The greatest design challenge I ever faced was a work-
intensive, logistical nightmare, and it was utterly my fault.
In college and the years following, I did a fair amount of writing for the stage. So it made sense when, in 2005, a good friend approached me with a group of songs he had written. He wanted to do them as an evening of cabaret and hoped I could write a few jokes for him to do between numbers. However, I decided that we should invent a character for him to play named Fitz and present the songs as the “greatest hits” of his fictional career that would span albums and decades.
Fitz would relate his life story: a hard-luck childhood, a parade of lovers, a career alongside a long-suffering accompanist named Walloughs. In the tradition of VH1’s Behind the Music, the script called for many “archival photos” and “album covers.” I’m not sure who I thought would oversee their creation. To my dismay, it turned out to be me.
The album covers were actually fun to design at first. I snapped a photo during rehearsal of “Fitz and Walloughs.” I figured out that, with the help of Photoshop, I could copy their heads from this photo and paste them onto a different set of bodies for each of their 10 albums. They ended up on everything from a crayon drawing of a lady beating a dead horse to the bodies of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. For their Christmas album I even found a beautiful painting of the Madonna and Child and placed Fitz’s head on the Virgin Mother, and Walloughs’ on the helpless infant at her breast. By the time I finished designing these covers (in between almost-constant late-night rehearsals), I was exhausted. But an even greater challenge lay ahead.
Having already been at Metrosource for a few years, I’d worked on a fair share of photo shoots. So I’m not quite sure why I thought that we could photograph more than 30 additional images — almost all requiring complicated costume, makeup and location changes — in one day. But that’s what we decided to do. In addition to organizing the shoot, I ended up playing one of Fitz’s wicked aunts (wearing some of the scariest make-up ever seen outside of a clown college) and all 10 of his lovers (with my face obscured to disguise this fact). We hurried to grab shots all over my neighborhood: outside of a church, on my roof, and even — in my bathroom — of a nude Fitz escaping from a bathtub filled with fresh fruit. By the end of that very long day, we felt beaten down. And when it came time to choose which photos would end up in the show, I had trouble deciding which ones were funny because I so clearly remembered the panic of trying to get them done.
However, when opening night came around, and the covers and photos flickered to life on stage, I was grateful for every minute I had put into them. I realized these were more than mere visual punch lines. We had created the illusion that these characters had a rich, bizarre history, and that allowed us to take the audience on a weird and wonderful journey.
When I look back at those images now, I marvel at how audacious we were. I notice how many of the shots are of us actually laughing — having a good time despite the enormity of our overwhelming task. I can see the thrilling energy of young people making art. I feel a sense of accomplishment about all that I learned in order to make it a reality and immense gratitude for all the talented people who helped bring it to life. It may have been a work-
intensive, logistical nightmare and utterly my fault, but it’s also something that will always make me tremendously proud.
By Paul Hagen
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Last modified: March 13, 2018