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Capturing a Play in an Image: A Designer's Quandary


by Stephen Becker 21 Aug 2009

Guest blogger Rob Wilson is a creative director at SullivanPerkins in Dallas and a rabid Kitchen Dog Theater fan. The 2009-10 Kitchen Dog Theater season brochure designed by SullivanPerkins is arriving in mailboxes this week. It’ll be hard to miss: it’s big, it’s bold and it’s Rhodamine Red (you can call it magenta). It’s also […]

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Guest blogger Rob Wilson is a creative director at SullivanPerkins in Dallas and a rabid Kitchen Dog Theater fan.

The 2009-10 Kitchen Dog Theater season brochure designed by SullivanPerkins is arriving in mailboxes this week. It’ll be hard to miss: it’s big, it’s bold and it’s Rhodamine Red (you can call it magenta). It’s also the second year in a row that our creative group has designed, illustrated and written the brochure, posters and season marketing pieces for KDT. How do we continue to create award-winning design work for the most risk-taking, thought-provoking theater company in Dallas? It comes down to this: how do you solve a problem like a poster?

Last year, we turned the season brochure into an oversized newsprint tabloid. That gave us space to represent each play with an iconic illustration, and each of them worked as a dandy poster image. It was such a good idea, we decided to do it again. And since all of the talented designers at SullivanPerkins can and like to draw, it was an easy decision. The plays were (pretty much) democratically presented to the designers and each designer (pretty much) chose the one that spoke most to him (we need a woman designer). I chose boom because it was a comedy about a crazy relationship, with the lead character being a manipulative marine biologist (just like my ex). Perhaps each of my colleagues felt a personal connection to the play he chose as well – suicidal artistic frustration, crippling guilt, serial killing, human trafficking, whatever.

Since the illustrations for each play were created by different designers, visual continuity was needed to make them work together. So we decided to print the posters and season brochure in two colors: black and magenta. This limited color palette not only helped with our printing budget, but it also gave the finished printed materials a graphic, edgy visual aesthetic that corresponds with KDT productions. And working with limitations allowed the designers to focus on their ideas. But they also needed to let their imaginations run amok in order to capture each play’s emotional tone and narrative complexity. In a sense, it’s like letting a dog run wild in a fenced-off backyard. After some research about the plays, each designer began to sketch, draw and refine their poster illustrations.

Eventually, I reviewed all of the illustrations to see how they would work together in the brochure. Do they accurately represent the plays? Is there enough stylistic variation? Do they collectively give a good sense of the upcoming season? Are they clever? And, foremost in this designer’s mind: will they win design awards?
Then it was time to present to Kitchen Dog. We were on target with most of the posters. Images of a seagull unaware of a hole in its breast, a bomb made of sea creatures, a matchbox coffin and hungry coyotes seemed to fit the bill. Only the first draft of the Slasher poster got slashed – it’s actually a black comedy, not a comedy of horrors. So we canned the image of the creepy dude made of knives and focused on the hi-jinks of making a B-horror movie. Next thing you know, we had an illustration of a screaming co-ed whose body appears to be made of a movie camera. And we had a complete set of poster images.
So be on the lookout – like the season brochures, posters will soon be showing up around Dallas. And Kitchen Dog Theater’s first play, Vigils, will be opening soon, on September 11.

Which poster image do you think works best? Whichever designer’s poster gets the most votes will get a standing ovation from the others at our office. And maybe even a free lunch. Let me know your vote at [email protected]

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  • Lee Trull

    The work that Rob and Sullivan Perkins do for KDT is without measure. As an artist, I am jealous of their ability to distill a complex play to a single, evocative image.

    Bravo!

    And my vote is for Long Way Goes Down…brilliant.

  • Paul Barnes

    Rob,

    The SullivanPerkinds designs are brilliant. Tough choices here, but I vote for the coyotes in “Long Way Go Down.” The mud flap babes in last season’s “Jihad Jones” were truly inspired. Thanks for explaining the process.