David Plunkert has always taken past and present, shaken it up and made new design. French Paper Co. recently published a compact little gem featuring his posters for the Theatre Project of Baltimore, where his varied approaches show the range of his visual/graphic stagecraft and the span of the Project’s dramatic interests. I asked Plunkert to speak about the Project and the inspiration for this work.
It is a privilege to be able to work for one client with so many themes, like a theater company. How’d you get this enviable gig?
I was approached by a Mr. Sidney Pink who was working with Theatre Project at the time. He had seen a handful of posters myself and two other designers at Spur (Joe Parisi, Kurt Seidle) had designed and printed for another local theater. He put us in contact with the then-artistic director Anne Fulwiler, and we were only supposed to do a single poster showing all of the shows for the season. After we did that it blossomed into a series of six posters for individual productions. They’ve been a very flexible client ever since.
You appear to be working out certain visual themes and languages in the posters. Is this true—do you go through styles or behaviors over time?
Yes it is. Well, before this I had worked with Paul Sahre co-producing posters for the Fells Point Corner Theatre. Both poster series share a bit of DNA in that they are informed by being quick visual solutions that are typically screen-printed and/or produced with limited color. In that series (which Paul steered) we endeavored to make each poster visually distinct from the last one. … The Theatre Project series is visually distinct season to season, if not poster to poster. Stylistically you’ll notice a few things repeating every so often. There are a handful of seasons that use collage, some with simple line art, and some with flat shapes. I strive to keep that energy of a sketch going into the final.
What determines how you’ll handle a particular play? Is it interpretation, reinterpretation or a determination based on the play itself?
Very much based on the content of the play and performance, though sometimes it’s challenging establishing the active verb(s) and noun(s) in some of them. In many cases I’m free-associating with whatever title or short text blurb I’m provided. Well-known classics offer a lot of visual possibilities that an audience will likely understand. A new play or something really experimental is a tougher visual problem … and in those cases I’m trying to come up with something that will hopefully be accurate to the big idea or big ideas of the performance.
I gotta say, I’m so envious of this collection. It must make you feel great to see your approaches come together and diverge at the same time?
Thanks! It is a body of work I’m very proud of, and it’s helped me refresh my creative batteries on a yearly basis. Selecting paper and big-format printing are two of my biggest loves in this industry.
It’s a challenge to find delight on a day-to-day basis sometimes but this project I tend to look forward to year after year. I am a little worried that I might be becoming a little too much a chameleon from year to year stylistically. It’s satisfying to surprise yourself but I don’t know if it’s a realistic or achievable goal every time.
Having them reproduced in this small volume is fun, but have you experienced them all together, full size? And if so, how does it make you feel?
They’ve been displayed at The New York Times Gallery 7 and a handful of college gallery spaces. I really like that they are all the same size for the purposes of reproduction and for display. When I visit schools I lay them end to end on the floor down long hallways, and the little book co-produced with French Paper Co. and CSA Design really reflects that casual vibe.
This article originally appeared in Print Magazine.