Queensland theatre company Harvest Rain has come under fire today for taking imitation a little too far in the promotion of their upcoming production of Hairspray.

Using professional artwork from the Broadway and German productions, the marketing department has replaced the head of the actress playing Tracy Turnblad and has used Zac Effron’s legs.
While the company pleads ignorance to the faux pas, the bigger question must be how much “imitation” or “inspiration” is too much? 

True, the original images are different to those used by Harvest Rain, but if they really liked the poses and the vibrancy of the shots, wouldn’t it have made more sense to recreate them in their cast shots, rather than Photoshopping promotional material from past professional productions? 

Putting on my advertising cap, the situation Harvest Rain is in has me considering how far we take “inspiration” and how much we take our cast into consideration when we market a production.

I think two lessons need to be taken out of this.
1. Don’t use professional artwork unless you have permission and the right to do so.
In the same way that you wouldn’t put on a production without seeking the appropriate licences, you shouldn’t use anyone’s artwork unless they created it for you or you got the right permission from the owner. 

2. Think about your cast
Cast members spend months working on a role to make it their own, to live it and to do you proud.  Even if they are getting paid, part of their reward is being able to look at posters, programs and promotional material that has them as the character they have been working so hard to master.  This is a small, internal happiness that reminds them of the work they have done and how much it means to them.  If they really love the show, the poster may even hang in their study or music room.  If it isn’t them (or it’s only a bit of them) on the poster – it just isn’t the same – and they deserve to be recognised for the work they have done.

So, in an effort to find a positive – let us all be reminded that while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in this age of Google, it’s probably not worth the embarrassment for the hour saved in creating your promotional material.