Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ANATOMY OF A LOGO - Making the literal illusionary

In my sideline work as a photo illustrator/digital artist (TuTchT IMAGING ), I focus my work mainly on young males of color in the fashion and entertainment industries.  This path has led to connections with lots of great talent…including photographers.  When it came time to develop some new concept art and our new logo, 2 photogs offered their assistance on a collab.  Just wanna give them their props.

While looking through the portfolio of Parisian photog Michael Cruzz  I saw a series of rooftop shots he had taken.  In both Paris and NYC, Michael always finds models, locations and concepts that combine urban rawness, masculinity & a deeper contemplative vibe than what you typically get in fashion photography, and always without feminizing his models or making them so abstract they lose their realness. I saw this particular shot and immediately knew it had the potential to capture the raw street vibe & the movement-oriented nature of our show. The pose itself captured the “I don’t give a fuck” playing-with-danger quality that permeates “Roofless.”  I knew if that same pose were positioned on a precarious ledge it would amplify that feeling even further.
Model Mike Press, Paris by Michael Cruzz, NYC/Paris

I contacted Michael (and model Mike Press) for permission.  Michael was diggin the idea. So I set to work. After hours of TuTchTness, trail and error, we came out with an image that was everything we hoped for.  Michael was pleased with the outcome…and we obviously were as well.  This image became the picture-worth-1000-words to represent “Roofless.”

When we decided the best single visual image to sum up the innovative nature of the show was the character “Tagz” in flight, we set out on a long mission to find the right model who captured the combination of qualities: impish, boyish, a Hip-hop head, other worldly, slightly melancholy but full of mischief, and preferably a particular ethnicity that immediately read as in-the-moment “urban” but also called up images of ancient, spiritually-knowing cultures.  A young innocent from a wise race of knowing beings. (basically an updated “Pan”)   Not to put anyone on blast, lol, but after several months of trying to get a couple of Tulsa models to return emails and show up for appointments, hahaha, we started looking into the larger model world. (We always TRY to represent our Tulsa fam whenever we can.)

Then it hit me that model Stephen Christopher was perfect. This was a guy I had been watching for some time, he was native of Ohio, and well on his way to a career.  At that time he was counting the days until he graduated so he could make the move to NYC.  His ethnic mix of African-American, Asian & Native American summoned up everything we were going for.  He was a bit of a dancer so I knew he could deliver.
Being a great model, Stephen gave us a variety of facial expressions that called up different character vibes.

Enter “The PhotogJ”  ... I was first introduced to Stephen through a series of great shots in J’s portfolio and they had been working together since square one.  I had also watched J’s skills develop since he first jumped into photography several years prior. I knew he could pull off the photography we needed.  And when I pitched the idea to him he totally got it and was excited by the challenge.  I sent them a series of sketches of poses that we felt would create the illusion of “Levi-breaking” (The character of “Tagz” does a combination of flying & Break dancing, propelling himself with spray cans he uses like jet-packs)
They came through like woah!  J delivered around 60 well shot raw images from their photoshoot and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.  They executed every sketch and added a host of other shots, all of them in perfect character and tone.

Stephen "flies" in this unedited 
shot by the Photog J

Next came hours…okay, I’ll be real…weeks… of working digital magic on the set of images.  Picking just the right shots, with the right background, shifting arms and legs slightly for a perfect composition, designing the new “Roofless” font, figuring out how to create believable spray patterns, drips, whooshes, et al., chosing a color palette, sparkle trail or no sparkle trail, lol…etc etc etc.  Trying to make it all come together and look effortless…innovative and familiar at the same time.  This picture had to capture the unique balance of magic fantasy and gritty rawness that is “Roofless.” A Hip-hop fairytale.   We feel like we finally arrived there with the image.  It graces our blog header & in our NYC premiere it became a much-talked-about symbol of this innovative new style of musical theatre.  

An early, unused color test for our Tagz logo art
At first we wanted Tagz to have an other-worldly skin color.  We had settled on blue then frikkin Avatar comes out and it looks like we’re biting…so we experimented with green in this shot.  Uh…too Martian. lol

So we stuck with real skin color and decided to put everything in a dark, gritty, almost Film Noir palette – basically black and white with blood-red accents.  That seems to hit the mark perfectly.

To see the final image…jus raise yo headz ya’ll.

HUGE thanks to PhotogJ, Stephen, Michael & Mike for donating their skillz to help us put imagery to our bizarre ideas. hahaha.  They are truly Roofheadz at heart and we’re blessed to have had our creative paths cross. (I continue to work with these talented artists whenever I can…and you should too!  Hit em up.)  (Stephen Christopher’s fashion blog)

Rolling the Dice & Building a Team in Record Time - Our NYC Cast & Crew

After nearly 2 decades of writing, producing & directing 99% of the projects we produced, it was a little bit of a culture shock to realize that producing in New York City meant that we had to (or “needed to” or “were expected to”) work with behind-the-scenes personnel with an NYC track record.   In short, we barely had enough time and money to do the festival the way we’d always done it – by ourselves… and we knew no NYC folks in that category.  To be honest, this was one of the points where we thought we might have to decline the offer to be involved.

Lily Hung at the New York Musical Theatre Festival was extremely helpful every step along the way.  Our mentor Michael Kerker at ASCAP was also very helpful in suggesting potential directors we might contact.  But when all was said and done, it boiled down to hours of sifting through the list of hundreds of professionals who submit their names to NYMF each year as “available to work on NYMF projects.”

Step one was a Line Producer.  Lily, who was very familiar with the out-of-the-norm qualities of “Roofless” suggested a handful of people she thought might be a good fit.  We interviewed 3 after which Jerome and I agreed Rachel Routh was someone we trusted and could vibe with.   Rachel works as an assistant producer with Amanda Lipitz Productions (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Legally Blonde) as well as producing via her own company Rachel Routh Productions. She’s cool peeps & a sweetheart.

Next step was finding a director.  We had about 10 days to find someone we trusted to “get” what Roofless is and how we intended it to be presented.  We read countless resumes and tried to discern from the limited information if these people had any affinity to a musical that was half Hip-Hop, half traditional musical.  In a nutshell… uh… basically nope. lol   We only had 3 leads and time was running out.

Peter Michael Marino, who had extensive experience with Stomp! and was a talented comedian, would have the ability to give the show the light, fast-pced rhythmic quality it needed.  He also had a good amount of experience directing new musicals.  We connected, he loved the show but scheduling conflicts eliminated him. (Big ups to Pete for connecting us with Khalid Greens our Body Percussionist!!! A great connection that will continue to yield great collabs in the future!) 1 down.  Our only other choice from the list was director Paul Stancato.  Although his musical roots are in Rock, he was a very experienced dancer/choreographer with Broadway credits in these areas.  We watched several videos of pieces he choreographed and realized he had a great feel for the “crisp precision” the music of Roofless requires & would also totally get the “Body Perc meets vocal music” vibe of the show.  He had also been the resident director for the National Tour of The Lion King for the previous four years so he would be in-the-know about talented African-American performers.  To be honest, we felt the Lion King credit probably put him out of our league since we were basically nobodies.  But he was the only choice left on the table and the clock was ticking. Then came the kicker --- our googling led us to a casting notice that revealed Paul was already directing a NYMF show (Trav’lin’).  2 down… but sent him an email anyway.  

Before we had time to get too bummed, an unexpected email from Michael Kerker got us excited.  He had spoken to Broadway powerhouse Billy Porter about “Roofless” and he was very interested in directing. We could think of no one better to understand the range of vocal styles contained in of Roofless – AND he was one of the tiny percent of African-Americans we had run across in our search.  But alas, lol, he had just been cast in the revival of “Angels in America” and was unable to be involved. 3 down.  

THEN we got a totally unexpected reply from Paul Stancato saying he loved the script & demos and wanted to see if there was any way he could swing the scheduling.  Welp, the Universe smiled on us and after some phone conversations, we had a cream-of-the-crop director!   He brought his assistant Nick Dalton on board as our AD.  In the few remaining days before we headed to NYC for the beginning of rehearsals (and literally hours before the first rehearsal in the case of our Stage Manaer) Paul and Rachel rounded up a Music Director (Molly Gachignard) and Stage Manager (Shelby Taylor Love) and we had our team.  Big thanks to the whole crew!

A similar process of last minute search & selection occurred many times over in the assembling of our incredible cast too.  I’ll spare you the gory details.

A quick anecdote about casting tho…  From day one of working together Jerome and I have always been surprised how the right people for our projects always seemed to materialize out of no where, often at the last minute. The “I wanna believe” part of us credits it to straight-up Divine intervention; or at least Purpose-driven supernatural alignment (the idea that when you pursue what you were born to do that the Universe has already prepared the pathway for you & once on that path you’ll inevitably meet the kindred spirits you’re designed to work with.)   But the cynical side of us has always said, “Yeah, whatever…the way we stumble on our casts is probably typical. And the fact that its happened that way for us over and over again is proof that we shouldn’t read anything into it. It may feel like a miracle just because of the stress relief of getting the show cast, but its GOTTA be the norm” …right?      So, my dear readers…what do you do with this story?    While Jerome and I were very hands-on in the entire casting process from here in Tulsa, we were unable to do the final in-person auditions in NYC. Because there was so little time, these auditions were a somewhat random procession of performers who scheduled what slots they could when they could. We were eagerly awaiting the report at the end of the day.  When Paul called he said he had NEVER experienced a casting like this.  He said one by one each actor that walked through the door and auditioned was the perfect person for the part, many of them arriving in an order that allowed them to read with only one other person…who also happened to be just the right person.  Paul told us even the person renting the space (which by the way Paul sprung for out of his own pocket, Props!) remarked that he had never seen a casting like this either.      --- When Jerome and I heard the story we were thrilled that Paul was excited about the cast…but it didn’t seem that unusual to us.  :-D  (Cue mysterious music and fade to black.)

As with most of our work, one of the most often heard comments from audience members was “WHERE did you get this cast?  They are amazing.  You should try to keep them for your next staging of the show."

Who knows if they’ll be together again.  Most of them quickly moved on to other major shows, tours and projects, but we’d love to work with any of them again.  The Roofheadz always have a special familiar & familial vibe - from Tulsa to LA to Broadway. We’ve got mad love for our casts and crews through the years (now numbering in the hundreds!) Once a Roofhead, always a Roofhead!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Congrats for our mentor's Stephen Schwartz's Wicked milestone.

We're back from NYC, back from the holiday break...we'll be catching up on blog posts this week. Lots to say & lots to announce. But first up....

CONGRATS to our mentor Stephen Schwartz for a major milestone! His show "Wicked" last week became the first Broadway show to ever make more than 2 MILLION DOLLARS box office IN A SINGLE WEEK!!! Whaaa? 7 years and still defying gravity! Hope we've learned the right things from him. lol. Congrats Stephen!