“So, we need a design”

Written by Richard McArtney

So it is, that the first tentative steps on deciding to do another production will involve ‘a design’. A logo, font, colour or inspiration that will lead us all on to creating the next Dick & Lottie production.

It is easy to think that a poster just appears. They are there, as I am sure you’ve noticed, from the start and are sometimes taken for granted. Those vital decisions, after all, have already been made and the script has been thrust into the actors eager hands many weeks prior to that first rehearsal. But, there is a back story before it all begins and it is never quite as simple as a few words and the number of the box office.

When it is finally decided what the next play or even the next after that is going to be, it is the role of the designer to sit down and run through a few ideas, after all this image will follows us all around for the next couple of months.

John, as artistic director, will no doubt have some thoughts and he will usually sketch a few ideas on paper and then in combination with my separate ideas we can hopefully create that final image.

There are, of course, many factors to consider along the way;

What is the title of the play?

Is the play a comedy, a farce, a drama, a black comedy etc.?

When is it set?

Where is it set?

Is there a particular feature of the play that you can use as the focal point of the poster, without giving too much away?

Is there a typeface or a colour or a design element that would lend itself to promoting this play on a poster and/or flyer?

As any artist can appreciate, the starting point is always the blank computer screen. Gone are those early days of cutting out printed phrases and titles then sticking them onto art paper only to photocopy the final result in the hope that it will look vaguely professional. Lucky for us we have moved up in the world and the computer is our tool of choice.  Discovering the joy of Photoshop is an almost addictive way to make our posters come alive. Creating two, three or four designs in one go before settling on one, or an amalgamation of several.

For an example, we can take a look at a poster from one of our more recent productions, and that is our tenth anniversary production, “Man of the Moment” by Alan Ayckbourn. As I mentioned above, the first call would be to read the script and familiarise yourself with the play. I can remember the iconic poster created for the London production that looked incredibly like David Hockney’s painting entitled, “A Bigger Splash”.  It gave you an impression of sun, sea and a slow and stress free lifestyle of the Brit. abroad.

The play itself is about the mild mannered Douglas Beechey, flown over to Spain by a bright BBC lady in order to meet with the media celebrity and ex-con Vic Parks, who had years earlier held a bank at gunpoint before wet little bank clerk Douglas had “had a go” resulting in a shot being fired and Douglas’ colleague (and eventual wife) becoming somewhat disfigured. The BBC had decided to make documentary about this meeting of hero and criminal, but as you can no doubt imagine, not everything goes to plan.

This is not just a comedy, this is a dark vision of society. The humour is more sardonic, but none the less hilarious, and it leaves you with many thoughts and topics for discussion. One of the big features is the swimming pool that is not only used, but is integral to the plot. Audiences are not used to seeing such complexities on stage, and even if, in years to come, they forget the title of the play, they will at least know it as, “the one with the pool”.

From a design perspective, we have already identified many different ideas, just from the synopsis;

The Swimming Pool

The BBC filming a documentary

It is set in Spain

A criminal and media celebrity

A bank clerk

A robbery gone wrong

Thinking back to the initial list, I could see the dark humour, and after reading the play, the sadness. The colours I initially thought about  would work well against a black background. This is not a light and fluffy piece. The colour of the sea, or more importantly the blue water in the swimming pool. The yellow of the sun, the white of the villa. What objects could we possibly use on the poster? The film crew could be depicted by sound or lighting equipment. Do we need to represent a bank robber, a ‘have a go’ hero or the BBC presenter. Even the title of the documentary series could be used, “Their Paths Crossed”.

As you can see from the poster, appearing from the black background we have positioned the lens of a camera. The documentary is being shot through this lens, and the reflection within this is the reflection of the water in the swimming pool. It could also be said that the round lens is in fact a round swimming pool, and we are looking over it, maybe plunging headlong into it. The title of the play is written in a bold, plain white font. It is hard to miss and is, as it should be, the main feature of the poster. I distorted the lettering to try and recreate that image of David Hockney’s “. . Bigger Splash” by having it travelling towards the reflected water, where the splash would be imminent. Some would say that the lettering is travelling away from the water, and maybe this is actually the aforementioned,  ‘splash’. The playwright’s name has become a integral part of the lens. After all, he is, like the lens, the maker of this view that we the audience are viewing.

This is of course just one idea of many. And, the computer at least allows you to move these elements around, introducing new ones, eliminating others, so that the final image displays the feelings you want and need to convey. You must always hold in the forefront of your brain, the fact that this poster must turn your prospective audience into your actual audience. They might know nothing about the play, but curiosity is a powerful force.

This is a very brief deconstruction of one of my personal favourites, but if you have any questions then please do not hesitate to contact us.