When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Philadelphia-based artist Laura Bonacci had been working to blend theatre and illustration together for their senior thesis. Previously finding inspiration in theatre, sketching actors' headshots, creating single line drawings during performances, and more, Bonacci planned to push the blend further by creating a live art piece in which they would perform a monologue while simultaneously crafting a new drawing. But with the pandemic, the project shuttered, just like stages across the globe.
Still, they wanted to unpack the core tenant for their project: how movement and theatre could intersect with their line and gesture work. And with an abundance of time and a new iPad, they began to explore. “I was trying to put together the element of art and the element of performance and find as many ways to connect them as I could. Then, I couldn't do that anymore. I took the [rehearsal] footage, and I was like, 'How do I translate that?' And I said, 'Now that I have these new tools, I can teach myself how to animate it.'"
What resulted was a new process in Bonacci’s creative practice, moving from analogue drawing to digital illustration. Following college, Bonacci continued to play with the new medium, turning to cast albums for inspiration and ideas. While they were used to reflecting theatre in their art, suddenly theatre was reflecting Bonacci back to themself.
“I would sit and listen to cast albums. I would think what are some shows I remember listening to in college that I haven’t in a while? What are albums I've been meaning to listen to? So I was just being exposed to a lot, revisiting a lot, and I was trying to immerse myself as much as possible in all those stories to make good, authentic work. And in that, I was able to reflect on my past,” explains Bonacci, who came out as non-binary in July 2020. “Listening to those scores made me reflect and go into myself and realize something. [For instance], with Hedwig: I listened to it, and I was able to look at ‘Wig in a Box’ and think, ‘That's something I feel. That's dysphoria. Oh my God, I feel this story. Oh my God, am I trans?’ And that opened a whole door for me to be able to think about what other instances I was feeling this way.”
And just like Bonacci had always done, they channeled their exploration into their work, creating illustrations of the stories, characters, and performers who have shaped their understanding of their identity.
“I wanted to illustrate my journey with queerness and transness through the lens of art and musical theatre. Over the course of a year of self-investigation, I created a body of work reflecting on my past, mirroring my present, and showing me what is possible for the future,” they noted. “Through cast albums, I was able to unlock memories that in retrospect made me the person I am today. I see old shows in new light as I continue to discover, experience, and deepen my relationship to myself in real time. I dream of a future with trans actors and stories on stage so that other people can unlock, be mirrored, and dream, too.”
While Bonacci hopes to become the next seminal theatre illustrator like Al Hirschfeld, for now, they are relishing in the newness of their self-discovery and how it has altered their life and art. “I got into my first queer relationship last September, and that's totally changed everything. But it wouldn't have happened if I didn't do all of that personal investigative work. I spent a majority of all of my life honestly thinking, ‘I need to work really, really hard, and make [art] really, really fast.’ All of a sudden, I'm appreciating slowness... I'm understanding what it really means to be intimate. I'm suddenly able to take a step backwards. I can take time and relax instead of pushing myself so hard, and I'm able to make the work better because I know myself better.”
Check out Bonacci's collection below and see more at LauraBonacci.com.