In 2016 I was working for the marketing team at Sage Hill School. Mary Robinson, head of the theater program came to us with the idea of a professionally-produced program covering the 2016 - 2017 Studio at Sage Hill annual schedule. The academic calendar included several student showcases, performances, and special guest lectures. All of them would be detailed in the booklet.
It was an exciting project because I had never worked on a theater program before and I was given cart blanche to design the program as I saw fit. The project ended up coming together really well thanks to collaboration from Sage Hill's art department faculty and great feedback from Mary along the way.
Mary's primary objectives for the Sage bill project was to showcase the Studio guest speakers, student shows, master classes, and introduce the Arts faculty. The booklet would be much longer than a typical Play Bill, and we even discussed including a three-panel cover so that the introduction letter would live on an internal flap. That idea survived to the final printing. These are all detail things, but what Mary really wanted was to upgrade the overall quality from a typical Play Bill and make something unique to Sage Hill..
Most Play Bills follow a predictable and uh... ugly pattern with a humongous yellow block in the top quarter of the cover, no layout between images and text, pretty bad typography across the board, and very littler stylistic consistency. I wanted to break that mold (who wouldn't?), and give more of a branded look to the project.
There were two major style changes that I wanted to bring into this project that would set it apart from a typical Play Bill. The first was the typographical approach. I just don't understand why they are usually so boring to look at. A Play Bill is essentially a zine, so there are tons of opportunities to have fun with the layout and text. This is why on the Sage Bill I chose to incorporate massive vertical section headers in whichever contrasting color fit best.
I also wanted the body to have obvious hierarchy because I always get lost trying to read a Play Bill. The text is all the same size (tiny) and the spacing does you no favors. So ok, the Sage Bill was going to have big, oversized Headlines in strong contrast to the body text. I don't think anyone looking at it is confused about the hierarchy and that's a win in my book.
The second big style change was to revamp the cover concept. Like I said, the cover of a Play Bill is always the same old, stuffy thing. I didn't want that. Instead I wanted to bring the Sage Hill Lightning Bolt into the picture and establish a legitimate masthead for the Sage Bill.
The solution proposed was a 24-page Sage Bill featuring many photos of student performances, performance schedules, and a full-spread image of the arts faculty.
An inevitable problem that occurs with an in-house project like this one is a lack of good photos. Often, the budget is bare-bones but the expectations are lavish and as a designer the job is more a tale of frustrated efforts than a wealth of creative options. The funny thing is that clients tend to want tons of photos as if they will appear out of thin air. So when you hear the statement, "It should have a lot of photos," drill in on that and find out exactly what it means. Often you find out that the client is wishing for something that they just don't have in the cards.
Working on the Sage Bill project was completely the other way around. Day one, Mary came to me with a harddrive containing several years' worth of fantastic photos from performances and shows that I was free to use however I wanted. This is something you never hear - and even in my current capacity at PragerU, we take our own photos precisely because they are otherwise in constant short supply.
Put this in context: many designers are accustomed to working with maybe 5 to 10 images total on a project like this - all of them of poor quality. With Sage Bill, I had as many as 100 photos from each performance dating back at least 4 years. That comes out to thousands of photos and most of them were fantastic. Talk about a treasure trove! Needless to say I was able to turn out some delightful spreads thanks to these awesome resources.
What was the one photo that wasn't available? Of course it had to be the full-spread image of the faculty! Like, one of the main objectives to hit in the project - but no photo. So what do you think we did? Of course, we arranged to take a photo and that was its own fun little side project. I'm not a very good photographer to be honest but I knew what I wanted. Since the booklet followed a black-white-yellow color palette I wanted to make the Studio faculty look a bit like a rock band. Dope right?
Taking the photo was actually a bit of a challenge. We only had a 10 minute window in which to take the photo between classes and of course a few members were late so it was a scramble. Then there was the traffic control as hundreds of high schoolers wanted to use the stairwell we needed for the shot. A few helped to stand guard and keep the coast clear. Ultimately, we snagged a cool shot with really dynamic bars of light and shadows playing across the assembled faculty. You can see Mary featured upfront as the leader of this band.
All in all, the Sage Bill is one of those projects I always reflect on proudly. I feel like it was one of those rare times that I could cut loose and do whatever I thought was best. Here you had a client that was really a team of super creative people in the Studio faculty, a primary contact in Mary Robinson who really had a vision for an improved Play Bill, and the resources to hit a home run. I would take this project again anytime - and I actually did the following year!