“R. Humble” – Much more than a name on Upper Darby Summer Stage’s programs

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“R. Humble” – Much more than a name on Upper Darby Summer Stage’s programs

When looking back into the Upper Darby Summer Stage history books, the casts and creative teams featured in each of the children’s theater programs are unique to each production.

However, audience members may not be aware of one particular element that has remained steadfast on every program cover for over 30 years. More than just a name, “R. Humble,” is the signature of Robert Humble, the program artist who has created close to 300 unique, hand-drawn works of art that have graced the program covers since 1984.

“Humble” Beginnings 

Before drawing individual program covers, Humble would design full sheet posters for the entire season. // File Photo: Robert Humble

Humble was one of the original Summer Stage participants in the mid ‘70s before he became the pen-named mystery in the corner of programs. He performed in shows such as, “The Magic of America,” “Anything Goes” and “West Side Story.” While participating Humble made a few program covers for a friend of his who was a director.

For the first years, there were no limitations on the covers and Humble drew illustrations that were very historic and realistic. He has used and uses a variety of strategies to get the job done: silhouettes, symbols, settings, shadows, and more!

And yet, after designing for over 30 seasons, Humble remains motivated and always differentiates shows that are periodically repeated over the years in the 1600-seat venue.

“I have a ‘feeling’ when I’m repeating myself. That’s when I know I have to go in a different direction,” he said. “But I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with variations. I’ve been doing it for so long, I can’t picture a summer without it!”

A Regular, Routine Process

Transitioning into current day, Humble has got the process down to a science. A few years back, he began to investigate the special concepts the directors planned to incorporate in their shows and tried to include those concepts in the design.

Once Humble has the director’s notes, he does a few small sketches to figure out what to include and overcome any limitations. He then draws the image in pencil at the exact same size as the cover and uses “a classic dip pen and bottle of India ink to finish the image.”

One of Humble's quoted favorite covers from Summer Stage's production of The Little Mermaid in 2013. // File Photo: Robert Humble
One of Humble’s favorite designs from UD Summer Stage’s production of The Little Mermaid in 2013. // File Photo: Robert Humble

In 2010 in honor of Summer Stage’s 35th anniversary, Humble took the program art a step further, hiding the word “magic” a series of times on each cover.

“Harry and I were talking about Broadway caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld and how he included his daughter’s name in all of his designs. He suggested we do that with the covers,” Humble said.

“We agreed upon ‘magic’ as the word and I gave it a try although my work is more realistic than Hirschfeld’s, so it is a bit of a challenge. I try to use folds in clothing and hair as a means to disguise them.”

And with last year’s 40th season celebration, Humble designed the 40th celebration poster, which wasn’t a new concept to him.

“Harry and I came up with a 10th year poster years ago and last year he asked if I would consider doing it again for the 40th,” he continued. Humble completed the poster in approximately five to six three-hour sessions.

“For this one, I didn’t have a comprehensive sketch. I drew it by ‘areas,’” Humble said.

He drew in pencil first; then inked it with pen and brush. Dietzler gave him a list of all the shows performed across 40 seasons and Humble would check them off as they were included.

“I did a larger image in an area, then drew smaller images radiating away from that larger ‘anchor.’

A genuine labor of love, when asked about favorite designs, he laughed and said, “I really can’t remember them all!” He added, “Ones that stand out though are the first ‘Once On This Island,’ the original ‘Mulan’ and the most recent ‘Little Mermaid.’”

Your Everyday Artist

And despite being a mystery to the thousands of ticketholders that visit each summer, Humble is truly your everyday artist.

In his free time, Humble likes to work out and write stories. He also paints and says that “drawing and painting are his passions.”

His latest project is a comic book collection of short horror stories, which was just made available on Amazon. It is called “Strange Gruel” and it is done in the tradition of old horror comics from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

When asked if he had any plans to stop drawing the program covers soon, Humble simply said, “I’m always game.”

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