I am an employee of Boston University’s School of Theatre office as a marketing assistant. My primary role in this position is the design and creation of the show posters for each quarter. Each marketing assistant is assigned three to four posters per quarter that best matches their design talents and theatrical interests.
(As someone who designs graphic work regularly for different directors and artists, I understand how sometimes what the client wants is against the creator’s taste, personal opinion about how the design should be, or personal aesthetic. I also understand how painful it can be when someone insults the work that has countless hours behind its creation. I in no way want to insult or criticize the artist who created the content I am going to speak about. I know for a fact that the artist who made this poster created exactly what they were told to make and had little freedom to expand outside the box. So this is a criticism of the concept and advertising tactics the piece I am about to discuss employs, it is not a criticism of its creators.)
When the Baltimore poster was printed, I was seeing it for the first time, as I was not assigned this project and knew little about the process.
This is a beautiful poster. The font choice is excellent, shadow work smart and crisp, and the faces are a joy to look at. However, the production of Baltimore that this particular poster is advertising has an entirely different cast than the one shown in the poster image. During orientation this summer, a 15-minute version of Baltimore was mounted and performed for the incoming freshman class of 2020. The thought behind featuring an image of the February cast was that non-CFA BU students would recognize the faces of the original cast and feel more inclined to attend the show. But only one actor from the original cast was featured in the 15-minute production. So why is the rest of the cast here? It is possible because the actor that was in the 15-minute version happens to be the focal point of the image, this choice was made.
Baltimore is a play about race and identity. The fact that a different cast appears counters that theme of identity. “It feels like the equivalent of using a stock photo of a racially diverse cast of twenty-somethings,” a School of Theatre student shared with me. I agree. This neglects the new people that are telling this story.
Not to mention, because this is a different production with a different director, cast, and design team, the way the story is told is going to be different. From my understanding, one of the biggest differences between the two productions is the use of projections during transitions. Those transitions helped tell the story. The February production had a lot more tech elements, and the October one is going to be a much more intimate experience. One production is not better than the other. They are just telling the same story in a different form. The image of the older cast on the poster tells us that the productions are going to be exactly the same.
And then there’s the content of the photo itself. I can understand the thought behind trying to attract more audiences by presenting them with familiar faces. However, the expressions on their faces suggests that this may be an hour and a half of laughter and silliness. It really takes away from the seriousness of the issues Kirsten Greenidge brings up in her play. This play is about seeing people for who they are and respecting them as far as race and identity is concerned. It’s a really good play, but it won’t be a roaring party, as the image suggests.
I do hope that I am proved wrong, though. I want this advertisement to attract new people into the world of Baltimore. Maybe the smiles will lure in audiences that won’t expect to be enlightened and educated by the material Greenidge has presented us with. I don’t want this to be a “bad” advertisement because I want as many people as possible to see this play and hear this story.