Theater Art

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I love it when a plan comes together. And I love a great collaboration of creative artistry.

Take the Indiana Repertory Theatre that recently tapped renowned Indy artist Kyle Ragsdale to design the posters for its upcoming theater season. Talking to Ragsdale, who's curator at the Harrison Center for the Arts, and Janet Allen, the IRT's executive artistic director, the match seems ideal.

"A Christmas Carol." - KYLE RAGSDALE
  • Kyle Ragsdale
  • "A Christmas Carol."

"I approached Kyle with the idea, knowing that he's collaborated with Summer Stock Stage in a variety of capacities and knowing that he's an IRT attender and enthusiast," says Allen. "I'd met him a couple of times on First Friday events at his studio at Harrison Center and always found him very approachable and communicative."

"I have been dreaming of doing a project like this for a long time," Ragsdale says, "Janet came into my studio, and when we first met, we were both kind of thinking a similar sort of thing."

Ragsdale considers himself a theater person, growing up in community theater in New Mexico. Here in Indy, he's designed sets for Summer Stock Stage for the past 11 seasons and for the Phoenix Theatre and the IndyFringe Theatre Festival. "So much of my artwork over the last few years has some of my theater background in it," he says.

"Kyle's work is very dramatic and human-centered," Allen says. "He's fascinated by theater, and his work often captures emotional moments of human life, and yet it's not portraiture." She adds, "He's also got a great sense of costume and scenery in his work."

So Allen handed Ragsdale all the scripts. He'd seen only A Christmas Carol and the movie of On Golden Pond. "He read all nine plays before we did a lengthy charette to discuss each show's needs," she comments. "That was particularly golden: He's a storyteller on canvas."

Clearly Allen is ecstatic with the result. "I'm thrilled by what Kyle has produced: thrilled by what he 'saw' in each play, thrilled by how the pieces capture the emotional colors of the plays as well as some of the characters in each, thrilled by their spirit and vitality and by how they invite us into the work, thrilled by what's in focus, as well as what lurks in the background of a couple of them."

This is the first time the IRT has commissioned a painter and not a graphic artist. "I also found the process really delightful," Allen says. "As the process of the art-making is often the most time-consuming part, the fact that working with Kyle brought us new energy ... was a hugely gratifying piece of the collaboration.

I asked Ragsdale to describe a little of what he gleaned from each play for his depiction.

"Velveteen Rabbit." - KYLE RAGSDALE
  • Kyle Ragsdale
  • "Velveteen Rabbit."

Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

"[The IRT] wanted to showcase the friendship of the guys and how travel changes you and causes you to grow up. I focused in on the costumes, and interestingly enough there is a Veronese green that I found, so then I repainted the background in that color."

Red by John Logan

"I wanted to focus on the actual Rothko image, so you knew it was about [painter Mark Rothko] right away. It's hard because it's the kind of thing that Rothko would've hated, like crazy hated. Then Janet pointed out that he would've hated that there was a play about this hard part of his life at all."

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

"I love 'Carol' so much. Since I moved here, I've been going to Carol and loving it, so I wanted to focus in on kind of the festiveness and not so much the things you always think of when you represent the Carol. So I focused more on the party scenes, which is kind of what I like in art my art."

The Velveteen Rabbit adapted by James Still from the story by Margery Williams

"Velveteen Rabbit was the most fun to paint." Ragsdale says that when he read the script he thought of boats he painted last year. "It seemed like it would work together, and when I sent the picture over, they loved it right away."

Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire

"I wanted this to be mainly about the main character and her two friends that she talks over her life with. [The painting] changed four times: really wild, crazy colors and patterns and wacky figures. I think I didn't want to focus in on them being lower class. I wanted to leave it open, but so that they weren't caricatures." Ragsdale asked for pictures of actress Constance Macy, who's cast as Margaret, the lead, so that he could depict her likeness for the painting. He's most excited to this particular play. "It's just an amazing script, and it's just something I haven't seen before. Also when I read it, I immediately thought of Fountain Square with the indigenous people who have been there a long time. It's just those twists and turns of the script that make you rethink people."

The Giver adapted by Eric Coble from the novel by Lois Lowry

"I thought of 20 ways for a really fun poster. I actually made the image first on my iPad and then took it back and painted from that. It went through maybe three revisions back and forth of what I liked and what they liked, and then we finally came to a good consensus."

"What I Learned in Paris."  - KYLE RAGSDALE
  • Kyle Ragsdale
  • "What I Learned in Paris."

The Hound of the Baskervilles adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle

"Baskerville was fun because I could look at movie posters and other ways that it had been represented before. I have been working with the period costumes for six years, so I'm really familiar with that era, and it's kind of spooky, too -- which I like."

What I Learned in Paris by Pearl Cleage

"This was such a fun play to read and interesting because I didn't do research. I started reading it not quite sure what kind of play it is, and finally I realized, oh, this is a romantic comedy, but you don't figure that out right away. I guess when you're watching you do, but it was really fun to play with those '70s costumes in Atlanta. I really enjoyed working on that one."

On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson

"I'd seen the movie when I was young, and in reading the play I hadn't seen the movie for a long time, but it seems like I remembered it as it was. There are a lot of different ways to think about the visualizing that play. When it came to painting, I thought of my friend Jill Ristine. She's kind of the woman figure, and the man kind of looks like her husband, Tom, but not too much. I really love the atmosphere of that painting and the light that is kind of dreamy. When so much of movie and TV culture focuses on youth, it's really interesting to think about a play that is about older people and how they face life and getting older. It's a good story."

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