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Highlights of The Ashby-Hodge Collection Fifteen Years Later and A Ticket to Broadway: The Art of the Playbill - 100 Years on Broadway

The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist University opens a new exhibition Oct. 19 featuring highlights of the permanent collection and a unique and historic collection of theatre playbills.

The exhibition, which is in celebration of the gallery's 15th anniversary, is titled "Highlights of The Ashby-Hodge Collection Fifteen Years Later and A Ticket to Broadway: The Art of the Playbill-100 Years on Broadway."

The exhibition will feature 50 of the most important works from the gallery's permanent collection and a special exhibition of Playbill art of major Broadway shows over the past 100 years.

The Playbill collection being presented at the gallery is being made available by John J. Kelly, professor and director of the theatre program at Elmira (N.Y.) College. Kelly is a former professor of theatre and director of the Little Theatre at CMU. The special collection he prepared for the Ashby-Hodge Gallery exhibition includes 180 Playbill pieces dating from the 1880s to the current era.

Kelly will also present a program on the Playbill collection at the CMU Community Forum at noon Friday in Stedman Hall Room 200 on campus. The public is invited to attend. It is free.

Kelly notes in a written presentation about the Play bill collection that: "In 1884 Steele MacKaye, producer of the Madison Square Theatre, was approached by printer Frank V. Strauss with a proposition - to provide, free of charge, theatre programs which had previously cost MacKaye a costly sum. MacKaye agreed. And the Playbill was born. The artwork remained as it had been, paper quality was lessened, and the size of the program increased to include art depicting scenes from the play, and advertising for revenue.

"At the turn of the 20th Century, Playbill's purpose changed. Now intended not only as a souvenir of plays and players seen, it became an elaborate "give-away" or "flyer" meant to attract larger audiences and increase box office revenues. Modern Playbill art employs a variety of artistic styles, now often created by media conglomerates rather than individual artists. Color covers are less common because producers, not Playbill, bear the cost of the printing in color.

"No study of Playbill art would be complete without homage to the work of "The Line King," Al Hirschfeld. From 1925 to the early 21st century, Hirschfeld contributed art to Playbill and the NY Times. His work was so respected and valued that a major Broadway theatre has been named in his honor.

"Throughout its almost 125 year history, Playbill and its art have been valuable contributors to the worlds of art, the theatre, and business. Today's Playbills continue the mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship."