BWW Interviews: Sean Pomposello Talks About Eye Catching Posters and Programs
Most people toss out programs without thinking about what went on during the creative process. Sean Pomposello is both a writer and graphic designer with a passion for theatre. After graduating SUNY Oneonta with a degree in English, he developed Pizza Hut Kid’s Marketing initiatives, created and executed Timberland’s first national promotion, the “Spirit of Adventure” sweepstakes, designed and packaged material for advertising campaigns for HBO TV and the Broadway shows, Wicked, Mamma Mia!, God of Carnage and Next to Normal. He has designed postcards and programs for productions at the Westport Country Playhouse, including the recent premiere of Chad Beguelin’s play, Harbor. The cover for the program of Harbor captured both the rootlessness and stability of the play’s characters and the paths of their journeys. David B. Byrd, Director of Marketing at the Westport Country Playhouse, raves that “Sean totally gets it” from the get-go. Here’s how he does it.
I create key art design solutions and print, radio and broadcast advertising for producers, live entertainment ad agencies and regional and institutional theatre.
How did you get started?
I actually began in traditional advertising. Worked, for the most part, on packaged goods. I had the good fortune to land a position at HBO and worked in many divisions there over the course of six years. I helped launch all the signature series we’ve all come to know and love, ranging from The Sopranos and Sex and The City to Six Feet Under and The Wire. I was lucky to be employed there during a very important and successful growth period for the service. Right place and the right time, I suppose. It most definitely helped form my creative sensibilities and connected me with a lot of other like-minded professionals.
What happens first? Who contacts you? Do you meet with the staff?
Well, Broadway operates a bit differently than television, as you might imagine. Broadway has a surprisingly long creative gestation period. Often times there’s not even a script and we begin trying to attempt to arrive at the identity for a show, which is sort of ludicrous given the fact that the art for a show should reflect what the show is about, right? But, at the end of the day, artwork rarely reflects what the show is about—more often a poster is what the consumer—in this case theatergoer—wants the show to be about. What each of us hopes the show delivers. But, this is how process normally happens. Producers will often make the rounds and visit with advertising agencies and brief them on the show they are planning to stage—usually a season or so before their production actually premieres. The agencies then walk away, come up with approaches and then are invited back to pitch the producers. The agency with the best ideas and creative wins. Or, sadly, sometimes the agency with the best relationship with the producers wins the assignment.
How do you come up with the idea for the cover?
It’s really a matter of creative immersion. I try to steep myself in everything that is tonally similar to our show. I share my findings and sometimes organize them into tidy avenues that we can explore creatively. For instance, maybe it’s a title treatment focused piece of key art, or a high concept conceit. Sometimes this process also helps us source typographers, photographers or other designers who can help us achieve our vision. Sometimes we use this stimulus material to initiate an ideation session with the team or with producers, so they can feel like they’ve contributed to the effort.
What is involved in the approval process? Who makes the decision? Is it done by committee?
It depends on the number of producers. But, for the most part, the approval process is done by committee. In some instances, when there the piece is written by a well-known playwright or directed by someone of note, the producers will let them weigh in — and in some rare instances, make the final decision.
Does the program cover ever differ from the postcard?
In the old days we’d pitch a poster or window card. These days we understand that there might not even be a poster, so we design in a very holistic manner. Our artwork, while possibly presented in the form of a window card, will need to be flexible, given all the many applications. That window card will be spun out into taxi tops, bus sides, postcards, bill stuffers, internet sites and radio and broadcast. This is reason why, I believe, there are so many Creative Directors with copywriting competency. More of my pieces can be remembered for the tagline than the iconic image because that piece of copy might be the only through line on the radio, broadcast and broadband.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Honestly, more from the work itself. I pore over the script and when they are available to me, pick the brain of the playwright. I, myself, am a playwright by night and only put pen to paper when I have a title to my story and have an idea for how it will be packaged to a theatergoer. You’d be surprised how many playwrights have very concrete thoughts for how their play should be represented.
What are the most challenging ones you’ve designed?
I recently was tasked with not only solving the creative for a show, but the title. The title was a rather lewd word that would never make it into The New York Times ABCs, so they asked me to come up with a creative solution. I’ll probably get in trouble for sharing this, but the title was “Cock.” My idea was to skirt the title altogether and create an alternate one. The artwork would simply be a large title treatment that read: See Ohh See Kay. The URL for the show would be www.seeohhseekay. Etc, and so and so. It was maybe my proudest moment in this business—and I didn’t win the pitch. Sigh. Sometimes your best ideas don’t even make it past your own margin.
What don’t you personally like in covers, posters and postcards?
I mentioned it earlier—a singular, iconic image and a clever, memorable tagline. If you have both of those you have a good fighting chance. Now all you need is a good review from Ben Brantley.
Tell me about your real job as a playwright.
Thanks for referring to it as my real job, because that’s how I view it. Sadly, my day job pays my mortgage and writing plays satisfies me creatively. I actually began writing feature films but grew tired of options that never made it into production. So, I made the switch to theatre where I can at least see my work staged. I write what the world thinks are dark, urban stories. I think they’re comedies. So much for knowing what you’re trying to package.
Visit www.seanpomposello.com and http://www.krop.com/spomposello/ for more images of some of Sean’s creative designs. On October 4, his newest play, Barbicide, opens Off-Broadway at The Historic Players Theatre. For more information about the show, visit, www.barbicideoffbroadway.com.