Late at night, Mary Kenny’s phone rang inside her tiny Brooklyn apartment.
“Tonight? In four hours? Yeah. I can do that,” her roommates heard her say to the person on the line.
Kenny, a 25-year-old freelance graphic designer from Charlotte, is used to last-minute rush jobs. They’re often the bread and butter that pay her share of the rent.
She’s accustomed to lengthier projects, too, and has produced art for NBC corporate, Victoria’s Secret, and both Broadway and off-Broadway productions.
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Ironically, it’s the work she gets from UNC Charlotte that stirs her creative juices most.
“Anytime they call me, I drop what I’m doing,” said Kenny, a 2010 graduate of the university’s theater program. “I’m thrilled when they call me for little projects.”
A hefty portion of the glossy theater posters that have papered the campus over the last few years originated from Kenny’s hand.
The curious alien staring out from the poster that promoted “Tales of the Lost Formicans,” a play by Constance Congdon about aliens who secretly watch a modern American family, was Kenny’s work. She used sketches of a vacuum, tennis sneakers and a fan to portray the humdrum side of human existence. The alien takes it all in, peering out from an old-fashioned TV set.
For “Assassins,” a play based on the book by John Weidman, Kenny arranged newsprint clippings into the shape of a pistol. “Those are actual newspaper articles from when presidents were assassinated,” said Kenny.
In all, she said, she thinks she has created at least 20 posters for the university.
Her inspiration for most didn’t come from what clients expected but from what they didn’t expect.
“The first thing I always ask is, ‘What emphasis do you want to avoid?’ ” said Kenny. “Your first instinct might be stereotypical, and not necessarily what the clients want to portray.”
Although she studied acting at UNCC, graphic design emerged as her passion. Most of her early clients were fellow students who needed artwork for plays they had written.
“They would ask, ‘Can you just make me something?’ ” said Kenny.
She would toil for hours in the high-tech studio available for students on campus.
“At UNCC, I was so spoiled,” said Kenny. “I had a beautiful design lab with iMacs.”
Today her studio is a foot-deep, yardstick-long space that past tenants used as a closet.
“It doesn’t even have a door,” Kenny said. “I took it off, built a desk in it, and my chair straddles the entrance.”
She pinches herself between her MacBook and an additional 27-inch monitor. If she leans back, her chair touches the bed in her 8-foot-by-8-foot room. It’s where she spends most of her time.
“I’m always, always doing graphic designs,” she said.
Right now she’s working on the theater poster for “Totally Tubular Time Machine,” an off-Broadway play that takes place in a 1980s dance club.
No matter how busy she is, she won’t turn down work from her alma mater. It makes her feel connected to her roots.
“Even though I’ve seen the stuff I’ve done on the Boston Opera House, it’s knowing that I’m still a part of UNCC. That was the first time I saw my art on a big scale.”