Sometimes a signature image for a poster presents itself before the title does. On this day, we had just arrived in Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre), and lugged our bags up a steep hill from the train station. As we sat on a bench to catch our breath, we saw these three ladies, and if ever an iconic image for a poster spoke to me, this was it. The title came weeks later when we found ourselves in Rome standing in front of The Direzione Investigativa Antimafia.
This poster is an homage to my father, Ned Farrier, and to the influence Jazz had on my early life. It was the music of Dad’s youth, and most of the time it was the background soundtrack in our house when I was a kid. He took me to Lenny’s on the Turnpike, a joint on Rt. 1 north of Boston, to see Coleman Hawkings when I was 13 years old. In Dad’s view, Duke Ellington’s music was the highest form of that genre. The play’s title comes from the Ellington/Bubber Miley composition, but it’s also a reference to what I think was one of my Dad’s dreams - to come back in his next life as a jazz musician. I hope he made it.
Burnham’s Folly was a name given to New York’s Flatiron Building by early skeptics who thought Daniel Burnham’s 1901 triangular design, combined with the building’s exceptional height, would not withstand strong winds. The story behind the nickname became my basis for a play. In effect, it would be the dramatic equivalent of an historical novel, using documented real events as the anchor points within a fictionalized narrative about Burnham’s life and times, and about the timelessness of man’s ambition.
“Bonefish Bradley” was the nom de guerre of Bradley McKay, my flyfishing guide on Andros Island in the Bahamas once upon a time. After a day on the flats, I was walking to a bar for dinner when I saw these two kids fishing from a bridge. The quality of light, stillness and color in the photo remind me of that tranquil late afternoon - a sharp contrast to earlier in the day when, in all the excitement at seeing my first bonefish, I managed to wrap the fly line around my head.
This irresistible Roman pay phone reminded me of R2-D2. I loved the retro design and the red handset - a purposeful and economical use of a spot color - that demonstrated the Italian attention to design detail. I was even more intrigued by the graffiti on the wall. The drawings and notes suggested that someone had spent a lot of time here, which I associated with both the Italian pace of life (the telephone equivalent of “slow dining”) and the notion of a home office for the homeless.
Dan Sklar rides his bike to work - roughly 12 miles each way - regardless of the weather. In New England winters, that accomplishment is not trivial. Before it was destroyed in a crash, Dan’s red bike helmet was one of his signature articles of clothing (Dan came through the accident with only a few scratches). This poster is an homage to a gifted creative writer and teacher. I imagined a Hollywood-like opening night, with spot lights shining into the sky; only this time the lights are emanating from Dan’s headgear.
While in Nashville, I shot this gothic cathedral-like building that once functioned as a customs house. For me, the implied connection of organized religion and commercial enterprise seemed fairly obvious. The gentleman named as playwright, Arthur Ganson, is a gifted artist whose body of work “Gestural Engineering” is part of the permanent display at the MIT Museum. Arthur has no direct connection to the Devil that I know of.
Early in 2012, after suffering a heart attack, my mother, Helen Sanford Farrier, was forced to move into an assisted living facility. She accepted her new life with dignity, courage and humor, and she thrived in the new environment. I designed “The Great Marsh” poster to decorate one wall of her new apartment. The image references her modest upbringing and one of my earliest childhood memories - helping her hang laundry on the clothesline. She passed away peacefully on February 6, 2014.
Many of my posters invite the viewer to explore the characters’ eyes - windows to their souls. Direct eye contact typically implies openness or innocence, if not always good intent. Stylish sunglasses suggest vanity and aloofness. A graphic black bar - once a popular device for masking identity - often suggests that the character in question has something to hide. To the extent that a poster is a visual distillation of a play, look to the eyes for that essence.
Sometimes a poster starts out as a simple exercise in graphic composition, and over time morphs into something else. “Shanley’s Swan” began as an experiment in layering - an attempt to explore some of the possibilities for rewarding a viewer’s willingness to closely scrutinize the design. I’m not entirely sure what it turned into, other than a collection of evocative visual cues and a few hidden surprises. The “Shanley” in the title refers to John Patrick Shanley - screenwriter for “Moonstruck” and playwright for “Doubt, A Parable.”
My only trip to Italy (so far) introduced me to a lifestyle that frequent visitors and residents know well. Trying to define it often leads to a discussion of “slow dining” which the cognoscenti describe as a purposefully civilized pace intended to maximize one’s appreciation of the experience. Over the years, fishing provided me a similar opportunity. The image of an Italian father and son leisurely fishing on a July afternoon was too serendipitous to pass up.
My Dad passed away before I designed any of these posters. The photo here shows him in 1946, having returned from the Pacific at the end of WWII, a young man sailing near Biddeford Pool, Maine, his spiritual home. After his passing, I read some of the diaries he kept while at sea. The play’s title points to the different ways that people recorded experiences then and now - the evolution from handwriting to still images to HD video. Dad would have liked GoPro, especially in his boat.
Years ago when I lived in Seattle, I was privileged to share an annual ritual with several friends; because one of the women in our group worked for the Seattle Mariners’ media department, we were able to preview the coming season’s TV ads before the public saw them. Our yearly event consisted of a classic baseball supper - hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and beer - followed by the ad preview, followed by the film “Bull Durham.” The latter never got old, and it inspired “Chin Music and Cheese.”
Eleven friends and I once sponsored a local artist by each contributing $100.00 per month to create for him a $1200.00 monthly stipend. Our goal was to enable a gifted painter to work on his art instead of washing dishes to pay rent and family expenses. In return, the artist granted each of us four pieces of his work per year - one piece per quarter. I still enjoy the work selected for me from his portfolio, but I was always mindful of his struggle to make ends meet and to gain acceptance from often arrogant and unsympathetic art critics. This poster was inspired by his story.
First night in Rome; out for a stroll, trying to take in the reality of having actually arrived in one of my “bucket list” destinations. Impressed by the historic surroundings. Rounding a corner I see this tableau: a somewhat rougher part of town; a somewhat conspiratorial vibe as if the young man is waiting to be picked up as part of some nefarious event. A little slice of modern film noir, made more intense by the theatricality of the moment.
One of the great attributes of a theater community is the camaraderie of its members. I think it’s an extension of the brothers-and-sisters-in-arms sensibility that helps unite a cast. Kimm Wilkinson is the Artistic Director of the Firehouse Center for the Arts. To celebrate her birthday a few years ago, a mutual friend hosted an Elizabethan-themed party complete with a horse-drawn carriage (actually a flat-bed hay truck) to ferry the “Maid of Honor” to the event. My birthday gift to her was this poster.
The idea for this play came after the widely publicized hacking of Target Stores’ customer transaction data base. While I anticipated some identity theft to result, the Target hack also brought to mind the “butterfly effect” in Chaos Theory. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas, what could come from the flapping of a thousand such wings? The consequences of our growing commitment to and dependence on technology are just starting to emerge.
My connection to Robert Burns is largely influenced by a Seattle friend - Robert Sinclair, a Scot - who annually hosts a party to celebrate the great poet’s birthday. Each invitee is charged with writing a poem in Burns-style; the winner, chosen by the host, receives a bottle of single malt scotch. Suffice it to say that I know more about the high esteem in which Burns is held by his countrymen than I know about his poetry. Serendipity informed my recent visit to Scotland when I found myself standing in front of Burns’ first Edinburgh home.
Can’t recall where this idea came from, except that I wanted to create something for mentor, friend and colleague Sara Quay. My goal was to design an appropriately feminine poster that referenced Sara’s gift for always appearing elegantly balanced while many of us grope our way through life’s chaos. This is not to imply that Sara doesn’t work hard or have her own struggles - she just does it better and with more grace than most.
Marc Clopton is an actor, director, teacher, playwright, healer, and shaman, and in an earlier life was a Washington DC-based real estate agent. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with him on stage as his student, fellow actor, and under his directorial guidance. Marc’s writing can combine humor and drama in equal measure and at the same time. In considering themes for plays about modern politics, I kept picturing Marc as a writer uniquely qualified to explore Washington’s many nuanced, thought-provoking conundrums.