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Savages/Steppenwolf Theatre

MAY 25, 2016

Interesting project for Ogilvy in Chicago.. A poster for Steppenwolf Theatre.
It is Steppenwolf's fortieth anniversary, and they're celebrating by getting artist to do posters for some of their more memorable plays from the past. They sent me a list of the plays. I picked the first one "1980-81: Savages" 
It seemed like something dark and tribal would work. Part of the criteria was the posters had to be in two colors, pms 485 (Red) and black. And of course variations of those colors, greys and deep reds. .

1. 1980-81: Savages:
Alan West, British government official in Brazil, is kidnapped by the M.R.B. (Movimento Revolucionario Brasileiro) in order to be exchanged for political prisoners. His guard, Carlos Esquerdo, is a would-be philosopher, reciting quotes by Fanon and Camus, and interested in poetry and chess. He tries to make his hostage understand the ideas behind the revolutionary movement, reads their manifesto to him, and explains that the corrupt government must be punished for "selling our country to the interests of US capitalism, which it has allowed to exploit our resources and steal our land, while our people starve and suffer all the miseries of poverty and unemployment".
While Esquerdo focuses on the plight of the 90 million Brazilian workers and landless farmers, West's mind is occupied with the extinction of the native Indians. In flashbacks, the audience learns that West has long been interested in Indian culture, rituals, and legends, and that he is aware of the genocide under way in the country. He knows that if no measures are taken, there will not be many Indians left to tell their tales and perform their rites of the Quarup as they are being murdered by gifts of sugar mixed with arsenic, by wilfully spread disease (such as distributing blankets from smallpox wards), or barbaric slaughter financed by greedy land owners and speculators, both foreign and domestic. One of the henchmen, Ataide Pereira, is questioned by an American investigator and tells a gruesome tale of murder and mercilessness.Missionaries are also criticised in the play: Reverend Elmer Penn treats "his flock" of converted Indians like domesticated animals not fit to think for themselves. Only an anthropologist sees the situation as clearly as West but has no power or means to change it for the better.
Finally, West is shot by Esquerdo. The play ends with the bombing of the Quarup celebrations which extinguished the Cintas Tribe.
Tighter thumbnails put into a poster layout to help with presenting the ideas

Had the normal thirty-something thumbnails at the end, and it seemed like we needed to look at color to start seeing the poster ideas come to life.
the play was a conversation between West and Equerdo. I decided to concentrate on the more graphic visual; native indians being pushed into extinction. I pulled from the thumbnails the directions I felt had the most potential and separated them out to try to see if there was a strong direction for the poster. When i shared the roughs with the producers, Lisa, the associate content producer wrote back
"Our Creative Director and Art Director are both blown away. CD wondered if you had a favorite you were working on? His opinion was to go with the darkest, most primal of them."
This was just what I wanted to hear. Although the lack of visual direction is always hard for me. I have several favorites and end up doing some little comps to help sort them all out.
black and white sketches from the thumbnails to build the comps out of.©Bill Mayer 2016

comps on poster working out design elements.©Bill Mayer 2016

comps on poster working out design elements.©Bill Mayer 2016

comps on poster working out design elements.©Bill Mayer 2016

our second runner up poster design.... ©Bill Mayer 2016

Actually I love all of these directions, and it was difficult to choose a final. in the end, we all decided that the red poster just felt right. Second place the more graphic bloody mess.
Each time i go back to look at them I have a diferent favorite. So glad to finally shoot this one off to the folks at Ogilvy for their feedback or approval.
the final poster for The Savages agency Ogalvy client Stepanwolf Theater Chicago. ©Bill Mayer 2016
 In the end we decided on the red poster as the final. I loved the sontiniaty sentimentality. simplicity? of the brush painting on glass blown up. Very graphic use of the skull to imply extinction. Much thanks to all of the folks at Ogilvy for including me. and a special thanks to Craig Fraizer for throwing my name in the pot. What great fun working on this. 
© 2024 Bill Mayer