A Cautionary Tale about Ephemera

I’ve written about ephemera before (see my blog post entitled Ephemera).  If you need a reminder of what ephemera is, Dictionary.com defines it as “items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.”  In this case, I’m writing about a theater program.  Specifically, a program I did not save for a show I did not see.  And yet it has been sitting on the end table in my living room for weeks, and has been in my house for a lot longer.

Let me explain.  Late in the summer of 2019, I was helping a client put away some new items that had come into her home.  We went into a cabinet in her bedroom where she thought she could make ample space, and she identified some things that she was ready to part with.  Among them was a collection of Playbills.

I’m a devoted theatergoer and I’m always excited to find that my clients have saved their Playbills.  A quick glance at my client’s Playbills revealed that some of them were from very recent shows and others were much older, going back to the 1980s and earlier.  I immediately thought of where these classic Playbills could be donated.  I told her that instead of recycling them, I was going to take them home and donate them.  She was fine with that and gave me a tote bag for them.  They were heavy, but I was only a short walk from home.

The charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has a flea market and auction near Times Square every September.  Proceeds go towards their amazing programs.  I reached out to a friend who has volunteered for them and asked if she knew whom I could contact about donating these Playbills to the flea market.  She gave me a name and when I had some time, I made a call.

I learned that I would need to bring the Playbills to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS office in midtown.  It’s a short subway ride from my home, but I never got there.  I was preparing to direct a musical, and auditions were coming up right after Labor Day, so I was very busy.  The date of the flea market came and went.  When my show was over, I called again to see if I could still bring the Playbills to the office so that they could be included in the following year’s auction.  I was told that they had no space to store them, and that I should mail them the following August. I put the Playbills in a box with the address on it and a sign saying “Mail in August 2020”.  I put it on the top shelf of a closet.

We all know what happened in 2020.  Everything shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  In mid-2021, I called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to find out if I could still send the Playbills for that year’s auction.  I learned that they were not planning to sell Playbills anymore, as they didn’t bring in enough money.  “Recycle them,” I was told.

The box of Playbills continued to sit in my closet until the December holidays.  That’s when I got up on my stepstool to get down all of my decorations.  I couldn’t ignore the box of Playbills, which was on the same shelf.  I decided that it was time to take care of these pieces of ephemera that had been in my home for almost 2 1/2 years.  I put them in a couple of recycling bags (too heavy for just one bag!) but something nagged at me.

The oldest Playbill in the collection was from 1969.  It was for the play Cactus Flower starring Julie Harris, whose photo was on the cover.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Julie Harris, she had the distinction of winning the most Tony Awards of any actor — at least until Audra McDonald came along.  One of her Tony Awards was for this very show.  I just couldn’t recycle it.  I thought, “This must be valuable to someone!”  So I recycled the others and held on to this one.

Last week I finally got onto eBay to figure out if this Playbill was of interest to anyone.  Here is what I discovered: there are currently 17 of these Playbills on sale on eBay with nary a single bid. (One of them is even autographed.)  A look at completed auctions shows four more of them, only one of which sold.  Bottom line: it’s of very little interest to anyone.

So here is my current plan.  I’m going to read the Playbill from cover to cover, and then I’m going to recycle it.  Like I should have back in 2019 when my client said to.

Here is what I learned from this cautionary tale about ephemera:

  • Ephemera are meant to be thrown away.  It’s in the definition.
  • You can’t care more about a client’s castoffs than they do.
  • Whether it’s clutter in a client’s house or clutter in my house, it’s still clutter.


  1. John Trosko
    Mar 13, 2022

    Great piece. The pandemic was a great way to gauge if something was used or not (and to discard, recycle etc.) Good lesson.

    • Sharon Lowenheim
      Mar 13, 2022

      That’s so true, John. Many of my clients, who were suddenly spending more time at home, started noticing clutter that they had never really paid attention to before.

  2. Great insight on clutter and ephemera. You’re right, it’s not meant to stay in the home over the long haul. If it were, it wouldn’t be considered clutter!

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