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A programme or program is a booklet available for patrons attending a live event such as theatre performances, fêtes, sports events, etc. It is a printed leaflet outlining the parts of the event scheduled to take place, principal performers and background information. In the case of theatrical performances, the term playbill is also used. It may be provided free of charge by the event organisers or a charge may be levied.
At a theatre, opera, or ballet performance it is usually given at the door in the United States, while it is usually sold in the United Kingdom. The Broadway programme is similar to a television network, in that it makes its money from selling advertisements. A programme company pays the theatre for the rights to produce the production’s programmes, which is contrary to common belief that the theatre pays the programme company. The programme generally contains photos of the production, a cast list, biographies of the actors and production staff involved, the name of the theatre, background information, and can contain advertisements. For example, the programme for the original production of Man of La Mancha contained articles by the staff about how the production was created. The first theatre programmes were issued in the mid-nineteenth century in magazine format. The original theatre programme first appeared in the 18th century. The early playbills were basic, with only enough pages to list the cast members and information on the play's locale and scenes. There were usually only four pages: the cover advertised the show, a back page displayed the theatre layout, and the two interior pages listed all the credits. Not all early programmes were printed, but written by hand or cut and pasted together from the letters of other printed documents. The latter was especially done by theatre entrepreneur Sarah Baker, who owned several theatres in Kent, during the late 18th century.
In early British theatre the cast was very important. Audiences were very familiar with leading actors and a particular player could draw a larger crowd. The programme was a kind of contract between the theatre and the audience, because if an audience paid to see a particular actor and they were not presented, then there was the immediate risk of crowd hissing, orange throwing, or even rioting. This sometimes resulted in property damage and physical assault.
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