Not just because my wife works at a professional theater, nor that so many intimate friends make theater, nor even because I live in arguably the best American city to see plays. I make advertising for theaters because it is an amazingly unique process from most commercial advertising I do. Budgets are ridiculously tight and deadlines approach quickly in theater, all of which inspires good ideas not to be over thought. Small creative teams and the lack of focus groups lead to more good ideas staying afloat.
I’ve shot the season advertising images for Steppenwolf Theatre in the past and had the opportunity to direct greats like Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts, actor Amy Morton and Laurie Metcalf best know as Jackie on the TV show Roseanne.
This 2013-14 season, Steppenwolf is producing the dark childhood drama, Lord of the Flies.
“A plane wreck strands a group of English boys on a deserted island during wartime. As they slowly explore their new-found freedom, what starts out as fun and games turns into a vicious battle for power … “www.steppenwolf.org
Director of Marketing and Communications, John Zinn insisted we depict this well-known story in a fresh way, avoiding the pitfall of shooting a pig head on a stick: the principle image so often used on book jackets. Instead we decided to go back, back, back – before the story even begins – to make our “Lord of the Flies” image. We chose to create a snapshot portrait of the schoolboys on the tarmac before their prop plane takes off and eventually crashes on an island.
Although we depicted a moment before the play begins, it was important to me that the play’s themes of battling for power and choosing alliances was made clear. I wanted to feel the anxiety of children leaving their parents during wartime and their excitement of a first plane flight, while suggesting the mortal struggle that will unfold on the island.
My five actors were all cast for the production and totally familiar with the story so it wasn’t hard for them to get into character. With my direction, each delivered a range of emotion and body language I could choose from. We made the picture in studio using a previously shot image of a WWII era commercial plane in the background and composited individual portraits to create the scene.
At one point I decided that violence of the play needed to be clearer so I rifled through my closet and came up with a pint of stage blood. As my make-up artist carefully dripped red below the right nostril, the actor playing Piggy bleakly responded with an exhale of defeat, arousing the question of the ultimate fate of this group.
When I make any narrative picture, I like to set the viewer up for questions, to leave parts of the story untold. This strategy is something I feel is used sparingly in commercial advertising, but is integral to film and theater marketing. When we serve up just part of a story, our minds linger and involuntarily complete that story from our unique point of view. We travel from indifferent observer to invested participant, wanting to learn more. Lord of the Flies opens October 16. Tickets at http://www.steppenwolf.org/
Production credits: Courtney Rust – Prop & Wardrobe Stylist, Randy Wilder – Hair and Makeup, Tim Blokel – Digital Tech/Retoucher, Esvan Rivera – Intern