Three years ago, Detroit-based photographer Chuk Nowak’s conceptual photography portfolio caught the eye of the Marketing Director for the Wayne State University Theatre Company, who asked Chuk to concept and produce imagery for the university’s two theatre companies. The client’s reaction to the first completed shoot was to continue the relationship, leading to Chuk photographing promotional images for the rest of the year and into the future.
Stepping into this role has benefited the university theatre program’s marketing materials by solidifying its visual style and giving a consistent, professional appearance, ultimately leading to an increase in ticket sales. Chuk has also found that working with the theatre marketing team and the performers in the theatre department has encouraged the growth of his confidence and skill as a director on set.
The purpose was to elevate and create a consistent aesthetic among marketing images for the productions. This was a long-neglected area due to reliance on student contributions, which while having the best of intentions, were often inconsistent in concept and production value.
Over the course of this ongoing project, Chuk has been tasked with generating concepts and promotional photos for productions ranging from “A Raisin in the Sun” to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but he is most excited about the recent work for the University productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
The theatre marketing department is staffed by a rotating cast of graduate students, so each production serves as a chance for Chuk to collaborate with a variety of creatives.
This is great for me as a creative/photographer as I have multiple sources of creative feedback, while also having the opportunity to build relationships and learn working styles from repeat engagements with each person.
Each play needs to have images ready for marketing materials 4-6 weeks from its debut, so the photographs must be planned, produced, and processed quickly. An additional challenge is the subject matter – many of the plays are classics which have been produced and marketed thousands of times.
Since this is an educational setting, many classic plays are chosen, and it’s been one of my goals from the start to not repeat any overt or cliché thematic traps. If something is too prominent a detail to leave out, we look for new ways to represent it visually.
The educational environment does provide some perks rarely enjoyed on small commercial productions, such as complete access to prop and set designers, a full costume shop, and an assortment of makeup artists.
With these resources, we can typically pull anything we need to make an idea happen in a relatively short time. Juggling details of one production to the next, often in the same day, can be challenging. My powers of effective task delegation and organizational skills have increased ten-fold as a result of this project.
Due to the scheduling requirements of multiple ongoing theatre productions and the wide range of concepts, many of the images are created by compositing one or more actors, photographed separately or together in studio, with a location backplate.
It’s here that working with talented actors has really paid off. I will usually have a background plate going in, and will describe the scene/motivation we’re aiming to capture. The things they can conjure with nothing but imagination in front of a seamless background are pretty fantastic. What I’ve learned about directing people has been invaluable in my other commercial & editorial work.
Although “A Christmas Carol” wrapped production on December 17, Chuk has already planned to continue working with the Wayne State Theatre Program and plans to execute four more shoots during the 2018 Spring Semester.
See more of Chuk at chuknowak.com!