When Artistic Director Molly Smith joined Arena Stage in 1998, she brought with her a new artistic vision: Arena would focus on American playwrights and American artists. To celebrate this change, we developed a new visual style for the artwork of Arena, and beautiful illustrations capturing each production became a calling card for Arena under Molly’s leadership.
The artwork of Arena is created by a wide array of professional artists over the years, these works of art are often the first element our audience encounters when being introduced to a show. The art communicates a wealth of style, theme, and plot of a show, often before the design elements of the production itself have been worked out. Longtime Arena fans might recognize the signature work of artists like Jody Hewgill, Gary Kelley, Mike Benny, and Douglass Fraser.
L to R: Mother Courage and her Children illustration by Jody Hewgill, Five Guys Named Moe illustration by Paul Rogers, and Oklahoma! illustration by Douglass Fraser
Each season, the Arena team identifies illustrators who can capture the spirit of our shows. Provided with scripts and production background, these artists create a series of sketches, which are then reviewed by Molly in an iterative process that helps refine the ideas for the final look. Sometimes a single artist creates the entire season’s images; at other times, several artists work on specific shows. The overarching approach is for the illustrations to each feel like pieces of a whole; a holistic representation of a single set of ideas, that convey the theme not just of each individual production but the entire season. The final illustration becomes a key part of the show’s visual brand, appearing on posters, postcards, signage, and more.
Artist James Ransome created all the artwork for Molly’s final season with us. We love how the deep blues and greens tie the images together. Though we couldn’t possibly pick a favorite, our social media audience tells us they are partial to the art for Angels in America and Ride the Cyclone. Do you have a favorite?