For Keith J. Rainville, what began as a two-week graphic design gig at LA Opera (which he took instead of going to San Diego Comic Con) has morphed into a 13-year career as the company’s in house designer and brand manager. Rainville oversees and creates LA Opera’s marketing materials and has been instrumental in crafting the company’s cinematic style—a look often inspired by his lifelong love of classic film, 1960s television shows, and vintage horror.
“I was a kid in 1970s New England,” says Rainville. “We had a good five month winter and since I couldn’t go outside, I spent my days watching TV. Back then, pre-cable, you were a victim of whatever was on. I was lucky to have really good channels out of Boston that syndicated a lot of old 1960s TV shows. As a kid, I never quite understood what was new and what was old. I thought a ten year old rerun of Lost in Space was just as contemporary as Star Wars,” recalls Rainville. He continues, “My earliest memories of connecting with graphic design and typography were credit sequences for shows like Wild, Wild West and Bewitched. It was a great time for those credit sequences, most of which were animated, and I used to love those more than the shows.”
Those early experiences of watching 1960s TV shows, as well as Japanese monster movies, moody black-and-white Universal and later garishly hued Hammer classic horror films, still inspire Rainville to this day, particularly in his marketing designs for LA Opera’s more outré productions. “If you ever want to look at key art and say, ‘That’s a Keith Rainville design,’ look at our Lohengrin, Hercules vs. Vampires, and Nosferatu campaigns,” says Rainville. Those campaigns (see below) are 1960s inspired, full of loud colors, and eye-catching graphics. Of this, Rainville says, “Marketing is a blunt force instrument. You have to grab people’s collars and get their attention, and nothing does that more than garish color and large graphics.”
The company’s marketing certainly does grab attention. When asked how he defines the LA Opera brand, Rainville says that there are two ways to look at it—within the context of other opera companies and within the context of other Los Angeles organizations vying for Angelenos’ (and tourist’s) attention. “You can look at 20 opera posters from 20 different companies from around the world, and if you didn’t see the logo, you could definitely tell which one was LA Opera’s poster,” says Rainville. What makes LA Opera’s artwork stand out? It’s the key art.
When it comes to appealing to Angelenos, the company markets its operas like films—another reason why Rainville’s designs are so cinematic. Of this direction, Rainville says, “In our constant effort to demystify opera and make it more accessible to audiences, we actively try to place opera in a context that is familiar to people in Los Angeles.” In Hollywood, that means movies. The company has always had a close relationship with Hollywood and film. Rainville continues, “If our look resembles the film and television marketing and advertisements people are used to seeing in LA, then it is much less of a leap to buy that first opera ticket. This is one of the reasons why we do so well attracting newcomers to the opera, which is critical in LA, because you’re inundated with choices of what to do here.”
However, when Rainville, or one of the Hollywood agencies LA Opera employs, is creating key art for a production, the first question asked is not “How can we make this look like a film poster?” First and foremost, they distill the spirit of each production and find an emotional core for it. “People want an emotional connection,” says Rainville. “Once you’ve discovered what that emotional connection is with the character, whether it’s an emperor about to get assassinated, or a young lover who’s been scorned, or a vengeful bride, find who he is, find what she is, find what the audience will connect with. Then after that it’s a matter of style, color, etc.”
For example, Rainville’s designs for the upcoming production of anatomy theater centers on the human body. This is because the opera is all about searching for evil in the human body and includes a public dissection. Rainville made the body central to his designs for the anatomy theater key art. Yet, to neutralize the gender, Rainville used the image of a skeleton in place of an actual flesh and blood body. He then surrounded the skeleton with images of centuries old medical implements to add a sense of mystery and ominousness to the design.
Rainville did not want to overly terrify his audience with images of dissection and medical implements.
“We aren’t marketing Penny Dreadful or Saw, so you don’t want to go with the heavy black, red, and silver color pallets,” says Rainville. Despite his love of vintage horror, his designs for anatomy theater are cinematic, but more eerie than gratuitously horrific. “The bright red and bright green on the anatomy theater poster doesn’t say horror movie; it says edgy,” explains Rainville. “You might not think that all of these things – the skeleton, the medical implements, and the bright color palette – work well together, but they make you think and ask, ‘what is that?’ Catching people’s eye and making them go ‘wow, what is that’ is not only the point of the show itself, but also the point of the company’s Off Grand series.”
Although this season is ending, Rainville still keeps busy preparing materials for next season. Rainville is excited for the fall and all the productions the 16/17 season has to offer. But, thanks to his role as the company’s brand manager and designer, he is always months ahead of whatever is currently on the stage. By October, Rainville will already be working on how he can make early designs for the 17/18 season cinematic.