ArtsAlive.ca – Persuading Presence
image:Tour the Collection With guest curator Scott McKowen

Tour the Collection
With guest curator Scott McKowen

Portraits in the Posters

image:Cyrano de Bergerac image:Joey image:Othello image:Journey's end image:Le Moine noir image:Vinci image:Tartuffe 1977 image:Tartuffe 1996

The Hamlet posters are some of many in the collection featuring portraits of the title character. Portraits might be photographs (as of Guy Nadon in Cyrano de Bergerac, 1995, directed by Alice Ronfard), or illustrations, such as Theo Dimson’s distinctive caricature of Joey Smallwood for Rising Tide Theatre’s production of Joey (1982).

Production photography can “show the product,” as a client of mine likes to say. Production photos of Allen Gilmore and Megan Follows are skillfully collaged together at different scale and in different colours to create a poster image for Michael Langham’s production of Othello (1997). Studio photography can allow greater control over pose and lighting to create specific effects. A studio session with actor Benedict Campbell as Captain Stanhope in John Wood’s production of Journey’s End (1982) captured the intensity of life in the trenches during World War I. The graphic designer added his own layer of symbolism with the type block carefully laid in the shape of a cross.

Le Moine Noir (The Black Monk) (2004) is a surreal story of obsession and madness, adapted for the stage from an obscure novella by Anton Chekhov. The lead character, Kovrin, is an overwrought young philosopher searching for the childhood he never had. The title refers to a phantasm that appears to Kovrin throughout the story. The phantasm is a black-clad Monk, who, according to legend, materializes every thousand years. The Monk becomes Kovrin’s muse, who inspires him to new heights of creativity, genius, and ultimately madness and destruction. The striking poster image is a photo of a Victorian baby (an unconventional portrait of Kovrin) which includes the mother’s hands hovering attentively at the edge of the frame in case the child leans too close to the edge of his fur-covered perch. This brilliant choice of imagery perfectly captures the enigma of this rarely performed play.

“This brilliant choice of imagery perfectly captures the enigma of this rarely performed play.”

My favourite “portrait” poster in the collection was created by Yvan Adam for Vinci (1988), Robert Lepage’s one-man play about Leonardo da Vinci. A fabulously anachronistic illustration in comic book style portrays Lepage in the rear seat of a fighter jet, piloted by the Renaissance master himself!

Vittorio Fiorucci’s witty and irreverent poster for Tartuffe (1977) emphasizes the play’s satire and sexual situations. We see a smiling face, and then realize it’s made up of several bare bottoms and the nose looks more like a huge penis. The white collar suddenly becomes the tablecloth under which Orgon is hiding during the seduction scene. Fiorucci’s oversized posters are silkscreened – a printing process that yields richer, more vibrant colours than offset lithography – so the effect of this poster is as bold as the play itself.

The poster for Lorraine Pintal’s 1996 production of Tartuffe features a studio photograph of Gérard Poirier as Orgon and Gabriel Arcand as Tartuffe, and underscores the play’s darker themes. Both solutions are highly effective.