By R. Black, graphic artist
At Shotgun Players, we place a high emphasis on a strong visual presence, and the development of the visual art is very much a group effort; I’m really just the finishing polish of a great idea machine.
I generally start developing the art for the upcoming season about four to five months before the season starts. One of the many joys of the project is being able to discuss the poster art with the directors and playwrights (if possible) of each show before I start. I really value what they have to say, and want them to have a personal connection with the poster, as the show is generally their concept. For me, a great poster should be more melodramatic then a straight representation of what is happening on stage, much like a comic book cover, where the villain is dangling the hero over the edge of a cliff in almost certain peril. I like to ask them questions beforehand, like: what is the mood they want to set; what colors do you see when you think of the play; describe the message you want the poster to say in one word. For a poster to work it needs to tell a story and set a mood with only a moment’s glance; it needs to capture the casual passerby instantly. Ultimately, a great poster needs to look better the event itself, or why would people want to come?
Two more poster designs R. Black developed during the "Voyage" design process.
It then becomes a balancing act on my part to find a happy medium between the director, playwright, our artistic director Patrick Dooley, and my own personal vision. This tends to be a tricky thing; sometimes I'll create four to six different posters until a final is decided on—or time just runs out and we go with the front runner. With “Voyage,” for example, I ended up creating five different ones. This was a challenging poster as the play itself is so epic: the difficulty being how to convey that epic-ness and still maintain a sense of personal human connection.
I tried a few different directions, almost stuck in a “Goldilocks” situation, none being just right. Some being too removed from the human quality, or just the wrong Russian era, as the play itself takes place in the late 1800s. Initially I did not want to include any human forms in this season's art as I wanted to try other vehicles to convey the mood of the play, which is why three of the five are devoid of people. But old habits die hard, and after many, many discussions, scores of emails and ego bruising on my part we came to conclusion on what I feel is the strongest and sexiest of the five—and why shouldn't theatre be sexy after all?
The views represented in this Chatterbox Art & Opinion post are those of the individual author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Theatre Bay Area or its staff.