Nov 21, 2011|
Creating Brands, and Art
By Douglas P. Clement
Kevin Sprague at his business, Studio Two, in Lenox, Mass. Photo by Laurie Gaboardi.
What Kevin Sprague does not possess are the equivocal traits of the Shakesperean protagonist Hamlet, characteristics that may make for gripping drama but ultimately leave those who are able to order the world around them through bold actions frustrated.
It’s perhaps not coincidental that Mr. Sprague has found a principal and longtime client in Shakespeare & Company, the gem of a theater troupe whose ascension has roughly paralleled that of the creative thinker the troupe engaged to help build its brand and present it to the world through visually arresting images.
Largely for lack of fear, or equivocation, Mr. Sprague turned an unlikely start after college into a process that resulted in sculpting himself into “a strategic marketing consultant who works with organizations to create compelling methods of communicating, defining, and expressing their core values and products.”
His business, Studio Two, continues to grow and prosper, and in July it stretched out and relocated to a stylish space on Church Street in Lenox, Mass., above the equally stylish Café Zinc. Again, there is no coincidence, as the European-feeling café received Mr. Sprague’s branding touch even before it opened.
Other clients of Studio Two include a Berkshires best of the best in varying categories: Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Berkshire Natural Resources Council, SoCo Creamery, Berkshire International Film Festival, The Mount, the Normal Rockwell Museum, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace and couture knitter Catherine Lowe, among others.
While Mr. Sprague and his team—Heather Rose, a native of the Berkshires, Christine Cooney, the senior Web designer, Amanda Bettis and Kaitlyn Squires—have managed to thrive in a place known to bury many shops and businesses after a couple or few mean seasons (winter), he is hardly content to stop there.
As a result, he becomes difficult to define, to pin down. If that seems ironic, given that Studio Two’s mission is to present clients in a rich but simple and clear way, the opposite is true. It becomes clear over the course of a leisurely and delicious lunch at Café Zinc that Mr. Sprague fares so well at branding and marketing because he refuses to compartmentalize.
Instead, he brings the fullness of his life experience to each project, and he passionately broadens his experience through creative projects that are deeply personal but also sometimes marry his professional and personal pursuits.
One of the results is a book on his work for Shakespeare & Company, the leading regional theater for which he began working in 1994, when it offered a roughly six-week festival. Today, Shakespeare & Co. is a year-round operation that has a full-time staff of 40, a multi-million dollar budget and audiences that reach 40,000 a year.
In chronicling the experience on his Web site, Mr. Sprague is not trying to take undue credit for the growth. Yet, in an industry in which photographs and packaging don’t always do much to sell a show, Mr. Sprague’s imagery for Shakespeare & Co. packs a punch that seems unrivaled.
It also led to one of his ancillary projects, the book “Imaging Shakespeare,” which collects many of those images and offers a peek into the creative process. The book itself is another example of Mr. Sprague’s inventiveness and refusal to be bound by established protocol.
Instead of taking his concept and following the traditional agent-publisher model, Mr. Sprague turned to one of the publishing-on-demand models he admires for breaking down a hierarchy that divides the world into insiders and outsiders, often with no defensible explanation of who is on which side of the line—except the potential to bring in money, of course.
Armed with his vision for the book about Shakespeare & Company, he sourced a feasible printing estimate and ran a Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,000 in 90 days; people were essentially pre-buying their copy of the book. In the end, a couple thousand copies were printed.
A series of artistic works came together in a different way. Mr. Sprague had been photographing dried flowers for a local botanical garden, and then the self-professed computer geek began marrying those photos with images and text on antique postcards, envelopes and other elements. The haunting images that result, he wrote in a blog entry, “evoke for me a kind of memory, or fragment of time.”
Memories, fragments of time and qualities of the immortal combine in another, more ambitious project of Mr. Sprague’s. It’s another published-on-demand book, this one enclosed in an unmarked black cover, which opens to a title page that says “Muse” in tiny type in one corner.
The photographic novel is his most personal project, and the multi-media narrative tells the tale of an immortal muse. At the end of the story, she gets released from the cycle to become the artist.
One of the images near the end of the book depicts a woman in white floating in brackish water. Mr. Sprague’s back-story indicates how intensively he approaches everything.
There’s a pond in Kennedy Park in Lenox that Mr. Sprague called “kind of a surreal place.” For years, he said, he had an image in his mind of someone floating in the pond amid the autumn leaves.
Finally, he approached actress Catherine Taylor-Williams, the producing artistic director of The Wharton Salon, about being his model. “She was always a very willing subject,” Mr. Sprague said. “Showing up and bringing energy is what a muse is about.”
The water in the pond was cold and the lily pads were like tentacles. Ms. Taylor-Williams swam out to the middle and got tangled in the weeds. Mr. Sprague recalled a momentary flicker of wondering whether he should keep shooting or jump in and help her.
Fortunately, no help was need. “She got out, got dressed and that was it,” Mr. Sprague said.
In all, he printed 50 copies of “Muse,” which he sold to friends and family. Prints from the project have been exhibited at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass.
“It’s always good to have a project just to recharge your creative batteries,” Mr. Sprague said.
When he’s not helping others or pursuing his own muse, Mr. Sprague is working for the greater good of the Berkshires. He attended Berkshire Country Day School as a boy, as do his sons. His wife, Kristine, is an architect. To give back, Mr. Sprague is on the private school’s board.
He is a co-chair of Berkshire Creative, which not only provides an online clearinghouse site for job listings, news, resources and more but actively works to stimulate new job growth in the region as well.
It’s a full and varied portfolio for someone who was an English major at Cornell and had his heart set on publishing a novel.
The segue into Studio Two, which launched in 1994, was one of those happy accidents with an improbable beginning. After college, in a “sympathy hire,” Mr. Sprague’s grandfather, who ran an engineering company focusing on wastewater treatment, brought him on to create some marketing materials.
He wrote script, hired a cameraman and an actor and made sales videos. A friend of his, meanwhile, had acquired a broadcast video-editing suite. Mr. Sprague re-wired the whole system and taught himself how to use it.
It was kind of an epiphany. He had been a hobbyist photographer and hadn’t experienced editing video. “The idea of using frames to make a story was compelling,” he said.
Then his grandfather fired him, which was the tradition with such sympathy hires. He did some industrial videos for other people, and then the “computer geek by birth” anticipated that video was going digital and bought a Mac.
That led to his learning Photoshop and Quark, and around 1994 he was working on a brochure for a company his father started. “It was a complete train wreck. I was not a graphic designer,” he recalled.
Mary Garnish, his neighbor, offered to help and Studio Two was born. Ms. Garnish and Mr. Sprague worked together for a decade before she moved on to other pursuits, and he continued building the business.
“People hire us because they hope their business will expand and grow,” Mr. Sprague said in summing things up simply, and Studio Two’s longtime clients have all grown significantly.
To learn more, see the Web sites at www.studiotwo.com and http://kevinsprague.com. The Web site for Berkshire Creative is http://berkshirecreative.org, and the site for Berkshire Country Day School is http://berkshirecountryday.org.
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Douglas Clement did a nice job of capturing my history in this interview – and thanks to Laurie Gaboardi for a nice photo as well.