The poster for the play adds a noted graphic element to the storyline.
Michelle Berki, a graphic designer who helped create the poster, and Brian Tatsumi, the Cleveland Play House’s creative director, chatted with the New York Times about the design.
The artwork for “Yentl” and the other shows in your season are all pretty minimal. Why did you decide to take that approach?
Brian Tatsumi: The idea was to come up with a simple illustration that was going to be stark and eye catching. We wanted “Yentl” to be a pop of color. If you count white as a color, it’s blue and black and white. The blue is a reference to the Israeli flag. We thought that would resonate with our Jewish audience. The simplicity, we were hoping, would make it stand apart.
Michelle Berki: All of our show posters for the season have one accent color, with a main image in black and white. They’re consistent but still colorful.
With only a few elements in the “Yentl” poster you make it clear what the play is about.
Berki: We thought that the gender identity crisis that Yentl has was central to the play. One of the defining moments is where she cuts off her braids and decides to live as a man, so we focused on that. We wanted to show both the male and female sides within one person. That’s where the braid and payos in one hat came from. It went well with the composition to have something like the hat to anchor the braid and the payos. A yarmulke wouldn’t have done it as well.
Tatsumi: We wanted the image to register as something that you can identify with Judaism. We wanted you to see the hat and the curl and know that this is a Jewish play. The braid with the ribbon at the end tells that it’s obviously female. It tells both stories in the most concise way you can think of.
What other visual elements influenced your design?
Berki: We looked at a lot of minimalist art to develop the style. Saul Bass was a starting point. There’s a designer named Olly Moss, and he does a lot of really beautifully done posters that use negative space to create multiple images in one clever image that tells a story. We looked up Orthodox Judaism and what the look is for that.
What was another idea that you thought would work, but didn’t use?
Tatsumi: Michelle had another concept with a Torah and a single braid with a pair of scissor cutting it off, symbolizing the girl putting aside her identity as a woman in order to study. We liked it but it wasn’t as simple. [The play] is not necessarily about her casting aside her feminine identity. It’s more this conflict of living in two worlds at once. The image we chose captures that conflict better.
Ultimately what’s the message you hope the “Yentl” poster delivers?
Berki: I want people to know that it’s a story that deals with gender and gender issues. It’s about having to make certain choices because you’re a woman, and defying that.
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