Archive for Graphics

Rabbit Hole Poster


Back in January I created this poster for a production of Rabbit Hole. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play deals with a family that has recently lost their young boy in tragic accident and how they cope with their grief. A beautiful and heartbreaking piece.

The director, Eric Butler, had the concept of the photograph of the happy family between the grieving couple. The photographer, Paul Bobkowski, took a number of pictures for both settings, with me to the side saying, “look this way,” “look that way,” “look at her,” etc. Really, it was to find the right pose for the final poster.

When I received the photos, though, there were several that I liked, and they were all so similar, that it occurred to me that I could use multiple photos to multiple effect: to show the deterioration and inner thoughts of the couple, and to demonstrate a sci-fi concept discussed in the play where there exist multiple parallels of our world with sometimes slight and sometimes major differences (your basic multiverse set-up, and the reason for the shows title, where you could fall through a rabbit hole into another, better world).

Moving forward with that, I created a more ethereal feel for “reality” and a more saturated and warmer feel for the photograph itself. The multiple photographs also suggested the repeat of the title, which allowed for a nice and natural separation of all the credits and tagline.

I rarely get to work with photographs in my posters, due often to the fact that a) I am not a photographer, and b) the posters usually come before there are costumes and sometimes a cast. This was a fun change for me, and I was really pleased with the result.

Kiss Me, Kate Poster

Before the next batch of cocktails for shows, I thought I would present a couple of the posters for shows I created earlier this year. First was for the classic Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate.


In Kiss Me, Kate, there is a show within a show, as performers present a musical adaption of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, so I wanted to be able to represent that love-hate duality present in both Shrew as well as Kiss Me, Kate. The costumes themselves are obviously there to help evoke an Elizabethan drama, the footlights and spotlight to show a theatrical setting.

Once again I went with silhouettes, which I recognize as a bit of a crutch, but when these posters are completed often before casting (or any photography of cast) and people should be represented, I find it is the best way to accomplish that. Plus, in this instance, the overlaying images are much easier to read, I feel, as solid shapes without details.

The fonts and colors were chosen for a 1940’s theatrical poster feel. The harlequin diamond texture in the background was included as a nod to the original Kiss Me, Kate art, and provides a bit of visual interest through texture, while also evoking old theater.

Finally, to make it seem like vintage poster art from that particular era of the show (the 40’s) I aged the final piece with some texture and filters.

Hedda Gabler Poster

Quick break from cocktails to show a poster design I put together for a local company, The Longwood Players. This was a bit of an emergency project as their original designer fell off the grid after deadlines were passed (ironically, they had moved to this designer without my knowledge, perhaps after the unfortunate situation surrounding my Chess poster). I had to put this together over a weekend to help them out. The result was the following:


I wanted to focus on Hedda herself, and her internal conflict, her boredom and loneliness and mania. I saw some wonderful pictures online featuring images created by a cracked glass algorithm that I wanted to try and replicate, with the idea being the fragmented state of Hedda’s mind and existence. In the end, the image became more stained glass with a bunch of tessellations than cracked glass, and I didn’t have the time to rework it, nor write my own algorithm (this was all manual) to create the randomness of the image. I also did not feel that the stained glass was inappropriate, so I stuck with it as the image came together.

My wife, Lydian, served as the model, wearing pajamas with her hair tied back at the end of the day. Probably the easiest two minute modeling gig she’s ever had, but her pose makes the poster.

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd

My next production, which opens this weekend, is a bit of a labor of love a long time coming. I did this show 22 years ago and always wanted a chance to do it again. The problem is that no one ever does this show. That’s a shame, because there’s there some wonderful material here. Perfect? By no means, but neither is a good chunk of theater that is done constantly, and no others have the gorgeous songs “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good” among others.

The story itself is allegory for the British class system, and this is one reason the show is avoided, certainly in the US. People think its politics are outdated. The ideas are absolutely simplified, but the story of Haves and Have-nots, where the ruling class defines rules in order to keep the lower classes in their place, is certainly one I feel is relevant to our current political climate in this country.

In the show, Sir is the Have playing against Cocky the Have-not on a life-size gameboard. The setting is not clearly defined (it’s a barren landscape in the script, and Leslie Bricusse once said the show was supposed to take place in the post-apocalyptic world everyone suspected was coming at the time the show was written in the 60’s). The songs are all fairly liftable, meaning that for the most part they aren’t woven seamlessly into the story as musicals now tend to do it (or try to) and the scenes seem like British music hall comedy routines. It’s a weird and lovely (and very darkly comic) show.

So how would you portray this on a poster? That was my challenge here. The original production simply had a silhouette of Cocky and Sir arguing over a bag. With all due respect to the original designer, I don’t feel this says much about what the audience has in store. The fact that ANTHONY NEWLEY and CYRIL RITCHARD appear over the title probably made the graphic not nearly as important.

For my production though, which I was directing and choreographing as well as performing in (not my original intention — I really wanted to do the show, and no director came forward to apply), I wanted a poster that showed the struggle, but also pulled in the “game” aspect. This was important since my setting was actually to be a toy shop in ruins and I felt there should be some toy aspect on the poster. In addition I wanted to show the struggle between the two characters and, if possible, convey a feeling of circa 1960, but in ruin.

The end result was this:


The photos are all of my hands, actually, and the gamebox is a Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders game that I then modified with the new artwork digitally. I tried to use colors that I saw on old games from the 60’s (Life, certainly) along with an appropriate font, and started the game on the box with a mushroom cloud. The taglines I felt added just enough insight into what goes on in the show (playing for bread or love, from birth to death), and the chutes and ladders in the background add some additional texture.

Probably one of my favorite touches, not apparent in this low-res version, is the ring on the finger made from a coin bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria. The raised edges on the ring have dried blood. Like I said, the show is darkly comic, and I felt the violence should be at least subtly represented on the poster.

That’s the poster, now how about a drink? As the cast is mostly underage kids, I wasn’t really inspired to create a whole suite of cocktails (I mean, there’s not going to be a cast party to try them out), but I had to do one, didn’t I? Coming next…

The Light in the Piazza


My next series of cocktails was for a show my wife produced and performed in a year ago, The Light in the Piazza. She fell in love with this Tony award-winning show a few years ago and was anxiously awaiting a theater to produce it so she might be in it. After waiting a while and never seeing it appear in any season she began shopping the idea around to multiple local theaters, but none bit. It wouldn’t sell, they said. So she took on the project of starting her own theater company and producing it herself, a Herculean effort which she not only pulled off (the show was wonderful), but did so to great response AND she made money without having any name recognition or subscriber base (wouldn’t sell, they said…).

My job was mostly not taking on any shows myself and watching our kids. I did contribute support through some graphics work, including the design of the company logo and the poster for the show, which you can see above. To achieve this I found an interactive panorama of the piazza from the show (the Piazza della Signoria) and adjusted it to what I felt was a dynamic angle. I then captured the image and took it into Illustrator, where I traced it out and made some adjustments to better fit my composition.

The bands of light are an obvious nod to the title of the piece, and the hat is an image from the show, where the wind takes the character of Clara’s hat off her head and into the hands of the man she falls in love with. I liked the way the blue popped against the rosey colors of the lights.

The fonts and text character arrangement probably take me just as long if not longer than the other graphic images, but I was happy with the title in the end, and felt it was appropriate for the piece.

Of course, my other job was conceiving some cocktails, which I did for some online publicity and presented at the cast party. I was going to start with three — one for each location in the musical (Florence, Rome and Winston-Salem, North Carolina) — but in the end crafted five, with one more by request and another an inspiration from a bottle I found.

It’s the first series of cocktails I made for a show I wasn’t in. There are a lot of shows I’m not in. I’m not sure this is a good or bad precedent…

Chess Poster

As a temporary break from cocktails, I thought I might post another of my recent creative endeavors, the creation of a poster for a local production of the musical Chess (for those not into the whole scene, it was the one written by the guys from Abba back in the 80’s that included the radio hit “One Night in Bangkok”). And it serves as a lesson to me in how to handle projects like this in the future, as you will see.

So, to begin, the musical has a backdrop of international chess competitions, and, taking place during the Cold War, it focuses on a rivalry between the US and the USSR. There’s espionage and a love story between a Russian defector and an American woman who serves as second to the American competitor. It’s all a bit convoluted, and the book is a bit of a mess, but the music is pretty catchy even if the lyrics are somewhat clunky and heavy-handed to my ear.

I knew that I wanted some central chess image, and you’ve got either a checkerboard or a chess pieces, really. The original concept used a checkerboard falling apart, which I quite like, and the Broadway had two people running in front of flags without any hint of chess, which I don’t like at all. I thought I might create a chess piece that would create an optical illusion in the empty space of the two competitors facing off. Once I had done this, I was surprised to find that the highlights on the chess piece implied a second illusion of a face. I went further with this and created a woman’s face that was between two competing men, which I thought captured the triangle in the musical.


After getting approval to move forward with this concept, I added a chess board below the piece and wanted to texture this with marble, which mimicked a chess board I had when growing up. During that process, I threw the marble behind the piece as well since the empty space was bothering me a bit. At that point I discovered that I could place the texture in such a way as to imply faces for the silhouetted figures, which I thought was a nice, subtle touch. After that it was just about getting all the words on to the poster, the greatest challenge for me, generally.


To quote Fantine, “And then it all went wrong.” Unfortunately, although I really liked it, this wasn’t the direction the creative team wanted to go. To them, there was no relationship triangle in the show and their production would be focused on the espionage and the US vs. USSR, something I hadn’t been told at the beginning of the process. They were quite right that this poster didn’t promote that idea. I was very proud of the result, but it wasn’t right. They also didn’t like the marble and instead wanted something that showed the political angle. And then I made a mistake.

To show that filling the silhouetted space with something like flags would not only ruin the illusion, but also be a little too much hitting the nail on the head with a sledgehammer in a poster with too many ideas, I threw the following together. I thought it would be quickly dismissed and that I could move forward with the poster I liked.


You can probably see where this is going.

They loved it. I offered to try something else to get the political angle in without destroying the initial concept. I didn’t love this either, but felt it was a better option at least.


Nope, no good. They felt this was too many ideas, which I completely agreed with (I think I might have said it first), that somehow the flags in the background avoided, which I didn’t agree with. So in the end, since it is their production and not mine, and it needs to express what they want it to express, I cleaned up the flags in the background and gave them this.


I do believe it has too many ideas crammed into it and the illusions of both the silhouettes and the woman’s face are a bit lost (and, when not lost, looks like they have hats, as my wife commented), and if I could approach it from scratch I would do it completely differently, but with deadlines looming and my time extremely limited (I also volunteer for this — it is not a paid gig) we had to move forward with this, a piece I am wholly unsatisfied with, which is frustrating since I was so happy with the original product.

Lessons to me are never to proceed with anything unless I get very clear instructions on what is desired from all parties involved, even if deadlines are approaching. And, more importantly, never submit something that I know I do not like. This was my fault and completely backfired in this case. I knew I hated the flags. I assumed everyone would hate the flags. I never should have mocked it up.

Lesson learned. Now it’s time to make a drink.