A Conversation with James McMullan
December 16, 1998
Lincoln Center Theater's Platform series presents conversations with artists working at LCT before an audience of interested theatergoers. Admission is free and open to all. Platforms are held in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The following is a transcript, edited for clarity, of the December 16, 1998 Platform with James McMullan:
THOMAS COTT: Good evening, everybody. I'm Thomas Cott from Lincoln Center Theater.
Welcome to the second in our winter Platform series. We started this series last summer as
a way for our audience to learn more about the artists working at Lincoln Center Theater,
and it was such a great success we're continuing it throughout the winter. The Platforms
are sponsored by a generous grant from the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, and we're
grateful to them for their support.
And now, let's get to tonight's speaker... [to James McMullan] I always forget this fact,
but you were born in China. And you came to America with your family in the 1950s, studied
design at Pratt Institute, and were initially part of the famous design firm the Push Pin
Group, founded by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast....
[to audience] Jim McMullan has created dozens of posters for Lincoln Center Theater, as
well as posters for the Broadway producer Alex Cohen, the National Theatre of Great
Britain, and his artwork has appeared in numerous national publications: Time, Sports
Illustrated, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and New
York magazine, to name just some, and in fact your New York magazine cover from
a while ago, 1976, was an inspiration for the movie Saturday Night Fever - which
most people don't necessarily know about.
Jim teaches at the School of Visual Arts here in New York and is the author of a number of
books, including this beautiful new volume [holds up a copy], The Theater Posters of
James McMullan. And in the introduction to this book, playwright John Guare wrote that
"Jim draws the best posters in the business. They are fair, they are honest, they are
inventive, they are beautiful, they are disturbing. He illustrates plays at the highest
intentions their authors imagine." Which I think is about as high praise as you're
going to ever get. Here's one more snippet: Entertainment Weekly in their review of
the book wrote: "McMullan's dynamic, graceful posters have defined the best in New
York City theater for over twenty years." We're grateful to him for being here
tonight. Please welcome Jim McMullan! [audience applause]
[To the audience:] I'm going to ask some questions, but I'm sure you have questions as
well and we'll get to them in a few minutes, so be thinking of what you'd like to ask.
Jim, let's talk a little bit about your start. You came to America in the 1950s at what
JAMES McMULLAN: I came when I was 17, which was rather lucky because being born in
China, when you come to America you are listed as "China-born", and had I come
into the country [as an adult] on my own, I'd have never gotten into the country. The list
was years long. But my mother was Canadian, and I came into America under her passport,
because I hadn't yet turned 18.
My father was the son of missionaries and he met my mother in Canada. They went to China,
and I was born at that point. My father was a linguist, and he joined the British Army and
was a part of something called Force 317, which was the outfit that blew up the bridge at
the River Kwai. So he was in China, sort of working behind the lines for most of the war.
And then towards the end of the war, we had gone back to my mother's home in Canada, and
then we joined my father in India, and I went to school in India. My father was killed
right at the end of the war; we lived in China again for a while, back to Canada again and
then to the United States. I know it doesn't make much sense, but that's what wars do; we
were, I guess, running around because of the war.
TC: Were you always doing artistic things during your childhood, or was that
something you discovered when you got to America?
JM: Like a lot of kids, I copied comic books. I also copied pictures out of National
Geographic. Particularly when I was in Canada, I felt a lot of pressure on myself that
I should keep up my interest in China, because that was the only thing that made me an
exotic in Canada: the fact that I had lived in China! I specialized in scenes of sam-pans
and rickshaws and things like that. Anyway, I copied a lot of pictures. As a young artist,
when you copy pictures, it builds up your hand reflex, like a kid who constantly throws a
ball or hits a ball with a bat. You build up those reflexes, so what you tell your hand,
your hand will do. And also, I was very influenced by Chinese art and Chinese calligraphy
and looking at the kind of immediacy of Chinese art. I think that is definitely part of
the work I do now.
TC: And when you went to Pratt, did you think "This is what I want to do for a
living," or what was your intention when you went there?
JM: At that point, I'd given up trying to be an actor or playwright. I definitely
wanted to be an illustrator. I didn't have enough ego to be a painter, so I decided to be
an illustrator. [pause] And then my ego grew. [audience laughter]
TC: Oh, I don't think that's true... Jim, you said you didn't want to be a painter,
but I think people consider you a painter.
JM: I went to art school during the time of Abstract Expressionism, so if you were
doing anything figurative, you were not hip. I always wanted to be figurative, and it
seemed that doing illustrations and book jackets and posters gave me a chance to do what I
loved. And since I've always been a reader, someone interested in literary ideas, it sort
of came together: "Hey...illustration!" So I decided pretty early to be an
TC: And when you were working at Push Pin, you weren't doing theater posters. What
kind of work were you doing at that point?
JM: I did some posters, not theater posters. I was doing a lot of book jackets, and
do you remember long-play records?
TC: Yes, indeed.
JM: Those 121/2 by 121/2 squares, they were wonderful! It was a great canvas, and I
did a lot of record covers for Columbia Records, mostly. And I did a lot of journalistic
illustration for, as you mentioned, New York -well, New York magazine hadn't
quite happened then - but for Esquire and Sports Illustrated and all the
great magazines that in those days used illustration. But they don't use it too much
TC: I think I've got this date right, but your first theater poster was for Alex
Cohen in 1976, is that right? It was for Comedians.
JM: Yeah, that's right.
TC: And what made Alex, think, "Gee, I think you can do this..."
JM: Well, I was friends with Paul Davis, who at that point was doing the posters
for the Public Theater. And Mike Nichols, who was directing Comedians, asked Paul
to do the poster for it. And Paul, because of his arrangement with Joe Papp, couldn't do
it and so he recommended me. Which was kind of him to do. He knew that I had been doing
other kinds of posters, and he suspected that it would not be an insurmountable problem
for me to do a theater poster.
TC: And was this an easy, joyous experience?... "he asked, in a leading
JM: Well, certainly given what would happen later, it was a pretty good experience.
I mean, I wasn't very young, but I was certainly willing to concede that I was in a
position to learn a lot, both from Alex Cohen and from Mike Nichols. And Mike Nichols
turned down my first sketch, complaining that it was too much like a book jacket, and I
think he was right. And it made me realize that there is some subtle but essential
difference between a book jacket and a theater poster. I think, for one thing, a theater
poster has to be more overt. Now not everyone would agree with me. I mean, there are
people who do theater posters very much like they would do a book jacket.
But in any case, by the time I did that theater poster, it was very clear to me that the
human figure was my main subject matter. I have always been incredibly interested in body
language. So I did make a good choice in that first poster, because every author and
director that I have worked with, inevitably, if I ask what they think I should do on a
poster, they always say "a still life." I don't know what it is! It's funny
coming from playwrights, who after all are writing plays with people talking, moving and
everything else. I think that for them, they may see the poster as highly metaphorical, so
it should go off on some kind of tangent.
At the time that I did the Comedians poster, there were really three kinds of
posters going on. The first kind, the one that you saw most in The New York Times and
around town was a kind of junky, terrible poster that had obviously been designed by the
producer. [audience laughter] The other kind were very flat posters, like the Equus poster,
and a lot of people were feeling at that point that this was the way that posters ought to
go, because it seemed very modern. It seemed cutting-edge to do a poster that was
extremely abstract. And the other kind were Paul Davis' posters, which were - I mean there
certainly were exceptions to this, but they were mostly heads or quite cropped figures. So
I was, in a way, going in a rather different direction at that point, to include so much
of the figure. Because it was sort of a given about graphic design during those years:
"come in tight," you know, "crop it, make it big!" Everything had to
have a lot of scale, and so to move back and see more of the figure seemed very
My second poster for Lincoln Center Theater was for The Front Page, and I had this
idea of a guy turning on a desk and screaming into a phone, the whole idea was a kind of
violation, that the guy was not at his own desk, and being very aggressive. And Jerry
Zaks, the director, was helping me at the photo shoot with Ed Lauter, the wonderful
character actor who was my model.
When Jerry arrived at my studio and we were going to take the photograph, he said,
"Jim, we don't need all this body! Just the guy screaming into the phone is enough.
Just crop into his face and the phone." And I said no, I don't want to do it that
Not to say that I won't at some point paint just a head, but I get so much from how people
sit, the way I'm sitting right now, the way you're all sitting, the way people use their
arms, the way they bring their hands to their face: everything says so much. My instinct's
always to get enough of the body, so that in a sense, the head becomes part of something
bigger: some personality or character that is bigger than just the head alone.
It's all a matter of taste, but I'm very happy that the first theater poster I did, I
listened to that instinct, because after all, I had nothing to back me up, I had never
done a theater poster before. Certainly Alexander Cohen could've said, "Jim, we need
you to come in close. We need more scale than what you're doing."
TC: I'm looking at this early sketch of Comedians [holding up the sketch in
the book], which was very presentational, almost still. And this was... [to audience] I'm
not sure if you can see it from far away.
JM: That was the book jacket idea.
TC: ...the one that was rejected. This book is wonderful in that it shows you the
progress of the poster. And you went from this sort of very still, very straight-up image,
to this very animated, sort of bent-over, one knee up, hitting-the-knee-with-the-arm
movement. It's a real move forward, I think, in terms of the idea of what a theater poster
should depict. So what you're creating essentially is a snapshot of action that somehow
gets us into the play.
JM: That second poster image actually came out of a still from the London
production, which is a little bit unusual for me, because I don't usually use other
people's photographs as a basis. At least not now I don't. Also, if you look at the book,
you'll see that I put him in different clothes, in a different haircut... I changed a
great deal. And I had a conception on this one that helped me a lot, which is that I
suddenly saw him as a bird, and that changed everything. That was really what was behind
that conception, feeling him as this kind of pecking bird. It's a very interesting, very
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Are most of the posters that I see around Lincoln Center yours?
TC: Yes... Jim has done about-what?-30 posters for us now...
AM #1: [He indicates large poster behind TC] Could you tell us a bit about how you
went about making the Carousel poster...[the rest of the question is inaudible on
TC: I'm just going to repeat the question, in case people can't hear you in the
back: You're asking about the process Jim goes through to develop a poster, and how the
feeling of the poster developed for Carousel?
AM #1: In it, you have a rather hostile and energetic man...
TC: I want to interject that, from our point of view as the producer of the play,
the impulse to do a 'typical' Carousel image was swatted away very quickly. I think
a lot of productions of Carousel have posters that are sort of sweet, romantic,
with two people embracing. But we came to Jim with a different approach.
JM: [chuckles] Tom is making it into a nice short story, it is actually quite a
long story, attached to that part of it. But just to answer your question here: I started
with the idea that it was to be a dark version of this play. Even though the story is
pretty dark, it had always been produced in a way to submerge the darkness.
And in this production, the dark story was allowed to come up and really propel the whole
thing. And a lot of the darkness comes out of the central character, Billy Bigelow, being
a kind of Clinton-esque, good-and-bad person, always struggling with this duality of
having certain impulses which are very dark, and in the play he murders someone, but also
being full of love for the young ingenue in the play.
I began to think about this duality, and I have to confess that my first thought about it
was kind of corny, and as I worked on it I realized it wasn't right. My first thought was
to have the guy straddling two Carousel horses, but I thought I was going to do
them one white and one black. I was literally telling the story of this duality.
But as is so many times the case, as I begin to actually sketch and paint and work with my
idea, what works visually becomes paramount. The idea of the white and black horses was
destructive of the actual physical look of the poster, so I abandoned it. And the two
horses became green.
But I still felt the idea of straddling the horses, the sort of difficulty involved in
straddling two horses at once, was right, so there remains this idea of a struggle. And
then I used the idea of this very theatrical underlighting to lend it a kind of cheesy
drama. [laughter] Well, I think of a carousel as having just that.
[To AM #1] I don't know if I've really answered your question, but an idea is the
beginning point for me, and then what kind of paint is used... Like in the case of these
horses, I sort of invented for myself a calligraphic, transparent watercolor. And into
that, while it was still wet, I painted heavy gouache paint. Just the idea of that
heaviness, and in a sense the kind of softness it created, was as important to me as the
There's always a dumb way to do the idea, and I always find that dumb way to do the idea.
[laughter] Most of the time, at least, I find a way past it. Which was the case here, I
think. In the book, in fact, I do reveal quite a few dumb pieces of art.
TC: And some wonderful variations... but of course, we can't use them all. There's
an interesting side note about this poster - actually, there are a few stories like this.
Because the poster is done ahead of time, before the play is even in rehearsal, we have to
pick moments or ideas from the script which we think are important. And then, the play
Sometimes, the poster image works its way into the brains of the artists during rehearsal.
In this particular instance, Nick Hytner, the director of Carousel, so loved the
poster image that he added this moment to the production, with the young man straddling
the horses. Actually, it was not Billy Bigelow, but the sort-of "dream" Billy
Bigelow from the ballet sequence. So he added a moment where the dancer enters, climbing
on two Carousel horses and holds the poles as the figure does in the poster.
And that happened also in Anything Goes. Jim's famous poster image of the woman
sort of looking over her shoulder on the railing of a cruise ship was added to the
production because Jerry Zaks was so enamored of that moment.
JM: I'm a director, too! [laughter]
AM #2: Did you have a model for Anything Goes?
JM: I did. But it is a kind of amalgam - I had a friend, Piper Smith, who I took
out on the Staten Island Ferry, and [laughs] you know, the Staten Island Ferry was
unbelievably ugly. I had a memory of it as being kind of '40s and charming, but there were
many years intervening since I'd seen it that way, and the new Staten Island Ferry has no
charm at all. In any case, I did photograph her there.
And then, I actually photographed my wife later on, because there were some things about
the clothing that weren't right in my first model, and some things about the light. So,
people that know my wife think it's her, and people that know Piper Smith are convinced
it's her, so it was a kind of amalgam. I'm not very good at portraits, actually, I have to
confess. Partly because I'm not very interested in them. So it's very fortunate that
Lincoln Center doesn't put a great deal of emphasis on that aspect.
AM #2: Maybe I'm not thinking right, but were there two versions?
TC: Yes, they're both in the book.
AM #2: I thought so! And she was face forward in one of them?
JM: Yes. What a good memory you have!
AM #2: That's my favorite poster.
JM: Which one, the second one?
AM #2: No, the first one.
TC: [holding up the book] This is the first one. It's also the image on the cover,
the one with her back to us. And here's the second version.
JM: [laughing] You can tell by the size I reproduced it that I don't like it as
TC: In the second one, the title treatment worked better, I think. [JM shakes his
head.] No? At the time, I thought you preferred the second title treatment.
JM: We've done second versions of posters...
TC: ...only a few times. For Six Degrees of Separation, it was actually a
very dramatic change. Let's see if I can find it [leafs through book]. This was the
original poster for Six Degrees. And here's the second version when the play moved
upstairs. A whole different idea. Do you want to talk about the reason for that change?
JM: I actually am not comfortable with telling that story, because I heard it
TC: In any case, I think it's unusual for there to be a second generation of a
poster. Normally, you want to "invest" in one image that's going to be the image
of the show, so that people will always remember that's the image of the show.
AM #2: Anything Goes is also very in-your-face, very "right
JM: Well, Anything Goes sort of brings up another aspect of part of my
decision-making, I guess you should call it. At a certain point, a certain texture will
occur to me as being appropriate for the kind of image that I'm trying to make for that
play. In the case of Anything Goes it was sort of flat. I mean, I think I was
thinking of the Thirties, I was thinking of a kind of elegance, a linearity. Whereas with
this one, [gesturing to Carousel], there's a certain heaviness in it. It was always
in my mind, that everything's heavy.
The other poster that's not up here, where the heaviness of the image was very important
to me, was A Delicate Balance, the Edward Albee play. And there I was playing with
a light, airy background and then the figures in the foreground were like stones that had
been dropped into this interior. Which is how I felt about the play. I mean, I love the
play, but I felt that these people were just immobilized in their particular psychological
condition and relationship to one another.
My first thought on it was actually that they were isolated, and in a way I still prefer
that, where the figures are kind of spread out. When I showed Edward Albee the sketch, he
said, "Okay, I buy your concept." Oh, but the first idea he had was, "Why
don't you do an ashtray?" [laughter]
TC: By the way, the poster they used when they did the play in London recently was
the shadow of a cat cast against an empty white field. A whole other direction, like the
JM: My feeling about posters - and I think I've made this mistake occasionally - is
not to try to get too clever with the concept of the poster. If you try to say too much,
if you try to be too metaphorical, if you try to make it too much of an intellectual game,
it probably complicates the poster too much. And it sets up the wrong kind of tension in
the viewer's mind.
I think when my posters are more successful is when they're fairly simple, and emotionally
very direct. For instance, Carousel is a much better poster than A New Brain.
I was trying to tell a very complex story with A New Brain. I mean, I don't hate
the poster, but it's an example of what I'm talking about. It's when I feel, "Oh my
God, I've got to bring in all of these aspects of the play", and try to be very
clever about it all.
I think sometimes I sort of get beyond myself and certainly with the poster for the second
Six Degrees - well, both Six Degrees posters are examples of what I should
be doing. It's something extremely simple which I feel very strongly about. That guy
sitting in the chair I felt very strongly about, I knew exactly how I felt about that guy.
So as I drew him, as I worked on that poster, it always had a very clear emotional focus
And when I did the second version, it was the same thing. You know, I felt about the woman
that she was a kind of cerebral lover of the young black guy, she was sort of a mother
figure but also terribly entangled with him. I don't know if those of you who saw Six
Degrees would agree with me. But that was certainly the focus in my mind as I painted
that picture, that was the relationship. And he had a kind of... not a neutrality, but he
was hard to read. He was holding his cards close to his chest, but at the same time he was
very vulnerable. I'm not sure I got all of these things in the poster, but I guess my
point here is that: If the emotional feeling about the figure is strong enough, the figure
doesn't have to do very much. It doesn't have to explain very much action. That's my
philosophy, in a nutshell, of poster-making. I suppose it's a more complicated, but
nevertheless, I am very clear about that.
TC: Are there any more questions from you in the house? Sir?
AM #3: [inaudible on tape]
TC: For those of you who didn't hear the question in the back, he's saying that
when he sees a painting like this [indicating the Twelfth Night poster behind JM]
with the arms reaching out, he thinks of the famous Michelangelo image, and he's wondering
if Jim is influenced by other painters or themes...
JM: Well, I decided tonight to actually tell a story on myself about the poster for
Twelfth Night. Usually when I'm working on a poster I have enough time, and things
go in a very civilized kind of way, between when I get the script and when I deliver the
artwork. But because the poster for Parade was happening at the same time as Twelfth
Night was happening, and there was a lot of contention with Parade - I had done many,
many pieces of art for Parade - I was terribly late on Twelfth Night.
So late, in fact, that I ended up on a weekend that if I did not get art to Lincoln Center
Theater on the next Monday, they would miss their New York Times opening ad date.
And something would have to be thrown together by the advertising agency, and that would
end up being the poster. Basically, it was a hopeless situation, and on Saturday I had to
finish up some work on Parade. So Sunday morning, I wake up and I realize I've got
this one day to do it. So it's hopeless. I can't do it.
But I was working in Sag Harbor, and I had taken out to the country a book on William
Blake, an artist I'm just crazy about. And so I'm at my table, looking through the Blake,
and there is an image of a figure hanging off a rock, and his arm extending downwards
towards more rocks. And I just began playing with it, and I did this little painting. I
mean, it's in my mind that I want an androgynous figure, I want water, I want the idea of
twinship. So I kind of built it into the image, and I showed it to my wife Kate after I'm
done. I said, "I really like this little painting," and she said, "Jim, I
love it. But there's no way that Lincoln Center Theater is ever going to buy this as the
poster. I mean, you were given instructions that you had to incorporate the Persian motif,
and who would understand this was about twins..." Well, lucky for me....
Okay, so then I also did some other drawings. "I'm gonna miss your deadline, but I'll
send over drawings of what I might do if you can somehow get me more time." I sent
over the drawings in the morning, which were much more logical drawings about twins and
Shakespeare and so forth, and I didn't hear anything from Lincoln Center - which usually
means they're not terribly enthusiastic about whatever it was that I sent over there.
TC: Hey, we're busy people here! [laughter]
JM: So in the middle of the afternoon, I sent over this painting, just thinking
"What the hell. Everything is lost at this point." And apparently - Tom will
correct me if this is not the way it happened, but apparently it was lying on somebody's
desk, my little painting. And Nicholas Hytner walks in, sees the painting, and says,
"that's it!" And from then on, it was the image of that show.
TC: One little note to add: when your envelope came, we opened it right away, thank
you very much, and we all loved it. It was a no-brainer: we all looked at it and said,
"Yes! That's it." It's sort of like pornography: "you know it when you see
it." [audience laughter] But we had thought, well, it's kind of 'out there', maybe
Nick won't like it. And then he walked in from a break in rehearsals, and he said
"Yes! Absolutely, that's it, perfect, don't change anything." Which is saying
quite a lot, because Nick is a perfectionist, and could have easily said, "Yes, but
could you make it more this way" or "change the hair" or whatever.
JM: Actually, both times I've worked with Nicholas, he's been extremely clear and
immediate in his responses. I mean it doesn't seem to me that he's a fusser, personally.
So this is the first time I have acknowledged that one of my posters was based on another
artist's work. And I did get a letter from the president of the William Blake Society of
America [laughter], saying: "I believe that your poster for Twelfth Night was
based on..." And he named, I can't remember the title of the painting. And I wrote
back to him and I said yes. And he wrote back to me and said, "May I publish this in
the newsletter?" And I said no! [more laughter]
TC: So now it's known for all time.
AM #4: When did your association with Lincoln Center Theater begin?
And how did that happen?
JM: Well, it happened in sort of a strange way. I was doing posters for Alexander
Cohen. And I was basically getting along pretty well with Alex, I'd done five posters for
him. And then he hired Bernard Gersten. So Bernie was working for him, and I was working
on a poster for a play called Play Memory. And it was terrible! I mean, I had a
terrible time, Bernie's was turning down everything and really giving me a hard time! So I
stopped working for Alexander Cohen as a result of this. Maybe Alex would say he fired me
- in my mind I fired him!
In any case, years later, Bernie was at Lincoln Center Theater and they have a concept for
John Guare's play, The House of Blue Leaves, and the concept is to show John
Mahoney pounding on the piano. So Bernie remembered my Comedians poster and was
trying to think of people who could do kind of a physical poster, and he said "Let's
call Jim." So they did, and I did that one poster, and then I did a second poster and
It's rather an odd thing, but Gregory Mosher, who was the Director of Lincoln Center
Theater at that time, was really against the idea of using one artist many times. One of
the things I said to Greg was, it would be no problem for me to make the posters seem
quite different. Because the truth is that it gets very hard for me to make two pieces of
art the same. I seem to be incapable of doing that. So we sort of went along on that
basis: "Okay, you can do another one, as long as it doesn't look like the other one
you did for us." I think we got to three posters, and then I guess it was [then board
Chairman] John Lindsay, who was for the idea that I should do more posters. I mean, I
don't do all the posters. For example, Far East is not my poster, but I guess I do
about half of them.
AM #2: Can I ask one more? Can you talk a little bit about the collage?
[She is asking about a mural located in the street level entrance of the Vivian Beaumont
TC: You mean downstairs? Well, it incorporates parts of Jim's work, but...
JM: I had nothing to do with it! [audience laughter]
TC: Oh, be nice. People really like that mural. [To AM #2] It was put together by
our advertising agency. It includes images from Jim's posters and other LCT posters as
well as photographs from the productions we've done here.
JM: And it replaced a mural I did. By hand! [laughter]
AM #2: Well, then I don't like it! [more laughter]
JM: I'm beginning to feel that the computer is my enemy, because it's capable of
this facile way of combining things which, from my mind, is often not very artistic. But
that's just a personal point of view. I don't use the computer in my work, as you could
probably figure out.
TC: Are there any other questions from the house? Yes, ma'am.
AM #5: Who owns the copyrights to your work?
JM: I think I do.
TC: I know you do! [to the audience] We just borrow them.
JM: Is there a further point to your question?
TC: It's unusual, actually, that he should own the copyright. When most artists
make a poster for a show, it's then owned by the production. But it's consistent with our
philosophy here, just as we don't take any subsidiary rights from playwrights. It's part
and parcel of our belief that artists should hold onto what they create.
JM: If Lincoln Center Theater were actually owner of the copyright of my work, I
would have to, in effect, sign a work-for-hire contract, which I would not do. So that's
the other part of it. We've never discussed this, it's the first time it's ever come up,
because it's gone swimmingly so far.
AM #6: Have you always loved the theater?
JM: Yeah, I even tried to write plays at one point in my life.
TC: Jim, do you want to talk about the next thing you're doing for us? Or is it too
JM: Well, it's a little premature.
TC: Well, maybe you could talk about how you are going to approach it.
JM: The next poster is for Jean Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. It's a
strange play, I mean it's an Anouilh play, and he wrote in a highly theatrical way. And
it's about twin men, who in the play are played by one actor, and there is very little
attempt to disguise the fact there's one actor constantly changing roles between these
I'm trying to think of a way to represent one of the twins as a kind of manipulator.
That's a pejorative kind of word, and I don't mean it pejoratively, but he's a stage
manager of other people's lives, in a way, who eventually of course gets stage managed
himself. I haven't actually come up with a way of doing it.
TC: But Jim, the Times deadline is coming up!...[laughter] Just to fill the
process out, you've read the play obviously...
JM: I've read it three times now. And I have spoken with Gerry Gutierrez, the
director. I've spoken briefly to André Bishop [LCT's Artistic Director]. Obviously, I
haven't spoken with Jean Anouilh [laughter].
TC: He's not available! Actually, is it better or worse for you when the playwright
JM: Well, John Guare has been very helpful - I think of two instances where the
playwright has actually been very helpful... John Guare being one of them. He came up with
the idea of doing a portrait of the young black boy as a charmer, which was such a
brilliant concept and one that I could really share.
The other person that's helped me a lot - well, I shouldn't say a lot, but he gave me a
key which was helpful to Arcadia, was Tom Stoppard. So it really depends. Other
playwrights have phoned me many, many, many times [laughter] and tried to hold my hand as
The wonderful thing about Lincoln Center Theater is there is no art director. It makes it
all possible. It really does. All of the discussions that we have are really about the
meaning of the play. Wouldn't you agree?
TC: Absolutely. Besides, I think posters that are done by committee are never good
posters. It's been such a happy experience for us with Jim because we trust him, we trust
his instinct. Often times he'll say, you know, "Just live with it. You may not be
comfortable with it right away, but you'll come to love it. It's right." And 99% of
the time, he is right. We don't always see it right away, but it's his remarkable ability
to understand the play - even before some others of us can do that.
The playwright Jon Robin Baitz, who has had quite a lot of success in his career, has said
that he felt he had finally arrived in the theater when one of his plays had a Jim
McMullan poster! I think that you've become a new benchmark for the theater, "to have
a McMullan poster". It is quite a thrill.
JM: I have to say, I mean it's a corny thing to say, but the whole sense of
community here, not just with the people like Tom that I work with all the time, but the
idea that when the production gets started and I've done the poster, and the poster I
think at least some of the time helps to cohere the sense that we're all working on one
thing. That very familial sense has been wonderful, and I'm just so happy to be a part of
A young illustrator came up to me the other day and said, "How do I get to do Lincoln
Center Theater posters?" And I said, "First of all, you kill me!"
[laughter] What amazed me about the question was.... I mean, I have the best job for an
artist of my ilk in the whole United States. This is an amazing opportunity, and for this
kid to think, "there's a certain 800 number you can call [more laughter] and you get
to do a poster." Anyway, I certainly feel like an extraordinarily fortunate person to
be dealing with Tom and everyone else at Lincoln Center Theater.
TC: And we feel extremely fortunate to have you in our lives... and here tonight.
Unfortunately, we have to stop, because Parade is about to begin in a few minutes.
But I'd like to thank you so much, Jim, for coming here tonight [audience applause] and
thanks to all of you for coming here, too!