Prestigious theatre award for Nebenzahl

September 7, 2010 Agencies
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Brian Nebenzahl has been awarded the 2010 JC WIlliamson Award recognising his outstanding contribution to the Australian live performance industry.

Part of the Helpman Awards, the JC Williamson Award was presented to Sydney-based Nebenzahl at the Opera House last night.

A co recipient of this year’s award,  Nebenzahl is the man behind Playbill, Australia’s premier performing arts program publishers and merchandisers.

Brian Nebenzahl

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.

Brian Nebenzahl makes his acceptance speech

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.


One Response to “Prestigious theatre award for Nebenzahl”
  1. David Fellerman says:

    I have fond warm memories of my visit to Australia in the early 1980’s with the Rod Stewart entourage for whom I handled worldwide merchandising. In particular Brian’s kind help and hospitality to me when I suffered dental problems; waking up his own dentist late in the evening to treat my pain and remedy the problem. Sabbath dinner at his and Jocelyn’s family home on Friday night made me feel like I was a member of the family. Michael was a very young man at the time and I’m delighted to see that he is following in the family footsteps continuing to grow the business with his fathers firm hand on the tiller. Needless to say with Brian’s kind and professional support our pioneering visit with Rod Stewart, who had never previously merchandised in Australia was hugely successful so we are delighted to see him receive this worthy and well deserved award for services to the Industry. Michael visited our home in London in his honeymoon in the late 80’s; likewise we met with Brian & his lovely wife Jocelyn in London when they were en-route to Israel, where Sylvia and I now reside having emigrated here from the UK in 2013. Perhaps we will meet again in the future and catch up; if perchance this missive is seen by Brian I send much love and affection to a family who treated me so well when I was so far away from my own young family. David Fellerman

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