In the spring of 2010 I was in Austin Texas visiting Marc and Janice Burckhardt. While there I received an assignment to work on a few posters for Arena Stage.
They were staging two Edward Albee plays, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "At Home at the Zoo."
The way this was going to work out was that they kind of knew what they wanted and thought I would be the right artist for the concepts. Jobs are like this most of the time. We have work in our portfolio that brings out clients to us. We also see amazing work done by other artists. Somehow when you receive the call the assignment might not seem like the perfect vehicle for a good painting. The added element was that the due date was around the corner. Fast work.
For 'Virginia Woolf', they asked for a formal room with a painting of a married couple in a frame. For 'At Home at the Zoo', they wanted a man in a suit with animal paws holding a book.
Marc had done several posters I think, so I asked him some questions and about what to do. In his studio I started doing thumbnails while he worked on his piece, I think it was Salina for Texas Monthly. This is the kind of situation where you better be ready to bring your A game. I did think of a design but it wasn't until I got home and working with photoshop that an idea popped up. I always advocate a pencil to find ideas. I still believe this, because the mere act of pulling that lead across the paper makes shapes that can evolve into new ideas. In the case of Virginia Woolf, I pulled an image of a married couple across the file and it was upside down. BAM.
Perfect idea. The coffee table would turn around an upside-down painting.
The second went in a slightly less powerful direction than I would have preferred but I enjoyed the process nevertheless.
Finally, they asked me to make a poster for their Edward Albee Festival. This would be a reading of all 30 plays. The concept was all 30 scripts laid out to form a 30.
The anxiety of wanting to perform well combined with the notion that it would be seen by many helped me go the extra mile with these pieces.
It was a fun gig and something I aways wanted to have a shot doing; an Arena Stage poster.
This is the first rough for "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Figuring out what a formal living room is takes a little imagination but I renovated my home so I knew a thing or two about moldings.
Still, this piece needed an idea.
NOTE: Some fool wrote to me in all CAPS saying my sketches are really bad, why show them. I didn't show this thumbnail to the client. It was done for me to figure out the design and lighting.
I tried out the concept for "School Play" here but it didn't fly. I did a dozen or so sketches and then finished sketches. Lamp styles, chairs, couches, pillows, wallpaper and color were all considered at length.
When I chose this coffee table and stared to consider the reflection, it dawned on me that by dragging over a place-marker couple, it would be right side up. Bingo.
The hardest part of this piece was duplicating the portraits.
Someone mentioned the amazing ability to paint both pair of portraits identically. While I did paint both portraits, I did use photoshop to make sure they matched. I took those compliments without clarifying that.
First sketch for "At Home at the Zoo"
They wanted more of his body so I had to pull back more.
The final poster
This is the poster for the 30 Albee Plays.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of EDWARD ALBEE’S WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? directed by Pam MacKinnon starring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton February 25–April 10, 2011 in the Kreeger
You’re invited for drinks with George and Martha. As wickedly hilarious today as when it first shocked audiences, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an ingeniously funny play that packs a helluva wallop. What starts as verbal sparring at an impromptu cocktail party, devolves into a no-holds-barred of wits and wills. With brilliant writing and some the greatest characters ever created for the stage, Albee set a new standard for American theater this sharp, vicious Molotov cocktail of a play.
Recently expanded masterpiece EDWARD ALBEE’S AT HOME AT THE ZOO directed by Mary Robinson February 25–April 24, 2011 in the Kogod Cradle
American master Edward Albee has outdone himself once again with a riveting new drama that expands on The Zoo Story, the one-act that launched his career 50 years ago. In this meticulous and nuanced look at the lives of three New Yorkers, an everyday conversation between a husband and wife takes an unexpected turn into dangerously personal territory. The revelations and confrontations catapult them from their delicately balanced world onto life-changing paths. With the intensity and honesty for which Albee is known, At Home at the Zoo reveals the cutting truth about the razor’s edge of our humanity.
Edward Albee Festival MAR 5 – APR 24, 2011
a feat never before attempted
In addition to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and At Home at the Zoo, Albee enthusiasts can experience a never-before-attempted feat: a festival featuring staged readings of all 30 works by the master playwright. During the festival, the entire canon of our nation’s greatest living playwright will be featured.