation marks and apostrophes, and use em-dashes instead of double-hyphens. Do a search/replace to make sure you've done all of this consistently.
  • Print from a PDF, not from a photocopy master. This will give you consistent results that rival first-generation output. You can email your PDF to most commercial photocopy/print services.
  • Enter the names of your cast and crew into your computer spellchecker, and then use it. Have all production team members proofread their own names and bios two weeks before going to press. Then have them check again after corrections are made.
  • Finally, have at least two pairs of eyes look at the final version.

Sound extreme? Consider the ramifications. Your playbill is all that remains, long after your production has faded into memory. It may be the only lasting record of what you have done. Shouldn't it do you justice?

At, we encourage our reviewers to comment on the entire theatrical experience — from sight lines to climate control to acoustics, and everything else that goes into that day's or evening's encounter — and from now on, I'm asking them to include the printed program in that.

I hope you'll all be one step ahead. It will help you and your theatre far more than you can imagine.

— A.S. Waterman

Copyright © 2008 A.S. Waterman. All rights reserved.


Artwork and text are copyright © 2006 and 2016 A.S. Waterman.
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