On the Beauty of Theatre Brochures and Print Material

In a recent blog by Lyn Gardner on the Guardian theatre blog the topic of the dying theatre brochure was explored. Perhaps inevitable in a digital-fuelled world where every other month we’re announcing the death of print media as we turn to smart phones, computers and tablets. I may be the digitally minded individual, quick to praise the advancements in technology and connectivity, but when it comes to print, I’m distinctly old fashioned.

For me, there is nothing better than holding a book in your hands and turning a page which is why I’ve shunned the opportunity of buying a Kindle. I like the immediacy of downloading e-books, but is there anything better than the smell and touch of a printed book in your hand? I think print as a whole is quite romantic: the giving of books as gifts; the connection you build with characters that makes a ‘page turner’, and the physical ‘hold-it-in-your-hands’ look as you walk down a street. Digital is great for PDF’s and scripts that need to be read quick and with little fuss, but I feel far more connected to a piece of physical print that perusal of a brochure online. The art of marketing might over decades to come phase out the need for theatres to engage their audiences with printed material as everything turns digital, but there will always be a quality to printed brochures and texts that you can’t replicate on an electronic device.

This physical experience (for we do go through an experience) and excitement when you hold a piece of print from a theatre in your hands is something that I felt today. Ovalhouse Theatre might not be the first theatre to jump to the mind for exciting print (to be fair, are there any theatres that come to mind?) but today they had my heart palpitating. Their autumn season, entitled Beside Me, has a new brochure which oozes with stylish design and adventurous print choices.

The Front Design:

Bold and simplistic, to see it is to believe it. It’s the sort of design which really leaps out at you, especially with the colour blocking. You could question that it lacks a certain theatre feel for it, perhaps being too arty, but for me it’s eye catching and makes me want to hold it. Which, by the way, is quite wonderful in the hand. A thick card-like exterior and matte finish, yes, I can’t help but to feel excited by this.

Translucent Inner Covers:

If the front cover is about grabbing your attention, then the inside page is clearly about seeing the stylish design in action. A translucent, almost tracing paper has been used (you can just make out some of the text behind in the top photo above), repeating the name of the season from the front. In the case of the back page inside cover the same paper has been used but printed over with more text/imagery.

The Inner Pages:

The photos speak for themselves. The colours have been brought from the front cover into the main body of pages. I particularly like the inclusion of printing and colour guidelines which have been added, replicating the colours and adding a fun dynamic to the brochure.

Everything about this piece of print excites me, and this is surely the purpose behind it. Be inspired and engaged from the theatre brochure and want to find out more about the work included. It not only looks good, it feels good in your hand, and for me, it feels different to most theatre print I see. It might be a risk that Ovalhouse Theatre are taking with their in-house designers, but previous season brochures have also had a bold and inventive quality to them. They represent the quality of work, with quality print.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system it is good to think about my reaction to the print itself. It’s eye catching, it’s good to hold, it’s laid out in a simple manner, but it also has a character and excitement that makes me want to see the work itself. Anyone who has worked in marketing knows the sense of relief when you receive strong images from companies participating in a season of work, it makes for brochure design and covers to be a much more pleasant experience. For me though, the Ovalhouse Theatre brochure design is all about quality, which given the high-standard of print I expect to be translated to the work itself.

A piece of print for a theatre has to speak to its audience. It has to, within a few seconds define a body of work and engage an audience enough to make them find out more. That is all a piece of print is for, to encourage through informing an audience to find out more. Such a simple task that is so often misunderstood.

Now because I’m such a digitally minded person I also, and here I completely throw out everything I’ve said before this, want to experience a piece of print digitally too. I’m not signed up to every postal mailing list of theatres, I’d find the experience overwhelming each season, but I do like to see and feel print. I can’t always make it to every theatre in a month so being able to engage with a brochure online is a necessity for me, if only to hold me over until I do make it in person.

A digital version of a brochure might not have the same experience for me than holding it in my hand, but it goes a long way to inform me of the work itself. Websites can give a flavour of a new season of work, but it is marketing print in a brochure that is going to tie it all together for me. Accessing the brochure digitally is easily achieved through tools such as Issuu and Scribd which also allow you to embed them on your website.

Here are some examples of this from New Diorama Theatre and Fuel Theatre:

As I write this it is currently 21:37, not exactly the sort of time to be able to pick up a brochure like the above from NDT or the Fuel office. Hosting them online gives me immediate access to them, and given that both have been printed for some time allows me to refer back to them without needing to hold onto them in my home. (We all are guilty of hoarding paper and brochures when we don’t need to). But here is the thing, I might be able to quickly search for these brochures but I’ve also had both of these in my hand at some point. They’re both fine examples of print which I’ve really enjoyed experiencing seeing and feeling. I’ve held them, consulted them, maybe found something within them to pursue online, but that connection – for however many seconds or minutes – gives me a deeper connection than just something digital.

In my work at Company of Angels we’re exploring digital and theatre more. In a recent meeting someone suggested that in the future the value we place upon the real physical presence at a theatre event will be increased tenfold in relation to all the exploration into digitally watching and experiencing ‘live theatre’. To be able to say, “I was there” is going to become much more valuable than the experience online, through a device. The physical act of holding a theatre brochure is going to have a much deeper and meaningful sense of engagement and connection with you than flicking through it at a click of a button online.

For me there is a beauty and need in theatre brochures. Some theatres might be shying away from them with the increase of costs and a more digitally minded audience, but there is an undeniable connection I have with print in my hands. The only problem is that piece of marketing never stays long in my hands before it is discarded in the recycling. The catchment of engagement is so limited, and perhaps printed marketing is old fashioned, and whilst I adore digital marketing, you just can’t beat a good piece of print.

Good work Ovalhouse Theatre.