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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

Blog

Heath Saunders & the Great Letters of 2016

Jackson Cline

Great Comet ensemblist Heath Saunders' prop letters are taking Instagram by storm. We were blown away by his beautiful illustrations and asked him to share some of his inspirations for our blog:

 

 

The letters have been a thing in Great Comet since its original Ars Nova production, and they’ve provided these little letter cards and ballpoint pens for people to write with. 

Down the hall from the men’s ensemble dressing room is Nick Belton, Paul Pinto, and Scott Stangland (Andrey, Balaga, and Pierre Standby, respectively), and they started doing these beautiful letters, constantly trying to outdo each other. At first, we were all like, "Dude, those are out of control, none of us can do anything like that," — not to mention, they kept one-upping each other by bringing in different tools. It started with really nice pencils, pens, different colors, markers, watercolors; Scott even started tangentially learning scrimshaw (which is LITERALLY WHALE BONE ETCHING). All the while, I was doing little cartoons of beavers as one of my letters, just little cute line drawings from my head, and calling that good. Always with the ballpoint pen.

I was annoyed, though, because my cartoon beavers tended to look to me like squirrels (Side note: The trick is really in the head and tail shape, not the teeth, which is what I had originally assumed.), so one day between shows, I decided to look up pictures of real beavers.

Much to my shock, they’re crazy looking creatures. At first, I tried to alter my cartoon beaver to read more beaver-like, but that sort of failed, so eventually, I just drew the picture based on the picture. A direct copy in ballpoint pen.

Well, that’s when I discovered I have a really cool skill, which is drawing whatever picture I’m looking at. Since then, I’ve been putting that skill to the test with different crazy photos and images, different amounts of complexity and simplicity, different pictures and blah blah blah.

But I always do them in ballpoint pen.

And thus my Instagram was taken over by these photos, and my style has gotten more and more consistent, and anyway, it’s just fun, so this is what I do with my downtime between shows.

beaver

So this beaver was my first “intense” illustration attempt. Looking back on it now, I already find it wildly underwhelming, but it’s sort of cool to see how I’ve evolved — for example, I don’t do text-art in the illustration letter anymore. I shoot for the text to be as simple as possible and just in my normal handwriting. The other sign of its early-letter status is the caption came first. I had the caption and drew a beaver to fill it in.

chess pieces

This day, I wanted to try something still-life-y. “chess pieces” seemed like something that might create a fun love note, so… Also, my cast mate Alex Gibson has become my go-to caption dude in the downstairs gondola— After I finish an illustration, I’ll often give it to him, and we’ll come up with captions together. If it’s ALL HIM, I’ll credit him on the Insta pic. This caption was all him.

hot air balloon

I really loved hot air balloons as a kid, so there was that, but also, hot air balloons are really fun in perspective — those curved lines make for some interesting challenges, especially because I don’t sketch anything out with pencil first. I’m working exclusively in pen! This caption, though... it seemed so obvious to me, it had to happen.

pie

Sara Bareilles was at our show — often, when celebrities come, stage management will go to the cast member whose letter-giving path takes them near to that celebrity and request that they’re given a letter. When Sara Bareilles was here, it was unclear whose path was actually most accessible to her, so there was a miscommunication, and two of us were told to prep a letter for her. The pie thing seemed obvious to me, AND THEN IT TURNS OUT THEY DECIDED TO GO WITH THE OTHER PERSON, so I just had a picture of a pie that I needed to make a non-Sara-specific caption for.

puzzle piece

This is one of my favorite illustrations. There’s something so charming about the little nonspecific cartoon dude, although I do regret a little not giving him my man bun. I just love the whimsy of it all. I think this one is closest to my real life personality in a weird way. It just fits! #wowsorryaboutthat