Friday, December 19, 2014

'Knuffle Bunny' - The Art Behind Bringing a Book to Stage

Behind the Scenes with Julia Lavigne

By Bonnie Lavigne

Julia Lavigne surrounded by her stage creations for 'Knuffle Bunny'

It wasn’t long after Julia Lavigne had returned to the area from art school in Savannah, Ga. that her talents were eagerly sought out by Slidell Little Theatre, first as a poster artist and then as a set designer.

“Julia was among the several artists who volunteered to design a main stage show poster for Slidell Little Theatre,” says Don Redman, SLT’s Vice President of Marketing. “Her credentials and sample pieces alone sold me, but the fact that she’s been with Slidell Little Theatre for years sealed the deal.”

Julia is a native of Slidell and has appeared on stage at Slidell Little Theatre in several YATS and main stage productions over the years. She graduated in 2013 from Savannah College of Arts and Design, with a BFA in Illustration and Communication Design. She currently lives in New Orleans where she is a freelance illustrator and private teacher. When time allows, she eagerly gives back to the community. “In my spare time, I like to volunteer with local organizations like Big Class and Slidell Little Theatre,” she says.

Julia was asked to design the poster for the Christmas show this season, A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.

“I loved her work so much, I asked her if she would be willing to design our poster for Knuffle Bunny, a production of our Theatre for Young Audiences,” says Redman. “I later got a call from Josh St. Cyr asking me if I had someone to design a poster. I told him Julia was doing it and he just lit up. I think I gave him an idea.”

“I was first approached by Slidell Little Theatre last June to design the poster for the show,” she says, “a month later, the director for Knuffle Bunny, Josh St. Cyr, approached me about managing the set design and I couldn’t say no because I love this story so much.”

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is based off of the popular children’s book, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems.

In the children’s book, the people are illustrated and the backgrounds are real photographs of Brooklyn, New York. Julia did not want to use the same illustrations as the book, so she decided to use her own artistic style and voice for the set design.

1. Lavigne's drawing of the neighborhood block near the laundromat
2. The inspiration page from Knuffle Bunny; 3. The fantastic fight with
boxer shorts to rescue Knuffle; 4. Julia's conceptual drawing of the
laundromat; 5. Dad and Trixie (Josh St. Cyr and Cara Duffaut)
washing clothes in Julia's 3-D art laundromat. 

Julia explained that she used various photos on the website Pinterest to get ideas on how she would illustrate the shop fronts, houses and other Brooklyn scenes. She used two screens that stayed on stage the entire show, which showed her illustrated background scenes.
Top: Julia's drawings projected onto screens from the rear to reflect the
neighborhood where Trixie and Knuffle Bunny live. The drawings were
inspired by Julia's research of typical Brooklyn neighborhoods (bottom)

Julia's images of the laundromat and cityscapes (left) were
projected onto screens onstage (right) seen here from the
back of the stage looking out toward the audience.

Another aspect Julia used to keep the same “children-friendly” theme was to make props with lots of color that looked 3-Dimensional. “We used cardboard and foam for the set pieces and props. All were cut out with a knife, painted white, and then I used those awesome bright colors for accents, so they would match the digital set.”

The making of the firetruck. Bottom left, Julia put final touches
to the paint job before assembling.

The actors carried all of the fun-sized set pieces on and off stage, so the materials used were light and easy to maneuver.

Large boxers used in the dryer fight scene.
("worn by" Mikey Willman)

Light cardboard firetruck "driven" by John Fitzpatrick.

“Julia’s creations were truly stars of the show,” says Josh St. Cyr. “Our community may not know how lucky we are to have a professional artist who grew up in the Slidell Little Theatre come back and lend such amazing talents to the children’s program.”

Julia's poster design for the play.

A behind-the-scenes look at Julia’s creation of the “Redneck Christmas” poster can be found here.

Julia lives on the web at

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