Designs for the Blue Hill Troupe’s 2014 Ruddigore

As many of you know, for the last two years I have been a Backstage member of the Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd., the only musical theater group in New York City to donate its net proceeds to charity.

Last year, I was privileged to serve as the Troupe’s Marketing Graphics coordinator, as well as the lead Program Designer. Since I’m still catching the blog up on all my projects from Spring 2014, here’s a look at the materials I produced for their April 2014 show, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore.

[portraits]

The original Act II sketch.

Historically, the Troupe has often based show graphics on the concept sketches of the set design. For this Ruddigore, I was totally enamored of the richly toned watercolor artwork that the set designer (noted NYC architect Byron Bell) produced for the iconic Act II “ancestor portraits” set, so I was keen to figure out a way to work with that.

As a background for text, however, this selection presented some challenges: it’s not only very busy, it’s also highly discontinuous, the dark background being heavily cut by the white grid of the portrait frames. My techniques for adapting to this background included:

  • deepening the color values as much as I could without losing contrast or detail;
  • using white (or “reversed out”) text against the primarily dark background;
  • setting most of the text in the very simple and legible Myriad Pro (except for the ornate title, set in Blackadder) to help counteract the heavy texture of the background;
  • adding a subtle gray outline stroke to the letterforms to create a boundary against the lighter areas of the art;
  • strategically adjusting the composition (via cropping, sizing, and positioning) to create as much neutral space for the text as possible while preserving concrete elements of the stage set (table, candelabra, freestanding portrait) as a visible frame.

The first piece we produced was a 4×9″ postcard. Over the course of the year, I adapted this layout into several more single-sided pieces such as display ads, our Facebook cover page, other web graphics, and an 11×17″ window poster for our Brooklyn workspace. Later, there was a quad-fold 8.5×14″ brochure that included a ticket order form.

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Finally, I also got to serve as lead designer on the program booklet, which is a glossy 136-page perfect-bound extravaganza with a full-color cover. For the cover here, we turned to another of Byron’s sketches: the wrought-iron gates of the tiny Cornish fishing village of Rederring. (This elaborate set piece was incorporated into the overture, then dramatically flown out at the top of Act I.)

The program cover.

The program cover.

Since this was a simple line-art sketch, I placed it on a parchment background, then used a striking red shade to highlight the “ruddy gore” of the title text. This treatment produced a thoroughly different look that still worked thematically for our melodramatic period piece. For consistency, I kept the same title logotype as on the promotional materials, but I wanted the rest of the program to evoke the old-fashioned typography of a vintage newspaper, so I used Bodoni for both body and display text throughout.

Note that, having moved away from NYC to Indiana immediately after the show closed in April, I’ll be an Associate member of the Troupe for the coming year… though I’m still on call for the occasional design project! Their 2014-15 season includes Lucky Stiff this November (for which rehearsals are now in progress) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience next April. Break legs, all!

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Know someone who wants my day job?

Happy 2014!

Well, since I last posted (literally a few days after my last post), I got engaged to an incredible guy from back home — the Chicago area, specifically northwest Indiana, one town over from where I grew up. This is someone I have known (and been various degrees of madly in love with) for almost 20 years, which is actually a fantastic story for which this is not altogether the place. :-)

The point is, in early April I’ll be moving back to the Chicago area into his house there. This means that my current employer needs to replace me and is trying to find a moderately experienced Webmaster/Social Media Associate to start in March.

Anyone in the NYC area interested in a full-time position that combines technical skills (HTML), graphic design chops (Adobe Creative Suite), and general social media savvy, please check out the following listings and apply as directed:

http://www.ramaz.org/public/jobs.cfm#webmaster
https://jewishjobs.com/jobs/view/27019

(Some knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish culture is EXTREMELY helpful, but not strictly required.)

Feel free to share this with any likely candidates of your acquaintance!

As for myself, I expect to be looking for a graphics-related job in the NWI region, as well as bumping up my freelance work and joining the family consulting business. But not until April (or possibly July). In the meantime, I will have a few, er, wedding-related design posts to make, so stay tuned. (Space ketubahs!)

Upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys: Tammany Hall and Mercury Lounge

I’ve updated my website performance calendar to note my next two upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys:

  1. 2013 FINALE SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Saturday, November 23, 2013 • 7:00pm
    Tammany Hall: 152 Orchard Street (btw Stanton & Rivington), NYC
    $5.00 (advance) / $10.00 at the door

    The Bliss Jockeys share the stage with Myriam Phiro’s Swing Party and Victor V. Gurbo & Co. — each act turns in a 50-minute set for three full hours of music! Come join us for our FINAL SHOW of what’s been our most triumphant year yet! We’ll be closing out 2013 just the way we began it: by tearing it up all night at a hot venue down in the Lower East Side with a couple of other GREAT BANDS. Myriam Phiro and Victor Gurbo are making great things happen in each of their careers: Myriam’s freshly returned from a three month international tour, and Victor’s band won both the WNYC & WQXR Brooklyn Borough Champion and WNYC & WQXR Audience Choice Awards this year. Not too shabby!
    Order tickets | RSVP on Facebook

  2. Note: the BJs are also playing the Brighter Than Today: A Secular Solstice festival on Saturday night, December 14, but I won’t be with them. Sniff! Instead I’ll be performing at Town & Village Synagogue’s 25th Annual Cantor Louis Moss Memorial Concert, featuring the T&V Choir and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars! $30 at-door, $25 by December 12; students $10, 18 and under get in free. 7:30pm: 334 E. 14th St. (at 1st Ave), NYC.

  3. 2014 KICK-OFF SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Wednesday, January 15, 2014 • 6:30pm
    Mercury Lounge: 217 E Houston St (btw 1st Ave & Ave A), NYC
    $10.00 (purchase in advance)

    The Bliss Jockeys’ New Year’s Resolutions for 2014:

    1. Play at epic venues that are known around the world.
    2. Open for international touring sensations.
    3. Share the bill with NYC’s BEST & HOTTEST bands.

    Well, it looks like The Bliss Jockeys will be able to check off all 3 of these resolutions only 15 days into the new year! The Bliss Jockeys will be opening for international touring sensation the Villalobos Brothers. Also on the bill are our good friends, Victor V. Gurbo & Co.!
    Order tickets

Where you can find me for the High Holidays

One of my fellow members at Town & Village Synagogue in downtown Manhattan is Rabbi Judith Hauptman, who is on the faculty at JTS. I first met her over Rosh Hashanah lunch this time last year. For the past several years, Rabbi Hauptman has run a free, public community young adult High Holiday congregation under the name of Ohel Ayalah (“the tent of Ayalah,” named for her mother z”l, the inspiration for this hospitable service). Ohel Ayalah also runs a community young adult Passover seder, which I happened to attend this past April when I needed a place for 2nd-night seder, and I was impressed how they managed to do what felt like a full and complete traditional seder liturgy, blend in enough time for socializing, and still get us out of there at the stroke of 10pm.

One week earlier this summer, I attended T&V’s regular Friday night service, which as a rule is incredibly rich with powerful singing (thanks largely to the amazing Cantor Shayna Postman, and whichever of my fellow choirmates happen to be in the congregation on any given week). After the service, Rabbi Hauptman came up to me and said “How would you like to come daven with me for the High Holidays?”

“Um,” I said, “I’m not sure how useful I can really be to you on that!” I’m not, in truth, very well versed in actual liturgy for anything beyond the Friday night service, Torah service, and occasional Shabbat Musaf. But she has (as I knew) a regular cantor, Josh Gorfinkle, who does the liturgical heavy lifting, and a couple of additional/backup service leaders. In particular, she said, she was basically just looking for someone to reinforce the singing up front on a microphone and thereby add to the overall ruach of the service. That, I said, is something I can do. Even if it means I have to negotiate splitting my time with the choir at T&V, where I would otherwise be spending all of the holidays.

The upshot is that I’ll be with Ohel Ayalah’s Manhattan service for the first evening and day of Rosh Hashanah and for Kol Nidrei. And in addition to harmonizing throughout the services, and reading the Haftarah (the story of Chana, which is my Hebrew name, so that’s awesome), she asked me to sing one of the three repetitions of the Kol Nidrei prayer. I am deeply honored… and only a little terrified. It turns out that I have at least some version of Kol Nidrei internalized from the many years I spent in the professional High Holiday backup choir in Swampscott/Marblehead (starting in 1997 at Temple Israel, which eventually became Congregation Shirat HaYam). Of course, the arrangement in my head is a choral monstrosity for cantor, four-part choir, and possibly organ… but if I sing through some combination of the lines I remember, with enough conviction and kavannah, it seems to hang together well enough.

Rabbi Hauptman offered to lend me a kittel, since she wants all of us to wear them on the bimah. But the Sunday before last, I went up to West Side Judaica on 88th & Broadway and bought one of my own. Amusingly, the nice lady at the register wished me mazal tov… because these are—like the tallit—traditionally considered a men’s garment, and worn particularly for weddings, as well as High Holidays and Passover seders. So, y’know, what else does it mean when a woman of marriageable age is buying one? (Granted, the last time I bought one, that was what it was for, but that’s another story.) Happily, the gentleman who assisted me in finding one had not batted an eyelash when I asserted that it was for myself and patiently helped me sort through and try on all the sizes of the three or four styles they had. I purposely picked out the very most girly-looking one: all pintucks and lace edges. It’s like the world’s prettiest lab coat. I am excited.

I think it’s going to be a good year.

And if you want to come and daven with me, they’re still accepting walk-ins at the Prince George Ballroom (15 E 27 St., between 5th and Madison), tomorrow night at 6:45pm and Thursday morning at 9am. L’shanah tovah u’metukah!

This summer’s challenge project: Beginning Russian

Я теперь изучаю русский язык. Это трудно, но очень интересно!

… I’m big on languages; in my lifetime I’ve studied French (starting in grade school), German (starting in high school), Italian and then Hebrew (starting in college). The next ones on my list have always been Russian and then American Sign Language.

Last fall my synagogue (which does a lot of deaf outreach) offered a 6-week “mini-course” in beginning ASL, so I eagerly signed up for that. There was supposed to be a Level 2 class at the turn of the year, which I signed up for as well, but it was cancelled due to low registration; I have unfortunately kind of let the practicing slide, in the meantime, but that’s another story.

At the beginning of May, due to a confluence of personal circumstances, I decided it was time to tackle Russian. I signed up for 6 weeks of a beginner class through ABC Language Exchange and started at the beginning of June. There’s only one more session left now, and while I’m not going to be able to continue it right away (for reasons of both time and money), I’m definitely interested in doing more with them — it’s been a great experience. I come out of every session with that delightful “brain is full” feeling. Granted, it’s hard to get very far in 90 minutes a week without any language lab component to force you to drill, so I’m still not so solid on, say, verb conjugations (let’s not even talk about case endings). But I’ve been pretty motivated to put in practice time on my own, and for sure I got the main thing I wanted out of the class: a crash course in reading fluency that would allow me to do more self-study going forward.

To my handful of dear friends who are Russian speakers: I’m looking forward to enlisting you in my practice. :-) My [cute] Russian-speaking colleague tells me my accent is good, so I credit you all with my prior exposure.

There are a bunch of online resources out there, but I especially want to give a shout-out to a site called FunRussian.com (“Learn Russian the Fun Way”). She’s got really good articles and a truly impressive set of video tutorials. I happened on it because I was trying to track down a Winnie-the-Pooh poem that my friend Alyosha taught me some 15 years ago, during one of our few tutorials… and it was right here! in an article on Винни Пух, Vinni–Pukh, the Russian adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Спокойной ночи!

Big performance news: The Bliss Jockeys

Yesterday, I signed on as a backup vocalist with NYC rock band The Bliss Jockeys, fronted by the remarkable and charismatic Phil Robinson and backed by a gospel-choir-style ensemble of 7 female singers. “Part rock, part gospel & part jam band, The Bliss Jockeys feature a large, over-the-top sound and deliver an energizing and delirious experience every time!” Their debut album, The Birth of Bliss, is close to complete and will be forthcoming in 2013 from Roomful of Sky Records.

How it came about: Last weekend was my 20th (shhh) college reunion at Brandeis University. Phil, along with two of his ’98 classmates (having their 15th), were assigned totally at random as my suitemates in the reunion housing on campus. All of them turned out to be completely awesome and the best thing about my weekend. On Saturday night, after the class dinner, we all sat up until about 2am drinking bourbon and singing a cappella harmonies to the Indigo Girls and Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and finally Phil turned to me and said “Hey! You are awesome and should join my band! I need a female vocalist! We rehearse on Monday nights!”

… Now it happened that, within just the past few weeks, I had started having the thought, “Hey, I would really like to look for an a cappella/vocal group to join again. I bet I could find one of those somewhere in NYC that would take me.” (As longtime acquaintances know, in Boston I was a member of Jewish a cappella group Honorable Menschen from 2003 to 2011, and only quit when I moved to NYC. So it was a huge part of my life for 8 years.)

Also, Monday is one of the few nights in the week I had totally free.

While this obviously isn’t a cappella, the opportunity is close enough that it is going on my archival list of “things that have fallen into my lap precisely when I needed and asked the Universe for them”.

Sunday night I returned to NYC; Monday night I sat in on a rehearsal, and I was thoroughly delighted. The rest is history. I will (tentatively) be making my debut with the band on Thursday, July 18, at Tobacco Road in midtown Manhattan.

Talk about bliss: While the BJs’ list of musical influences includes Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, Phish, the Indigo Girls, Cat Stevens, Etta James, KT Tunstall, and musical theater, their “non-musical influences” are specified as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Case in point: We’re booked to play the Center for Symbolic StudiesMidSummer Festival—Ancient Mysteries, Modern Psyche. The CSS, located just outside New Paltz, NY, is “a healing and performing arts center exploring the psyche through the window of myth.” When I realized that this was the "Midsummer Festival" on our gig list, I about fell over and died; I had blithely assumed it was a music festival. COOLEST. VENUE. EVER. [Edited to add: Sadly, this appearance was later cancelled; the festival has chosen to feature performances more directly theme-related, so, ancient Greek music and the Rap Odyssey. Can’t argue there. But the BJ’s are nonetheless still considered the “house band”.]

I am incredibly excited and energized to be a part of this project. Join the email list or follow on Facebook!

I’ve also updated my performance page accordingly. Obligatory geek side note: The brand-new accordion tabs under “Past Appearances” were created with some nifty Javascript from Elated.com. The MP3 embed utility is, I’m almost sorry to say, Yahoo’s WebPlayer, but it’s actually quite slick; a single line of script, and it will auto-embed YouTube links as well as local MP3 and video files.

Designs for the Blue Hill Troupe’s 2013 Mikado

As many of you know, I’m a Backstage member of the Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd., the only musical theater group in New York City to donate its net proceeds to charity. I joined in the fall of 2011 shortly after moving from NYC to Boston. (I plan to re-audition for the Frontstage side this fall, but that’s another story.)

Each year, the Troupe does a fall production of a Broadway musical, a winter concert series, and then their season highlight, a large-scale spring production of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

I bring a bunch of different backstage skills to the table: a little set construction (I own my own DeWalt screw gun), a little painting, and I’m now working makeup crew for the current production, The Mikado (N.B.: two more performances, today only, 2pm and 8pm!). But the highest-level skill I have to contribute is, naturally, on the graphic design side. So last spring I worked on the Program committee for Utopia, Ltd.… and this year they invited me to be lead designer on the Mikado program. Now, when the Troupe says “program”, especially for the spring show, they mean a massive 140-page volume comprising about half advertising and half editorial content, and represents a team effort of dozens of people over a span of several months. But here’s a selection:

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BHT 2013: The Mikado

The Blue Hill Troupe’s 2013 commemorative tile, based on Doug Larson’s set design.

The other thing I got to do was this: Every year the Troupe produces a keepsake 4″ ceramic tile as a membership gift commemorating the year’s spring show. In March, not long after the program went to press, I got an emergency call from the Troupe president and the set designer, asking if I could perhaps help them get the design ready for manufacturing. They had a concept and a first-draft file, which I revised into the final design shown at right (click to enlarge).

I’ve been very gratified by the crowd response to both these pieces, in which the phrase “the prettiest we’ve had in years!” keeps cropping up.

… And now, I’m off to the green room of El Teatro del Museo del Barrio to staff the makeup table one last time. Break legs, everyone!