In Summer 2015, Designmatters and the Illustration Department launched a partnership with Center Theatre Group (CTG), Los Angeles’ largest non profit theatre company, through the Play Time studio, which introduced students to the many behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre with hands-on making, exploration and projects. Students explored how costumes, sets and the written word come together to create theatre by reading and writing scripts, designing costumes, puppets and sets, and visiting the artists at CTG’s The Shop and attending performances at CTG’s three theatres. Building on the success of that studio, CTG continued to work with ArtCenter students on the Fall 2015 Designmatters studio “Play Time: Community.” For this studio, students were asked to design dynamic systems of communication that would promote awareness of CTG’s three theatres, utilize the new CTG brand identity, encourage participation in community programs and amplify CTG’s relationship with communities throughout Los Angeles.
Center Theatre Group (CTG) challenged ArtCenter students to design communication models and programs that would promote awareness of CTG’s three theatres, utilize the new CTG logo and branding, increase attendance at theatrical productions and encourage participation in community programs.
These dynamic communications systems would be the result of an intense inquiry process with numerous hours of ethnographic field research, on-site interviews and careful observations. Students would engage with community members at CTG productions and CTG-sponsored local events to discover attitudes about theatre and CTG in particular.
Drawing upon their own distinct visions, students would create communication solutions that included posters, products, collateral, experimental and interactive artifacts and media. These communication models aimed to celebrate CTG as a leader in local Los Angeles theatre that brings the power and joy of theatrical arts to traditionally underserved communities.
“When I see really powerful student projects happen it’s because the students have genuinely become interested in and care about who will be using, seeing or encountering their design. It’s an exercise in empathy.”
– Arden Stern, Faculty, Humanities & Sciences
For almost 50 years, Center Theatre Group (CTG) has provided Los Angeles audiences with a wide range of theatrical experiences, from world premieres, grand musicals and Broadway blockbusters to groundbreaking dynamic dramas and intimate workshopped productions. The esteemed theatrical company encompasses three performance spaces – the Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre – each embodying distinct dramatic personalities that offer diverse theatrical presentations.
Located in downtown Los Angeles, the Ahmanson Theatre is the largest CTG venue and traditionally offers crowd-pleasing shows often performed with Hollywood superstars and Broadway legends. Nearby, housed in an iconic mid-century modern building, the Mark Taper Forum presents smaller thought-provoking works that frequently blend socially relevant themes into daring transformative theatre.
The newest member of the CTG family is a historic 1940s movie house in Culver City that has been transformed into the Kirk Douglas Theatre, an intimate venue that presents adventuresome new plays which are often edgy and trendsetting.
Another CTG space is The Shop, located in Boyle Heights, a costume and prop house that also is a community space for programming, workshops, play readings and other events aimed to tap into the creativity of the local community. The Shop has been active since 2013 and was instrumental in producing the costumes and puppets for Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, a Center Theatre Group community event which incorporated the participation of Boyle Heights residents of all ages with professional artists to create a large-scale outdoor performance.
In addition to these formal spaces, CTG also offers regular outreach programs at local sites, such as libraries, around Boyle Heights as well as The Shop.
“There was a great base of research done. I was impressed by the students’ nimbleness, their ability to take notes and change and, in some cases, scrap ideas and move on, coming back with an even stronger idea.”
– Diane Rodriquez, CTG Associate Artistic Director
Throughout the course of the studio, students led the way in inquiry and design phases as they explored communities, uncovered information and planned communications campaigns. Taking the initiative and conducting research through their own design lens, students were encouraged to tap into their own personal vision as they created concepts, products, or systems that would communicate the CTG brand and outreach efforts in an engaging, fun and entertaining manner to a wide audience.
The brief originally targeted messaging to specific neighborhoods where CTG has a presence (Boyle Heights, Montebello and Leimert Park) but CTG later opened up the challenge to incorporate the greater Los Angeles area, which gave students an extensive and deeper potential audience.
On the first day of class, students were instructed to build a conversation object, a research prototype that would have one goal: to be a conduit for students to talk with strangers about their experiences with theatre. The object was not meant to be a part of any finished product or presentation; its sole purpose was to spark conversations in a friendly and open manner.
Students took their prototypes to the Montebello Art Fest to interact with residents. Based on observations and ideas gleaned from those conversations, students refined their prototypes and returned for more field research. Some went back to Montebello and others ventured into Boyle Heights and Leimert Park, finding public engagement at either CTG-sponsored or community events and workshops.
Students were required to attend at least one CTG performance and one CTG event, but most opted to participate and observe many more. For some students, attending theatre was a new personal discovery.
Back in the classroom, students shared observations; their similar research findings confirmed their field gathering techniques. Students realized the importance of observation, and that elements that seemed obvious and ordinary often provided important pivotal insights.
Students participated in two research reviews, presenting what they have learned and how data analysis was shaping their research forward. The research reviews encouraged students to take an unbiased stock of data, build a hierarchy of what was important, distill data to discover learning points and then see clearly how research points the way to design solutions.
Through their research, many students discovered that teens and young people were very open and enthusiastic about theatre, even if they didn’t attend regularly. Reaching this age group meant designing with different communication tools and social media as platforms for design.
Initially, the students worked independently, but later they started working together in support of one another, communicating regularly through social media and other platforms. Students fostered relationships and collaborated with each other on different aspects of their own individual projects. They all wanted to see each other succeed.
“This project actually gave me the opportunity to visit theatre in America for the very first time. Theatre is really amazing and it creates a memorable memory that will be with you all your life. The research stage helped me a lot, especially interviewing people and finding out their thoughts on theatre – and what they did and didn’t know about Center Theatre Group.”
– Sid Lee, Student, Graphic Design
Playful, easily transportable and geared toward a younger audience, masks are a simple but effective interactive tool that can inform as well as be vehicles for social media promotion through tagged selfies. Two styles of masks can be employed: fan masks are finished products that feature actual characters from a current or upcoming CTG production; a face on the front with eye-holes and short description of the show and CTG logo on the back. A cut and fold mask engages people to choose and create their own mask which can be adorned with a variety of imagery including CTG logos or branded patterns, or left blank for customization. Masks can also be incorporated into CTG workshops, left out after student matinees or distributed into the community via events or at resource locations such as libraries, schools, etc.
A CTG quarterly newspaper distributed to targeted community-based outlets can engage and inform readers who are not CTG subscribers about upcoming productions, workshops and events. The 16-page publication is also a vehicle to encourage community connections with CTG through a dialogue prompt card and the opportunity for residents to contribute articles about theatre, workshops or other arts-related topics. To keep the integrity of the style/design of the publication and to assist a CTG staff in the most efficient way possible, a simplified user-friendly layout program template was created. The layout includes many images and keeps text to a minimum but is a comprehensive guide to all programs and plays at all CTG locations. An option to create an 8-page broadsheet publication would include a poster of a current or upcoming CTG performance on the back.
A bold graphic brand identity unites CTG’s community programs and events through hand-drawn typography and illustrations that can be accessed across multiple media forms including murals, posters, products and social media platforms. A large-scale initiative, the imagery is designed to be placed in strategic outlets across the Los Angeles area. Because the illustrations evoke theatre as fun, casual and accessible – one that inspires a child-like imagination and delight – it is relatable to communities that aren’t necessarily traditional theatre-goers. For further engagement, residents can paint together mural imagery at a CTG-sponsored or community-based event. The Play Time moniker is interchangeable as a theatrical reference and one that denotes participating in creative fun activities. The color palette is derived from the Los Angeles landscape and complements the new CTG’s branding logo and purple color.
Fold-it-yourself paper toy puppets combine branded imagery and CTG information with engaging designs that appeal to youth and adults across socio-economic levels. Toy puppets designed as characters from specific CTG productions can be collected as keepsakes, thereby increasing their value and raising the awareness of CTG as a fun, lively and entertaining brand. Paper toy puppets imagery can be used on other products such as t-shirts. The 3-D paper toys can also be crafted large-scale and used as an impetus for social media tagging and sharing at CTG events and productions as well as community happenings. Paper toy templates with folding directions can be distributed at key resource locations in specific communities. Other possible activities include a 1,000 paper toy folding workshop and a contest for creative puppet designs on blank toy canvas templates.
Weekend film events are targeted in different neighborhoods and parks across the Los Angeles area, introducing audiences to films that are connected to and possibly promote theatre, especially current or upcoming CTG productions (i.e. The Sound of Music). Mobility is key for this traveling cinema experience that would create community and encourage repeat visitation along with interest in and appreciation of the CTG brand. The film series could be combined with CTG-sponsored workshops in the park. Additionally, there is a possibility of presenting a live feed of a CTG production and screening short films created by community members. An animated version of the new CTG logo would be incorporated into the film series as well as implemented on all CTG website videos, YouTube channels and other platforms.
Creating an art gallery show on the open walls and spaces of CTG’s theatres (particularly the Ahmanson) involves community contribution, encourages self-expression and an artistic reaction to the nature of the performing arts. The art show encourages artists to view theatre as a form of art, even if it is unfamiliar, and to present their interpretations. Works of visual arts, poems, videos, sculptures and other art forms would be integrated into this contest which is more about creative participation and exposure to theatre and the CTG brand rather than winning a prize. Art pieces could be inspired by a current or upcoming CTG production or created in a CTG-sponsored workshop. Distributed at community resource locations, flyers advertising involvement in the art show would especially invite family and youth participation.
Installation pieces with interactive musical components welcome hands-on play from CTG audiences, CTG-sponsored workshop participants or Angelinos at community events. Musical installations are designed using the new CTG logos and its three theaters. Detachable blocks and durable chimes are easy to move and would complement outreach engagement, attract attention and inform users about CTG. Each theatre – as well as the umbrella CTG – is given a musical personality and signature micro theme that can be played on the chimes of its corresponding musical sculpture. These signature musical jingles can also be used in a variety of platforms (website, social media, marketing, etc.). CTG-sponsored workshops could enlist music-making as part of a theatrical themed study, inviting participants to rearrange chimes to create mood, emotion and theme.
A series of playfully-shaped characters based on the new CTG logo is a visual brand that unifies three theatrical locations and the main overriding CTG identity. Each abstract character shape is designed with personality and charm that can be translated into a variety of advertising public displays (billboards, bus benches, etc.). Taglines (“Make a Play Date,” etc.) reiterate CTG as a fun and entertaining brand that offers accessible art experiences for all. Costumed character walk-arounds can appear at CTG production cast parties and other big-named functions. Characters can also photo bomb celebrities and be available for photos at community events around town. Additionally, large inflatable versions could be positioned in strategic locations for prime media coverage and excitement. Character designs could be used on a variety of product merchandise including stuffed dolls, key chains, t-shirts and more.