Playbills, programs, cast-change inserts, tickets: these objects once physically accompanied the theater’s visual and verbal delights. To enter the Lyceum or the Winter Garden, you presented your glossy rectangle to an usher who severed its stub. Rip! You tucked the now diminished rectangle in your pocket as you searched for your section. There, another usher offered you a copy of Playbill. Reaching your seat, you flicked through its pages, learning who’s who in the cast and discovering what else was “on” that season.
But a tangible rupture in New York theater history has occurred. There is less paper in the theater now than there has been in decades. This is in large part because the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a decade-long trend toward digital ticketing. Many theaters offered to “deliver” tickets as a PDF via email attachment or (occasionally) as a QR code before March 2020; virtual delivery took precedence when Broadway reopened in August 2021, as a matter of convenience became a matter of public health.1 Even now, after mask and vaccine card protocols have abated, most theatergoers rely upon proof of purchase displayed on a screen. Will call is increasingly the domain of blue-hairs; the young and tech-savvy use apps like SeatGeek and TodayTix. For most, the clack of thumbnails on tempered glass and the buh-beep! of a laser scanner’s recognition comprise their preshow touch- and soundscape.
It has become possible to spend an evening on Broadway without handling a physical document. Still, it may seem sensational to say that a revolution has taken place. A QR code ticket is still a ticket, isn’t it? But with the decline of documents, something other than information may vanish.
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