Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Most Important Things

It's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a theater company: who's going to go to the bank? Can someone check the mail? Did anyone get toilet paper for the theater? We need to schedule a meeting - who's available? Some days, it can be overwhelming and other days, incredibly humbling. But as we reflect on another year gone, Peter and I both find ourselves so genuinely grateful for every single moment that 2015 have provided.

Speaking from our hearts, it's been such a wonderful year: the Company celebrated two weddings and welcomed two beautiful babies who will now be considered lifelong Bohemians. Some company members branched out, pursuing higher education and seeking promotions while others sought new employment opportunities all together. Most days, I remind myself to mindfully stop, breathe, and soak in the fact that every single day is spent sharing and creating theatre with the most passionate group of people I've had the pleasure of knowing.

Gratitude comes from memories, built from a wealth of single moments. In the video below, we share some of those single moments with you. While many of them may not fully resonate to an outside observer the way they do for us, we believe they capture the spirit of our company and what continues to bring us together every year.

A few highlights:

  • We're grateful for being able to support our local minor league baseball team, the Schaumburg Boomers! It wouldn't be summer without least one BoHo outing drinking beer, eating hot dogs and tacos, and finishing the evening with the running of the bases.
  • We're grateful for being able to celebrate milestones with dear friends including their own opening nights outside of BoHo, new jobs, new relationships, new jobs, all while balancing a wonderful and special relationship as a Volunteer for us.
  • We're grateful we welcomed new board members: Sara, Jelani, Nancy, Silvia, and Hatice into our leadership team. The work they are already doing alongside Jean, Dick, and Bob is extraordinary and they are truly the backbone of BoHo's future.
  • We're grateful for three outstanding shows: Ordinary Days, a show we have tried to produce multiple times and finally brought to its feet this year; Scotland Road, which finally made it out of Season Selection and into the Heartland; and Dogfight, the sleeper candidate we weren't even sure we'd secure rights to.
  • We're so incredibly grateful for the Chicago Theatre Community, who welcomes us into their camp year-over-year, supporting us, loving us, and creating new artistic voices to influence our productions.
  • Last, but certainly not least, we are grateful for you - our patrons - whom the art is for. Thank you for taking the time, for buying a ticket, for sparing a dollar, and for coming out to rejoice in the beauty of BoHo and being a part of our artistic family.

We hope you'll consider sharing your personal favorite BoHo moment with us - or even a non-BoHo moment for which you are grateful.

Kaela Altman, Executive Director
Peter Marston Sullivan, Artistic Director

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making the Dogfight Poster

BoHo marketing director and graphic designer Charles Riffenburg, on the collaborative process behind designing the poster for Dogfight.

Out of all of the stuff I create for my clients, posters are my favorite. A poster is an opportunity to tell a story with a single image. It can communicate a lot or a little, depending on what you want. It can be bold and simple or complex, with overlapping ideas. But most of all, posters tend to be the projects that are most collaborative. A marketing or artistic director tells me the story and themes, I create some visuals, and then we evaluate what's hitting the mark in the right way, and then we continue to brainstorm and refine.

This summer I created the poster for BoHo Theatre's Dogfight, a musical about a squad of soldiers who use their last night before getting shipping over to Vietnam to stage a contest to find the ugliest date. This kind of contest was a real thing back in the 60s, and was called a dogfight. It's a show full of powerful emotion and deep themes, and it was the anchor of BoHo's 2015 season.

To kick off the design process, I asked the director, Peter Marston Sullivan, to tell me what ideas and themes resonated with him in the play and if there was any imagery that he thought would represent his show well. He told me he liked the idea of juxtaposing something "not so great with something that is," echoing the crass and cruel behavior of the young soldiers with the optimism and inner beauty of Rose, one of their targets. He talked about the theme of cruelty in the play and the ugliness of war, and how "the show is about unearthing beauty in these circumstances." In my own research into the play, I was also drawn to the objectification of women and the misogyny of the main characters. With these ideas in mind, I started thinking visually.

I start every poster design by researching what has come before. Dogfight is a relatively new show, so it doesn't have a long history of poster designs to look at. The original production poster is an illustration of the lead actors, which we didn't want for this show. Other posters have made different uses of dog tags and roses, which I didn't find to be particularly evocative and eye-catching. So instead, I started looking at imagery from the Vietnam War, which is the period the play is set in. Very quickly I was drawn to the idea of nose art.

Aircraft Nose Art From WWII
Aircraft Nose Art From WWII
Aircraft Nose Art From WWII

Nose art is a kind of graffiti painted usually on the nose of an aircraft. It became popular during World War II, the first war in which airplanes played a major role. Because air combat and bombing raids were so dangerous, airmen developed strong bonds with their planes, and nose art was a form of bonding. The German forces were known for painting aggressive imagery on the noses of their planes— bared teeth and angry eyes— while the Allied forces painted cartoons, taunts, and pinup girls. The paintings were officially against regulations, but most commanding officers, knowing it was a moral booster, turned a blind eye.

Nose art was still present in the Vietnam War but not quite as common because of the types of aircraft used. In WWII, American forces relied on bombers and fighter planes, but in Vietnam the military's main aircraft were helicopters. Helicopters don't have as much fuselage space to paint on, but you could still find some crews painting on them when they could.

This seemed to me a perfect embodiment of the themes of the show: the juxtaposition of the soldiers' idealized concept of a woman painted onto a machine of war, one that would get dirty and torn up over time. Sullivan loved this idea when I presented it to him, so then I began finding the building blocks of what would become our poster design.

To find that perfect idealized woman, I turned to a popular example of the objectification of women from the show's time period and earlier: classic pinup art. Once I found the right image, it was a relatively simple matter of scanning and isolating the image of the woman and overlaying it onto the fuselage of a military plane (in this case, a bomber from a photo I found online). By using digital brushes, masking, and other Photoshop wizardry, I was able to make the pinup art look like it had been painted directly onto the plane, and that it had, over time, gotten rubbed off and damaged. Despite all of the damage and wear though, the optimism and beauty of the underlying image still comes through, which fit the theme of the show. A smattering of bullet holes and metal rips helped show how much wear and tear this bird and received.

Dogfight poster, work in progress 2 Beginning: cleaned up fuselage and initial image placement Dogfight poster, work in progress 3Middle: Dirtied up the fuselage and painting, added text
Dogfight poster, work in progress 5Middle: more distressing overall and matched painting and fuselage lighting Dogfight poster, work in progress 6Final marketing image

The final touch was the lettering. Almost every instance of American nose art has some kind of label or title to it. Sometimes it was a reminder of home, sometimes it was a taunt to the enemy. My first thought was to label the painting "Rose" after the show's main female character. Because the play is set in San Francisco, this became "San Francisco Rose." While not bad, Sullivan suggested that somebody had written "Eddie" over the painting so it read "Rose + Eddie" like graffiti. That was exactly what the image needed. Before, it was simply an interesting image that resonated the themes. But by adding that hand-drawn "Eddie" to the existing art, we had a story. Who is Eddie? What is/was his relationship to Rose? Was Rose a real person? Did he scribble his own name on the plane or was this a taunt by one of his buddies? Suddenly, the image was alive with story and possibility.

We went on to use this image in many different configurations, from transit ads, posters, and postcards, to web banners of all configurations. Like any good marketing image does, it became the public face of the show and was strong enough to support an 8-week marketing campaign. Dogfight went on to become one of the most popular and successful shows of BoHo's 10-year history. This poster started with a simple conversation about ideas and themes, and came to life through exploration and collaboration.

This article was originally published at Grab Bag Media.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Change in Perspective: by Tony Churchill

The following is a guest post by scenic designer Tony Churchill, who has designed video projections for BoHo's Ordinary Days and Dogfight.

I got on board for Ordinary Days pretty much how everyone gets a design job in this business: I knew the director. Working with the BoHos really surprised me and turned my view of this thing I’ve been doing for almost 20 years upside down; I never thought so much of my reality would be altered.

By the time tech for Ordinary Days rolled around, we started cuing the show right after a huge snowstorm and it was pretty much the usual crew when we started. As the day progressed, more and more people showed up. Some nice lady with an infectious laugh and delicious baked goods. PR guys who were super nice, and weirdly helpful. “Hey I’m here to take some pictures for Facebook, oh do you need help moving those walls?” And then the head Peter (I had met six or seven Peters with some kind of title in the company since the first production meeting). All of these personalities filled the room and it was a little unnerving. I’ve been on shows where they end up being directed by committee, and it NEVER works out. Who do you listen to? Do you follow the herd or try and make your own voice heard? It was unnerving.

By the third day of tech, I realized that this is what collaboration was supposed to be. Everyone wasn’t in the space on their own thing, they were in the space on a common thing. At face value, it's a bunch of crazy and committed - and beautiful - people who shouldn’t be able to find a cab, let alone put up a show. But they are so happy to be there that all the crap sort of peels off and you realize you're working in this perfectly collaborative place. The people in the room are working for the show and nothing more (or less). They want the show to be the very best thing it can be, not because of vanity, but because of pride. They're so happy to be free to be making something beautiful and true that they love.

After Ordinary Days, Peter Prime, AKA Peter Marston Sullivan, introduced me to Dogfight - which I had never heard - and I connected to it so quickly because my Dogfight experience is my BoHo experience. I value a lot of things in Dogfight, but where it gets especially hard is when it shows how a lot of men see women and it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a hard portrait of how guys deal with their fear and insecurities. I think this is an obvious show for BoHo because they’re so good at coping with fear and dread that theatre companies often face and fail at overcoming as a cohesive group with a common goal. There is no job too big for the group and no job too small for any individual. It’s something you experience in spurts when working in a collaborative space like theatre, but it’s a rare a beautiful gift to find it so alive and well with an entire group again and again.

I’m thankful every time I’m able to work with the BoHo family because it reminds me what this whole thing is about. Their work is their pleasure - twenty-four seven, three sixty-five, they never close - and their passion is veritas. I’ve seen green interns on their first pro gig, making nothing but friends and memories, step up and single handedly do the work of four professional stagehands. I’ve seen the most senior member of the family take off their jacket and pick up a paint brush to get a set piece finished in time. It’s because you can feel it from the moment you’re in the room. You know - definitively - that you’re a part of something. A community. A family. A group of people who will not quit on you.

You want to do your very best because they want that from you too, and the BoHos will do anything - simply, quietly, beautifully - anything you need to be your very best. They challenge me gently and earnestly. They make me want to tweak and work things to death, because I can’t bear to let them down. That’s something you don’t find in every place - you don’t find it almost any place. If you get to work with BoHo, or you just support them by seeing the work, you’ll feel what I’m talking about too. This commitment - even in the hardest of times - is what it takes to make a show like Dogfight work. Boho is fearlessly committed to the truth - and love and beauty and freedom - because they go at it together. It’s not some silly mumbo jumbo - it’s real for them and everyone who gets to work with them. There’s not a lot of other companies that could make this piece work, because more often than not, most theatre companies shy away from the truth, especially when it’s tackling such difficult subjects.

At its core, theatre is pretty dumb. We’re not saving anyone’s life. We’re not feeding the hungry or healing the sick. We’re not even making anything lasting. But theatre at its best - like BoHo Theatre - is something that is vital to the human condition. It nurtures the soul by giving people something human that humans have always needed. A little time to tell stories with each other. More than 2000 years ago, the Greeks would build theaters next to hospitals because they believed these places were equally important to healing - one the body and one the soul. This is what I look for when I’m making theatre and it’s not easy to find. BoHo has it in spades. They sweat it out when they take over a space and make it a theatre - a real theatre. It’s the core of why theatre is one of the oldest traditions we share as humans. And it fills me with joy to be with them every time we make something together. Join, play, love.

-Anthony Churchill, Set and Media Designer