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Branding a Theater Season: Shaw 2018

Theater season lineups offer a wonderful case study in branding and campaign strategy. Each year, a theater (and other performing arts spaces, but theaters especially) release a new season of shows. These lineups can follow a theme, focusing on a playwright, era or genre, for example, or can they be a mixed bag of different styles and voices. This is akin to a designer’s annual seasonal clothing line, or a television network’s slate of shows. If a theater is lucky enough to have a marketing department, they may also be smart enough to put some money and attention behind a cohesive season branding campaign.

Some of my favorite theater branding happens to originate just north of the border, at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This season was the first under new artistic director Tim Carroll, who has already brought a whimsical, fanciful element to Shaw’s previously classical-corporate aesthetic (which I also loved).

The 2018 season has been announced, along with each show’s identity (six of which are shown above). I’m enjoying some more than others, and to be honest I don’t love the entire collection as a whole just yet. Each includes a photographic element in black and white, holding or interacting with a drawn vector object. This is a fun collision of styles, both imaginary and real. That would have been enough for me, but the rest is a little too extra for my taste. One of the things I’ve always admired about the Shaw’s work is their ability to edit and refine. But, as many brands some someday realize, change is inevitable and can be really exciting. The jury’s (I am) still out on this particular execution of Carroll’s idea of Shaw branding, but as usual, I’ll wait until the curtain rises in April. To quote Shakespeare, the play’s the thing.