This reporting is one of several scoops featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.
Playbill pulled an investigation into Broadway audience misbehavior from its website after the renowned theater mag’s CEO complained it was “too salacious,” Confider has learned.
Playbill published the 2,000-word exposé on Wednesday, headlined “Physical Assault, Vomit in the Aisles, Stalking in the Streets: Why Audience Misbehavior Has Gotten Out of Hand,” detailing nightmare accounts of theater workers who’ve experienced a rise in verbal and physical altercations with patrons. “We never had alcohol around like we do right now,” one anonymous worker told Playbill. “You could have a drink in the lobby before the show, but you couldn’t take it to your seat, so there was no nursing a triple and getting progressively more drunk as the show went on. Now we have people so hammered they can’t even stand by intermission, and our custodial staff are having to clean up in-house vomiting at least once a month.”
Come Friday, however, the widely shared piece had been scrubbed from the site, with the page now reading, “We couldn't find what you were looking for but THE SHOW MUST GO ON! Try looking for something else.”
Playbill CEO Philip Birsh copped to ordering the article’s deletion, telling Confider on Monday: “We want people to go to the theater. This piece exaggerated the issue in my opinion. I’m a numbers guy. I know numbers. I know that the overwhelming numbers of people at the theater are having an enjoyable time.”
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Birsh said he first grew concerned about the report after his 22-year-old daughter raised the issue with him, followed by several industry figures who he declined to name.
The CEO said he has personally asked Playbill editor Diep Tran and the article’s writer, Margaret Hall, to “recalibrate” the piece. “It was a mistake, and it doesn’t reflect people’s experience of going to the theater,” added Birsh, whose family has controlled Playbill for half a century. “Speaking in terms of clickbait, it’s fantastic but it’s not reflecting reality. It is reflecting a very thin layer of it. It’s not up to my standards. All we are missing is ‘Headless body in topless bar,’” he said, referencing the infamous New York Post headline.
Birsh claimed this was the first time he has editorially interfered in the publication, and that he hopes to have the “recalibrated” (read: industry-friendly) version published to the site by the end of this week—after he signs off on it, of course.
“I've made years of sacrifice to be in charge here so I do get to say I’d like a do-over. No one is getting flayed here.”
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