Ever wondered who designs the posters, street banners, lobby signage, playbills and more at Ford’s Theatre? Gary Erskine, Art Director and staff photographer, leads our design team.
From a workspace he’s nicknamed the “Batcave,” Gary’s work shapes what visitors and audience members see before, during and after their visit. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at his work on Twitter as part of our Social Media Ambassadors program. We recently asked him what it’s like to design for a national historic site and working theatre.
Explain what you do at Ford’s.
When people ask me this I often jokingly respond, “make things look good.” Honestly though, my job is very exciting. I get to work with great people on really creative projects, such as developing collateral (posters, brochures, web graphics, postcards, and more) for Ford’s programs and main stage productions.
What can people following your twitter account expect to see?
I like giving people a first look at our upcoming design pieces, behind-the-scenes looks at photo shoots, and share pieces in my Ford’s design archive. I enjoy engaging in conversation about what inspires designers sharing places and things that inspire me—like old design books, textures, etc. In addition to working full time, I am also pursuing a degree in Digital Communications and Web Technology and I like to talk about the history and future of technology.
What might surprise people about your work?
I once held the deringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Lincoln.
In 2007, renowned photographer Carol Highsmith was on site to photograph the artifacts in the Ford’s Theatre Museum. I was able to shadow her and help out. For each photo, the artifacts were handled and positioned by the National Park Service’s museum curator at the time, Gloria Swift. Prior to putting the gun back into its display, Swift asked if anybody wanted to hold it. We all did! Under her close supervision, we were each permitted to hold the deringer for a few seconds. It was an unforgettable experience and a main reason why I became interested in photography for our campus.
One year ago tonight, I had this view of the Ford's 150 candle light vigil pic.twitter.com/TaA5tNEQNL— Gary Erskine (@Gary_Erskine) April 14, 2016
What are your favorite design projects to work on?
Opening night invitations. For example: We die cut the invitation for Little Shop of Horrors to make it look like a bite was taken out of it. For The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the invitation looked like a school composition book with handwritten notes by one of the “students” in the show.
How has your time at Ford’s Theatre changed your ideas about Lincoln?
When I first started working at Ford’s, my knowledge of Lincoln was surface-level. He was primarily a figure in a history book to me. During my career at Ford’s I have since photographed the items Lincoln carried in his pocket the night of his assassination, personal diaries that are more than 150 years old with first-hand accounts of people’s reaction to his assassination and modern-day students who deliver speeches on our stage that are inspired by Lincoln’s words. Through these experiences, I have gained a greater appreciation for President Lincoln, the life he led and the impact he has had on people’s lives throughout the years.
While out supporting Independent Bookstore Day, I suddenly found inspiration to build my own Lincoln Book Tower. pic.twitter.com/bXbGIg45CL— Gary Erskine (@Gary_Erskine) April 30, 2016
What’s something you’re excited about this year at the theatre?
I’m really excited about our upcoming production of Ragtime. Developing the artwork for the show was a major collaborative effort and I think it is some of the best artwork we have done to date. I’m also very interested in seeing Director Peter Flynn’s vision for the show take shape on the stage.
What’s your favorite part of Ford’s to share with family and friends?
I love sharing my behind-the-scenes details about developing our artwork. For example, advance artwork for our production of Fly featured two of the actors dressed as Tuskegee Airmen with a WWII-era airplane flying overhead. That photo was actually taken indoors at the College Park Aviation Museum. The actors stood under a plane that was hanging from the ceiling of the museum. In Photoshop, I masked out the ceiling, added in the sky and clouds and blurred the airplane to make it look like it was flying.
One final question—your Twitter bio says you “might be Batman.” What can you tell us about this piece of information? Are you Batman?
Have you ever seen both of us in the same location at the same time?
Follow Gary on Twitter (@Gary_Erskine) to learn more about his day-to-day work! Comment with any questions you have about design for Ford’s Theatre—past and future. We’ll pass them along.
Sara Cohen is Marketing Manager at Ford’s Theatre, where she helms our Facebook and Twitter accounts, among other projects that share Lincoln’s legacy with the world. Follow her on Twitter at @SaraECohen.