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It’s a seamless bit of theater magic — in what seems like mere seconds after Broadway’s Tony Awards, signs outside each venue proudly proclaim each honor. It’s all thanks to one pivotal behind-the-scenes agency — Fine Art Imaging, which has been manufacturing the Main Stem’s venue visuals in Hell’s Kitchen for over 60 years.
“We’re a turnkey operation, and we do every installation and removal,” said company president George Saraydarian, whose father started Fine Art Imaging in 1957. “In the case of the Tonys, when we get a rush all at once, it’s all about maximizing efficiency. We have great relationships with the theater owners, and we know how to manage the work. Sometimes I’ll have a crew of my guys on W45th Street doing an install and I’ll run the next signs down to them myself so that they don’t have to move.”
“We’ve never missed a deadline,” added Kenn Lubin, creative director, adding that some of their success lies in the showbiz mentality of making the impossible possible. “It’s a unique community,” said Lubin. “There’s nothing like it in the world, where you have people that are so dedicated to what they do.”
Saraydarian and Lubin have been orbiting each other for years through the unique community of theatrical marketing. Saraydarian has been with Fine Art Imaging almost as long as he can remember, having worked for his father throughout high school before he joined the company straight after college in 1986. Lubin came up through the advertising agency route, starting out at the famed Serino Coyne and working for years with various agencies and printing companies before joining Fine Art Imaging full-time three years ago.
“Prior to joining, I was working for another sign company and doing a lot of projects independently,” said Lubin. “I have an extensive background in the music industry, so I was designing record jackets and a lot of branding and signage. George and I have known each other since he was little and we were talking about collaborating with some projects, that’s how I got on board — it’s sort of an incestuous group for people, and we’ve all worked with each other in some capacity.”
A shared understanding of the lightning-fast turnaround process is a vital part of the company’s success, as both Saraydarian and Lubin are well-versed in the journey from agency and producer brainstorm to full-block theatrical signage. “We’re really collaborators,” said Lubin. “The ad agencies will give us what they intend to do, and then George and I will bounce around ideas to see what solutions we can come up with.”
“What’s great about our process is that Ken’s really a designer,” added Saraydarian. “A lot of times the agency will come to us and he can design something and present it to the client. Or they’ll give us an idea that is huge, and we can come back and figure out a way to make it happen.”
Much of this creative realization relies on the eternal enemy of all theatermakers — the budget. Saraydarian and Lubin emphasized that some producers are willing to go to any length to make their vision happen, and they are always happy to comply. “The most important thing is budget. George will always ask them, ‘What do you want to spend?’” laughed Lubin. Another major challenge? The breakneck pace of production. Fine Art Imaging is often the last step in a whirlwind marketing process, and “we’re really the last stand,” said Saraydarian. “The producer makes changes. The agency makes changes, countless people make changes, you go back and forth, back and forth. And then we’re the last element before it actually gets printed.”
Some of their favorite recent projects include the install of Moulin Rouge! at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where they were able to use new innovations like adhesive full-wall prints (easier on landmarked buildings than paint), SIX at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre — “We had a great time installing a ton of little reflective discs, which was really cool,” said Lubin, as well as the late Be More Chill at the Lyceum Theatre where they got a chance to work with neon signage — a rarity, according to Lubin. “There are only maybe three or four companies left in New York that still work with neon,” he explained.
The agency’s work, though the standard for Broadway and Off-Broadway alike, has also expanded into the tech sector. “We just did a huge project with Google,” said Lubin, “and we got a chance to do a YouTube event, which was great. We have such great relationships with the theaters, and we know the theaters like the back of our hands, so we were able to do all of the branding outside, inside, and leave the theater exactly the way it was,” he added.
Expanding and diversifying their business was key amid the sudden Broadway shutdown on March 12, 2020, said Saraydarian. Faced with the prospect of an open-ended lockdown, the agency was able to move into COVID safety signage for hospitals and universities before resuming production on films and the eventual return of Broadway shows. “We were lucky,” said Lubin. “We were able to work on several films, like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick…BOOM! as well as events like the Michael Kors outdoor fashion show [on W45th Street in April 2021],” he added.
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Another pandemic hurdle was the demise of their own headquarters at the Art Deco Tower on W42nd Street. Their building was sold, leaving Saraydarian to find a way to keep the company close to the center of Theater District action. “We were forced out of the building after 30 years, and had to find a new place in the pandemic. We saw so many places that just didn’t work, but we finally found this place on W52nd Street and it was a perfect fit.”
Still close to nearly every Broadway house, the new Fine Art Imaging headquarters features a light-drenched, airy space with plenty of room for printing machines (“we did knock down some walls” said Lubin) and much-needed freight elevators for transporting outsized installations.
Now, the team is established in its new control center and ready to tackle the fervent pace of the next theatrical rush — the Tony Award winner signs. “I would say that we’re about 90 percent back,” said Lubin. Both he and Saraydarian look forward to continuing their mission of bringing striking, dramatic visuals outside New York’s theaters to draw in audiences. “We help shows find their vision,” said Lubin. “Anything you think of, we’ll figure it out — there’s nothing we can’t do.”