Biography Guidelines

BIOGRAPHY GUIDELINES

CONTENT SUGGESTIONS

Playbill biographies engage audiences with relevant, informative, and interesting information about you, the artist. A good biography enhances audience awareness of your accomplishments. We assume that every theatre artist has written a playbill biography at least once, with the periodic updates (usually right before the printing deadline!) for new credits and accomplishments.

Some basic biography suggestions for your next update include:

  • Write with the audience in mind and use an objective (third person) reporting approach, as if describing someone else.
  • Use whole sentences, proper grammar, and check your spelling. Try to stay within 100 to 150 words.
  • Start with your first name and then alternate between your chosen pronouns and first name for variety.
  • Arrange credit lists in a “Character-or-Role in-or-for Production Title (Venue Name)” order. Please provide the full name of the venue. Example: Musical Memories Playhouse and not just MMP. (Please see ACRONYMS below.)
  • Limit lists of credits to five or fewer items per sentence. More than that becomes a blur.
  • If you want to make a statement directly to the reader, out it in quote marks. “Yes, I’m talking to you!”

EXAMPLE:

MARY SMITH
Reno Sweeney
Mary (she, her) is making her Downtown Theatre debut. Favorite roles include Joanne in Company and Jane in Tarzan (Hometown Players), Chrissy in Hair (Musical Playhouse), and Cassie in A Chorus Line (Centerplace Stage). Regional credits include Hello, Dolly! (East Coast Stage) and Medea (Canada Repertory Theatre). Mary is the general sales manager at Stagecraft Lighting and earned a BA in design from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MFA in theatre communications from American Conservatory Theater. She relaxes by walking Toby, her beloved Chihuahua-terrier mix, and binge-watching Netflix series from Europe. “Much love to John, my Angels, and the rest of this amazing cast.” marysmith.com

SUGGESTED ELEMENTS TO INCLUDE:

PRONOUNS: Not required, but listing your preferred pronouns allows you to define yourself and helps others, including the media, to properly identify you. Our style is to list pronouns after the first instance of the artist’s name: “Chris (they, their) is…”

TRAINING: If relevant. Include full school name, type of degree (BA, MA, MBA, MFA, PhD), and field of study. Do not capitalize the field of study unless it is highly specific.

AFFILIATIONS: If relevant, include union memberships and other professional affiliations.

PERSONAL DATA: Include a sentence about your “day job” (if you have one) or other employment or skills, family, hobbies or avocations, past accomplishments not related to theatre, or something else unique to you.

DEDICATIONS OR QUOTES: A message from you to specific others or to the whole audience. Be sure to include the “personal message” in quote marks.

WEBSITE: URLs lead a patron to extended information about you. URLs in our digital playbills are hyperlinked so patrons reading on a computer or device can connect to your site instantly. Your website should already include links to your social media accounts so there’s no need to list those separately.

Not every biography requires every component listed above, but some combination of these elements will work for every artist.

CONTENT STYLE

If requested by the producer, our team of professional writers and copy editors will review and edit all submitted biographies to create a consistent narrative style and an optimal patron reading experience. Our editing process works in three tiers:

  • CLARITY: Improving grammar, spelling, punctuation, and narrative flow.
  • STYLE: Reviewing for formatting, credits order, expanding acronyms, setting first-person quotes, and internal naming.
  • ACCURACY: Fact-checking data including names, productions, venues, awards, schools, and other objective information.

We never omit specific biography data that is submitted by an artist, but we may substitute words or rearrange some data for readability, for space, or for layout and design purposes.

Third Act Services leans into the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for basic copy editing standards. We embrace the Oxford comma and eschew the use of colons, dashes (em, en, or plain), and semi-colons in running text, and forward-slashes everywhere, except where absolutely required. We also suggest a range of best practices below.

Whether or not we are editing content for a client, we encourage all contributors to watch for some of the following writing traps:

PROMISCUOUS CAPITALIZATION: Capitalizing a word does not make it more important. Further, promiscuous capitalization only reduces the desired overall impact. Reserve capitalization for the first word of each sentence and for proper names and titles of creative work. Unless specifically named, generic degrees and fields of study (theatre, design, voice, directing) should be lowercase. Job titles should be lower case unless immediately preceding the job holder’s name:

“The board introduced Artistic Director Mary Smith, the former executive director of That Other Company.”

STATING THE OBVIOUS: Certain cliches and writing habits creep into biographies and should be avoided. The most frequent is:

“Pat is delighted to be playing George Gibbs with this amazing cast in the City Stages production of Our Town.”

The patron reading your biography will assume that you are not performing under duress (or working off parking tickets) and that you are indeed delighted (happy, pleased, thrilled, chuffed, or even super-stoked) to be part of this production. The rest of the sentence is redundant since they already know the venue, the name of the play or musical at hand, and your role or function, which is listed immediately above this too-frequent opening sentence in bold print. Why not:

“Robin is a regular on Bay Area stages, and returning to This Theater Company following their debut here as The Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

EXPRESSIONS TO RECONSIDER:

APPEARED: Unless you were a magic act prop, you either performed, played, acted, sang, danced, created, or animated the credit you are listing in some unique way. Embrace that!

HOLDS: In education, you either earn a degree or, in honorary situations, receive it. Constantly holding it would get tiresome.

WAS SEEN: See APPEARED above for performers, but fine for designers whose work is literally seen (or heard).

SHORTCUTS TO AVOID:

ACRONYMS: Do not assume readers know what any given acronym represents. List the full organization’s name in the first use and, when necessary for subsequent use, follow with the acronym in parentheses. Then, using the acronym alone later in the text is understandable.

AMPERSAND: “&” is not a word. Do not use “&” as “and” unless it is part of a title or a proper legal name.

AND: Do not use “And” to begin a sentence. The text following “And” should either be connected to the previous sentence after a comma or made into a separate sentence.

BUT: See AND above.

FORWARD SLASH (/): Avoid the use of forward slashes when a comma, a hyphen, or the word “and” would create the same result, particularly when listing multiple characters played by the same actor unless they are actually the same individual, such as Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate.

CLARITY AND ACCURACY:

THEATER(RE): A theater is a place where the art of theatre is presented. A theatre company might have either Theatre (or Theater) in its proper name and will often produce theatre at a theater that has Theater (or Theatre) in its proper name.

ROLES VS. CREDITS: If you list “favorite roles” (or recent or notable ones), limit the list to actual roles and have a character name for every entry on the list. Evita is a role (and a title role at that!), but ensemble, chorus, or understudy for Character Name are credits, not roles. If the role does not have a proper name, lead with the article “the” to make it more readable, as in “the Leading Player in Pippin.” If you want to mix roles and credits, then use “favorite credits” (or recent or notable credits) as the list identifier.

LOGICAL GROUPS: If you are including multiple credits with a single theatre company, list them (alphabetically or chronologically) followed by the name of the (Theatre Company) in parentheses. Then do the same for any other companies where you have similar data.

THE: If “The” is the first word in the title of a play or musical, please include it. Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice. The title of the popular musical by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and not just Spelling Bee.

Feel free to send us questions or suggestions on other biography best practices.