Brian Nebenzahl OAM 1935
Nebenzahl started his career selling cinema advertising, but in 1958 he and Peters came up with a groundbreaking idea.... the Playbill.
Nebenzahl joined with Lloyd Martin to present the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in a huge tent at Newport,
In 1998 Brian Nebenzahl was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia
Brian Nebenzahl is the man behind Playbill, Australia’s premier performing arts program publishers and merchandisers.
Born in Poland, Nebenzahl was four when he and his parents migrated to Australia in 1939. During his time at The Scots College, Sydney, he became friends with Lance Peters and Lloyd Martin, whose father, David, ran the Tivoli Circuit.
Nebenzahl started his career selling cinema advertising, but in 1958 he and Peters came up with a groundbreaking idea. They suggested to Lloyd Martin, who was then advertising manager at the Tivoli, that they would publish and sell the Tivoli program. Martin agreed – and so Playbill was born.
When the Tivoli’s brand of variety entertainment started to wane, they approached other theatre managements, notably J.C. Williamson’s, which dominated Australian commercial theatre. A daily phone call to Williamsons’ director of publicity finally paid off – after a year. The programs for Maurice Chevalier and My Fair Lady were their first JCW commissions. Many others followed.
Next came another ‘first’: an advertising agency specifically dedicated to entertainment. It soon became a significant force in the placement of entertainment advertising in the press and on radio. In the 1980s Nebenzahl realised that if Playbill owned and operated its own printery, it could more efficiently handle all the last minute changes required in printing theatre programs. Today Playbill Printworks can produce everything from factual publications to large, glossy souvenir programs of world standard.
When eventually J.C. Williamson’s ceased business, Nebenzahl adapted by focussing on the increasing number of government-subsidised companies. His client list included the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies, the Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Musica Viva. Playbill still publishes for these clients, as well as Sydney Dance Company, Bangarra, Cameron Mackintosh, Disney Theatrical, John Frost Productions, Andrew Kay & Associates, and many more.
Playbill’s move into merchandising followed the ‘invasion’ of British rock stars in the 1960s and 70s. Nebenzahl’s son Michael has built this area into a huge operation with warehousing, creative and sales teams servicing many producers in Australia and around the world.
As an entrepreneur, Nebenzahl joined with Lloyd Martin to present the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in a huge tent at Newport, a Sydney beach resort. Nebenzahl also worked on a series of jazz concerts with Adelaide-based Kym Bonython, bringing to Australia an endless list of jazz greats, culminating with the George Shearing concert at the Sydney Opera House for the 2000 Olympics Arts Festival.
Another of Nebenzahl’s initiatives, venue management, saw Playbill join Lend Lease Developments in a successful tender for management rights for Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and the Hall of Industries, both of which required extensive refurbishment. In 2007 Playbill bought out Lend Lease and operates these venues under the name Playbill Venue Management.
Brian Nebenzahl remains Executive Chairman of Playbill, with son Michael as Managing Director and wife Jocelyn as Editorial Director. He continues to foster the entertainment industry in all its facets, through advice and financial support.
In 1998 Brian Nebenzahl was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to the publishing industry and the community, and the Reserve Force Decoration, acknowledging his more than 25 years in the Army Reserve, in which he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.