Case 015: The Playbill Shoe Boxfiled November 27, 2019
The InQueery’s Sciences department has delivered a report on their study of gay and lesbian domestic artifacts. Among the vast cultural detritus sifted through, the most commonly-reported object held sacred to queers of all demographics is the playbill shoe box—a makeshift cardboard sarcophagus used to collect theater programs. More than high school yearbooks, Disney VHS tapes, or tag-on Beanie Babies, for many queers the shoe box acts as a portkey to sentimentality.
Shoe boxes commonly manifest during childhood. “I remember the pang of guilt I felt when I pitched the program from my elementary school’s production of The Phantom Tollbooth,” says subject Eddie Stevenson of Marshfield, Wisconsin. “I didn’t realize I had plunged my hand into the trash to retrieve it until I was shoulder deep. That was the beginning for me.” Stevenson still has that four-page pamphlet, once lovingly stapled together by PTA moms. “It’s the origin of my queer history. If I were Hansel and Gretel the Playbills are my breadcrumbs, except I’m gluten free and saw the original production of Wicked.”
For most queers, their shoe boxes beat with the fervor of Poe’s tell-tale heart, misguided Ivan Ho revivals calling to them from under beds and depths of closets. “I’m going home for Thanksgiving and I know I’ll end up retreating to my childhood bedroom, unearthing my shoe box and spreading the contents all over the floor,” said Craig Wojetek, a Barnes Noble Store Manager in Smithfield, Rhode Island. “I’ll look up and it will be 4am and I’ll realize I spent the entire evening… reminiscing.”
“When my girlfriend moved in, I was scared she would find my box,” said Melanie Brewer, a middle school music teacher who lives in a studio in Astoria, New York. “I wasn’t sure what she’d say if she found out I saw The Performers every night of it’s one week run, so I split the bills up and hid them in every nook and cranny. Then one day I was cleaning and I found her shoe box, complete with the Hello, Dolly! Holy Trinity: Bette, Donna, and Bernadette! I should have known. I’ve returned most of mine to their proper home, but just yesterday I found Angels in America: Millennium Approaches tucked under some old towels. Honestly, it could be years before I reunite parts one and two of The Inheritance.”
The report also details several types of shoe box-ers who fall outside the normal conventions of collecting.
The Hoarder: Upon leaving the cinema, theatre, opera house, school gymnasium, Disney On Ice arena, this shoe box-er finds themself unable to part with overpriced play paraphernalia. Nothing is safe: drink napkins, souvenir wine sippy-cups, the Broadway Cares show poster signed by the cast are all now essential mementos. Was the Elsa wig really worth it?
The Minimalist: A no-nonsense kind of queer who cuts right to the chase. Long ago that bulky Dr. Marten’s box was upgraded to a three-ring, leather-bound portfolio that keeps all playbills in mint condition. Wondering whether yesterday’s one-night-stand really was in Oklahoma! like he said he was? This shoe box-er can find the answer in a snap, thanks to their perfectly reasonable chrono-alpha system.
The Foodie: Any novice can covet a cover, but only the most die-hard can stomach the restaurant recommendations within each playbill’s final pages. If anyone ever needs to know where Laurie Metcalf once had a steak and how she likes it, this foodie is well prepared.
The Closet Case: The rarest shoe box-er doesn’t need a shoe box at all, but instead organizes a closet brimming with poorly silk-screened 100% cotton tees, commemorating your Broadway favorites. Why stash your playbills when you could wear them? How else can you let the public know you celebrated the 30-year anniversary of Les Miserables.
The Bottom Line: New York City may end up underwater, and our plastic consumption may lead to apocalypse, but we’ll be here, at the end of days, cleaving to our cardboard library, ready to remind the world that we’ve seen Sutton Foster perform not once, but four times. Beat that, God!