Cartoonist John Crossen branches out into theatre

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Just where does a cartoonist end up once he hangs up his speech balloons?  If you’re John Crossen you end up as the video and animation designer for Chairs: A Parable, the newest play from ITSAZOO Productions.

Chairs: A ParableCartoonist for Vancouver LGBT bi-weekly Xtra West, Crossen stopped drawing for the newspaper last year and has focused on working less, volunteering more and even finding a little time to teach at Capilano University.  Visitors to GayVancouver.Net will probably also recognize his name as being responsible for the Crossen Cartoons featured here each month.

Most recently though Crossen has also found himself as part of the ITSAZOO production of Chairs: A Parable, the latest work from local playwright Sebastien Archibald. Playing the Neanderthal Arts Festival later this month, the play features features a unique blend of live action, Flash animation and found-sound musicscape.

It is in the Flash animation that Crossen found himself immersed: designing animated rolling hills, changing seasons, weather and even a few birds that become the background for the story.

“The animation is a constant behind the actors,” explained Crossen.  “At times the actors even walk off stage and then become characters on screen”.

Opening a new avenue for his art, Crossen says that he was especially impressed by the passion that the team at ITSAZOO Productions has for their own: “these kids are amazingly industrious, they do it all with a serious passion that I liked.”

Working with Director Chelsea Haberlin, Crossen said that the process of designing the Flash background was a pretty straight-forward creative, if less-than-straight-forward technological, process.

“Chelsea basically said to me ‘this is our play and this is what we want’.  She was aware of how I drew and my style so that part was easy.  It was back and forth a few times but she was happy with everything that I came up with.”

But while the creative process in Flash may have been relatively simple, Crossen said the technologies to transfer it to the large format needed to be project them on the digital projector used in the show was a bit more challenging.  Another challenge was in timing it between the live action and animation.

“As the play was tweaked so were the animations,” explained Crossen. “I would then need to re-work the animations somewhat to match the timing for the live action sequences and then transfer the Flash back into the necessary QuickTime format.”

Crossen, who also designs websites, likened the process to one of his web customers: “making the website is the easy part, dealing with the customer afterwards is the more difficult part,” he laughed.

But then what’s art without a little pain.

Chairs: A Parable
The Cultch (Part of the Neanderthal Arts Festival)
22 – 31 July 2011

Drawing inspiration from the theatrical existentialism of Samuel Beckett and serving it up for the sardonic hipster generation, Chairs: A Parable follows the trials and tribulations of three men as they attempt to build a civilized existence for themselves in a barren wasteland. They enjoy a hilariously uneventful life until one man steps forward and does the unthinkable … he builds a giant chair! Presented as part of the Neanderthal Arts Festival.  Visit for more information.

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