In Hamlet William Shakespeare made
the comment the plays
the thing. Unfortunately he did not expand on that thought as far as suggesting
how theatre companies
draw audiences to their venues to see the plays presented.
As a graphic designer I have had many opportunities over the past 30 years to
assist performing arts organizations in the marketing and promotion of their
efforts by creating logos for companies and theater spaces, identities for shows,
posters, season ticket brochures, T-shirts and other marketing pieces. I remember
creating a rough, stencil like image for a high school production of Thorton
Wilders Our Town back in the mid-70s, but I certainly
had no premonitions that I would be doing a great deal of such work in the future.
In college I designed posters, ads, T-shirts and other graphics for plays, concerts
and other art-related associations and events. Later, while living in Seattle,
I designed logos, programs, ads and promotion items for the performing arts groups
Alice B. Theatre, the Seattle Mens Chorus, the Evergreen Theater Conservatory
and similar companies.
It was also in Seattle that I first became aware of the logo design work being
done for local theater by Art Chantry (above). Id met Chantry, the subject
book Some People Cant
Graphic Design of Art Chantry by Julie Lasky, while he was working
at the alternative publication The
Rocket. His logo creations for local theater companies and plays are what
caught my attention the most. The work was stark - almost always just black and
white and had a simplicity that conveyed a great deal about the theatre
production company or play being represented. The designs really inspired me
to seek out opportunities
doing logo design work for similar clients.
In early 1990 I attended the first play of a new Portland theatre company. Ive
got to admit, while looking over the program for the play, my first thought was these
guys could use some help. Little did I know that I would meet the playwright/director/producer/ticker
seller at a party a few weeks later. In that first conversation, Don Horn asked
if Id be interested in meeting with him to discuss some design projects
for the theatre. For the past 16 years I have worked the theatre company, triangle
productions!, located in Portland, Oregon. I have designed over 100 logos for
the company, its venues, shows that have been presented and special promotions.
My work for the company has received nearly that number of design awards and
many of the logos have been featured in numerous international design books.
We have created programs, posters, signage, T-shirts, magnets, beverage cups,
a paper doll book and many other unique (and fun) items in an effort to draw
audiences to shows
over the past decade and a half.
For myself, designing logos for live theatre companies offers me a chance to
be at my most creative. With design projects for such a creative clientele there
is often a great deal of room to stretch ones creative muscles. This is
not standard or conservative graphic design faire. In designing logos for theatrical
productions a designer can often go over the top in the creation of attention-getting
images. There is an incredible opportunity to play with type and color in unrestricted
ways. I enjoy working with somewhat unusual color combinations and incorporating
type from font houses such as P22,
or Veer type
you many not normally see in more corporate or commercial designs. Its
not a question of pushing the envelope or working out of the
box there is no envelope or box. Within
the theatrical graphic imagery a designer has the chance to convey the essence
of a play, monologue or musical in a unique and stylized manner.
The subject matter lends itself to blatant graphic interpretations. My own experience
has included being able to produce images for productions from Shakespeare to
spoofs on the Bard. Topic matter has included AIDS, cannibalism, strippers, sex,
country-western music, vaginas, religion, Internet dating, death, unique personal
relationships, murder, concentration camps, drag queens, drug use and everything
in between. Titles have included Girls Night Out, 2 Boys
in a Bed on an Cold Winters Night, Dishin With Divine, The
Food Chain, Naked Boys Singing and so many more. (The play Party! is
a personal favorite. Not only did I design the logo, T-shirts and a program I
actually got to spend the summer of my first mid-life crisis directing the show
with seven naked men on stage including Peter Paige who went on to Queer
as Folk fame) How could a designer not be inspired to come up with some
great logo designs
to represent such topics and shows?
Don Horn, of triangle productions!, is an incredible client. Each of the
past seasons he has provided me with the scripts of all the plays to be produced
that year. After reading the plays, I may meet with Don to discuss a possible
theme for the year as far as design style or colors to be used in printing the
season ticket brochure, posters and programs. He then sets me loose to be creative and
leaves me alone! The leaving me alone part was initially a foreign
concept to me. Never before had I worked with a client who gave me free reign
of the process. Ive never had Horn reject a logo I have created for one
of his shows. Its been a very strange and wonderful client relationship
over the years and
I truly value this particular client as a friend.
Judith Mayer, of Keyword Design, also appreciates the opportunity to collaborate
with other creatives in a design relationship much different than most corporate
(Theatre clients) are sometimes more willing to go for a daring or whimsical
design solution, according to Mayer. The fact that a show is a short
term event gives them a little more freedom than if it were a logo that a business
wants to last 20 years.
Mayer enjoys the challenge of telling a story, or conveying a mood, through simple
striking graphics. She designs for the Towle Community Theater, in Hammond, Indiana,
which presents several shows each season that are not considered standards or
classics. Mayers challenge is to make the public understand what kind of
a show it is even if they have never before heard the title. The examples
below were all designed
by Mayer for the Towle Community Theater:
To create a logo that sums up the story means a lot of image editing -
getting down to the strongest symbols or characters, says Mayer. In
using only the key things that define the story, I try to say a lot using very
As in many of my own theater design experiences, Mayer finds that when a season
is promoted all at once the logos for four or five shows need to complement each
other and at the same time show a range. She feels the logos must share similar
characteristics in order to look like a complete set and must have differences
to show whether it is a comedy, drama, classic or cutting edge theatre.
Mayer sits down with the director and has him tell her the story and asks him
to list the important characters, props, locations, costume elements, scenery
and songs if any.
I may also ask him to define the look and feel of the production so that
I have a pool of potential graphics to choose from, Mayer adds. Having
him tell me the story takes into account the differences this production may
from another theaters
production of the same play.
Total creative freedom.
That is what designer Jim Charlier,
of JCharlier Communication Design, gets out working with those in the theatre
arts. He created the series of logos below
for the Niagara University Department of Theatre and Fine Arts current
season of plays. The initial project was to create a 16-page season program
Charlier is fortunate to enough to have access to a wealth of imagery from
The Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University for use in the season program.
The permanent collection consists of contemporary prints, photographs,
paintings, drawings and sculpture by artists such as Picasso, Basquiat, Modigliani,
Dali, Motherwell, DeKooning, Nevelson, Rothenberg, Haring, Rauschenberg and
Because rights and permissions to use the artworks are either costly (for
advertising purposes), or take time to acquire, I am the one that suggested
creating a logo for each play, not only to individualize the play, but to also
for other advertising needs such as black and white print ads. says
I created the series using one typeface (P22 Garamouche) to give them consistency
for the season. Many of these logos were my first and only attempts. Nary a
change was made by the client — they are smart, have good taste and are
appreciative of professional-quality work, Charlier
Charlier comments that such projects offer him the only total creative freedom
he gets in designing logos - unless designing for himself which he finds can
be much tougher. He finds that most clients add complexity to either
the process or the final design in the creation of logos.
Designers always want to simplify, Charlier adds. Working
on the theatre projects is a breath of fresh air and I get to make them as simple
as I want them to be.
In Charliers situation many productions are already known commodities,
such as Chicago and Gypsy. He doesnt find there is much heavy
lifting to get the gist of the play across to the potential audience.
His logos take graphic cues directly from the storyline or theme of the play
comedy, drama or musical.
The One Act Plays image (above) represents a series of plays written
by different students presented in one production. Charlier felt that since
the productions are not well known a type treatment seemed logically generic
as a graphic solution. Often such treatments project a striking image for a
play with simplicity and elegance.
I added self-imposed constraints - to use one typeface, few or
one color (because of the B&W
print ads) and simple, says the designer. The logos
couldn't compete with the Picasso or Miro used on the same page in this particular
A synopsis of the play works best for me (in getting inspiration) its
like speed reading to get the gist of the production, Charlier concludes. That's
what the logo has to do - be read quickly to convey the strong graphic gist of
Art Chantry Design Co.
Saint Louis, MO
JCharlier Communication Design
Published resources about theatre or entertainment graphics
are very limited or
out of print. Some books in my own library are listed below. If links are not
available you may want to search for used copies online or at local bookstores:
Graphic Communications for the Performing Arts; David J. Skal,
Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 1981
Live Event Promotional
Jim Cowen, Editor
Motif Design/Rockport Publishers, 1994
Thats Entertainment; The graphics of show business, by
PBC International, 1995
Absolutely Entertaining: The world of entertainment graphics (link: )
Supon Design Group, 1997
Broadway Musicals: A history in posters,
by Tom Tumbusch
Tomart Publications, 2004
Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative
Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, has received
over 475 regional, national and international graphic design
awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts. His
work is featured in more than 75 publications on the design
of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business
marketing. He shares his observations about the design
industry on his blog, bLog-oMotives.
Fisher is a member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board and is also on
the 2006 HOW Design Conference Advisory Council. His own book, The
Designer's Guide to Success, was
released by HOW Design Books in late 2004. An excerpt from the book may be found
More information about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives is available at www.jfisherlogomotives.com.