Creating production posters is a team effort at the La Jolla Playhouse

Graphic designer Melissa Hughes of Halogen Design (left) and Mary Cook, La Jolla Playhouse marketing director, look over designs for the 2011/12 season brochure. Courtesy
Graphic designer Melissa Hughes of Halogen Design (left) and Mary Cook, La Jolla Playhouse marketing director, look over designs for the 2011/12 season brochure. Courtesy

By Leigh Ann Dewey


Every picture tells a story. That certainly rings true for the creative team at the La Jolla Playhouse, which produces six to seven posters every season to promote the essence of each show. Led by artistic director Christopher Ashley, marketing director Mary Cook and graphic designer Melissa Hughes (with input from writers and directors) work together to craft images that will be identified with each production up to a year in advance of the show.

The posters are signed by cast members for the Playhouse as a memento of each show, said Cook, and are available for fundraising efforts in the gift shop whenever possible.

In addition to the posters, which are placed in venues throughout the city, the artwork will appear in seasonal brochures, advertisements, and the entertainment sections of local publications.

“The first step is for Melissa and I to read the play so we are familiar with the story we want to tell,” said Cook. The pair then meets with Ashley. “(He) tells us his vision for the play, as well as the elements of set and costume design.” Ashley, she said, “is the master of creating new worlds on stage. It’s his unique vision for each show that is the starting point for the posters.”

Hughes, who owns Halogen Design Lab in San Diego, has designed Playhouse posters for eight years. She said she focuses her efforts on creating images that accurately and vividly reflect the mood of each play.

“Since the posters are created long before the shows are cast,” Hughes said, “we can’t use the actual actors on them.” The Playhouse doesn’t have the budget to hire models, she said, so she uses stock photographs obtained and paid for online. The end result is known as a “photo-realistic” style.

A good example, Hughes said, is the poster for the Playhouse’s most recent production, “Ruined,” which ran Nov. 16-Dec. 19. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is set during a civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and features the female owner of a canteen and soldiers who pay to share the company of beautiful young women for the evening.

“For that poster,” Hughes said, “I researched what Congo women would wear.” She found two separate stock photos of two women – one older and one younger – and electronically adjusted their clothing to fit the characters.

In this year’s fall production of “Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin,” she researched costume and hairstyle elements, and camera equipment true to the time. A poster for next season’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” to run Feb. 15-March 27, features four people pushing a Volkswagen bus. Hughes said she used six to seven separate stock images, and then combined them to create the final poster.

Each poster begins with three or four concepts, said Cook. “It’s my job to fine tune the show until we get it to the point we all agree on the final image,” she said. Ashley has final approval of the poster. “We all do work very well together,” said Cook. “I think it’s mostly due to the fact that there is a lot of mutual respect … and a shared desire to ensure the show art is a true reflection of the theater experience.”



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