BWW Interviews: Graphics Designer CLAIRE ZOGHB
A Long Wharf Genius (photo credit: Chris Volpe)
Have you ever wondered about the creative process of designing a theatre program cover or poster? There are some designers who totally understand what the show is about and how to engage people's interest at a glance. Claire Zoghb is one of those exceptional designers. As a long-time patron and reviewer of the Long Wharf Theatre, I have seen a lot of programs and I've been impressed not just with the covers, but the layout in between. The program for the current production, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, got me jazzed up. It was as brilliant as the play, featuring the key parts of the show - art, science, Paris, and even playwright Steve Martin - in the image of an atom. It gets even better when it is animated on the Long Wharf Theatre's Facebook page. How does Claire Zoghb, Graphics Director at the Long Wharf Theatre do it?
BWW: How did you get into graphic design for theatre?
I did not set out to design for theatre, though it has certainly been the most interesting - the most alive -- work I have done. I have been working as a graphic designer since 1980 and have worked for clients across industries as varied as manufacturing and medical education, higher education and healthcare. I have also done a fair amount of book design, which I find is the closest to designing graphics for a play - like a book, each play must have its own graphic identity, its own feel. Though maybe it's more like logo design in that you have to say so much is such a small space and in an instant.
BWW: Have you done graphic designs for other theatres? How much lead time do you get to design a poster and program? What is involved in the decision process? With whom do you discuss the interior pages, such as the background information? Who does the final approval?
Once the season has been locked into place, my marketing colleagues and I sit down with Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf Theatre's Artistic Director, while he explains his thoughts about each of the plays (usually six). Copious notes are taken! Later, back in marketing, we discuss our objectives and possible ideas/images. I always start by doing online research about what art has been done in the past on a certain play, if applicable. I then begin sketching out ideas, usually at least three different directions for each play (sometimes 23 - I am good at coming up with plenty of ideas but terrible at editing them down.) That's where I rely on Steve Scarpa and Peter Chenot, our Director and Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, respectively!). Sometimes they are actual sketches - as was the case with Picasso at the Lapin Agile - but mostly I "sketch" in InDesign or Photoshop, because I like to show my colleagues an idea that looks fairly fleshed out. Once we have two or three solid ideas for each show and our Managing Director Josh Borenstein gives them the thumbs-up, Steve and I present them to Gordon for his reactions and feedback. Sometimes artwork is approved on the spot. Sometimes it's just a tweak that is needed; sometimes it is back to the drawing board. The whole process can take more than a month - and that is on top of keeping up with all of the other work I have on my plate. As the only graphic designer at Long Wharf Theatre, I work with our development and education departments on their on-going projects. This whole process happens four or five months before the start of the season, by the way.
BWW: Tell us about how you came up with the one for Picasso at the Lapin Agile. It's most unusual because it encompasses everything about the play - the debate of science versus art, intellectualism and popular culture - and it even has a picture of the playwright. Did you come up with the idea of having Steve Martin's picture in it?
The artwork for Picasso went through many iterations. The first design was a cartoon-like Picasso and Einstein sitting at a bar with a bartender with Steve Martin's head. That morphed into a layout with the Lapin Agile itself against a starry night sky, with balloons floating up out of the chimney containing snippets of Picasso's art, Einstein's equations and images of Paris. That then morphed into a large rendering of Steve Martin's face with a window on his forehead, complete with the green shutters of the Lapin Agile and inside, an absinthe-sipping Picasso and Einstein. At one point -- while I was working on another design -- the idea of the atom came into my mind and I literally sketched it on a scrap of paper. It cracked me up. A good sign. I thought it did everything that we wanted the show art to do: we wanted to make it clear to our audience that it was a Steve Martin creation, that Steve was the nucleus of the play. Then I started adding the other elements of the play as the electrons: Picasso, Einstein, Paris, the Theory of Relativity, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a beautiful woman...all glowing against a rich, warm starry sky suggestive of eternity, the boundless potential and creativity of genius and possibly even the dawn of the twentieth-century! The font for the title treatment also went through many iterations - one incorporated Picasso's signature, which people felt was too hard to read. We ended up using a font called Aristide, to give a flavor of the arts scene in the Montmartre district of Paris circa 1904.
The idea of using Steve Martin's face actually was Gordon's idea, when we were working on art for last season's Martin play, The Underpants. So a precedent had been set!
BWW: What was your most challenging poster and program cover?
Every single play is the most challenging!
BWW: Do you design the programs for the Mainstage and Stage II productions? If so, do you have a different task and different approach?
As for the playbills, I design portions of every one of them - mostly the cover, title, cast and dramaturgical pages, and what I now think of as the BackPage, which I have been having fun with as it is our 50th anniversary season. I have been raiding the LWT archives and focusing each of the pages on a different theme: actors, directors, playwrights who have worked at LWT, fun facts, the theatre's early days.
BWW: Tell us about your poetry. Is graphic design really just your day job?
Graphic design is indeed my 9-5! But both poetry and graphic design are on my mind 24/7. I am never really "off" from work, as both require looking at the world around us, listening constantly.