Joseph Forbes is the founder of Scenic Art Studios located in Newburgh, NY. Joseph’s impact, influence and inspiration have formed the company into what it is today. Forbes grew up in rural Virginia where he attended Chowan College earning an Associate’s Degree in Journalism. He then studied at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he earned his BFA in Scene Design. Upon moving to New York, he attended Lester Polakov's Studio and Forum of Stage Design and then became a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829 in 1979.
Forbes has had a long career as a professional Scenic Artist starting at Nolands Scenery Supplier painting on projects for theatre, ballet, film, television, theme parks, restaurant interiors and permanent displays. He has painted on many iconic Broadway productions including Annie, Cats, A Chorus Line and Evita. His credits in film include Ghostbusters, The Money Pit, and The Old Gringo.
In 1994, Forbes founded Scenic Art Studios, which has become the premiere scenic painting studio for Broadway and beyond. The company has painted for more than 300 Broadway productions, including such shows as Carousel, School of Rock, Dirty Dancing, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Band's Visit. Joe is not only the founder of SAS, but the hands-on Charge Artist leading and overseeing his team in all projects. Passionate about what he does, Forbes continually strives to set the bar higher in the scenic painting industry. Many of the scenic artistry innovations that were created at SAS are now industry standards.
Wanting to pass down these standards to future generations, Forbes founded the Studio and Forum of Scenic Arts in 2004; a non-for-profit school. Working closely with the students it has been the studio’s mission to teach the skills of scene painting that have been used for generations while incorporating them with new materials and techniques. Forbes has had the pleasure of seeing many of his students move on to have outstanding careers in scenic design. Additionally, he teaches Scene Painting and Rendering at SUNY Purchase College in Purchase, New York. One of Forbes mantras is paying it forward in the scenic design industry. He is currently in the process of setting up a scholarship fund for the theater department at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. SAS also donates backdrops and sample pieces that are no longer in use to the social enterprise, "Unshattered” , an organization that offers handbags and accessories made from high quality, repurposed materials that are handcrafted by women in recovery from addiction.
When not at work, or working for others, Forbes can be found canoeing down a whitewater river with Debra, his beautiful wife of thirty-three years, and spending time with his two lovely children Emma and Colin.
Setting the Scene: Joseph Forbes ’75
BY ALYSSA BEDROSIAN
If you’ve been to a Broadway show, chances are you’ve seen Joseph Forbes’ work on stage.
“Beetlejuice.” “Frozen.” “The Prom.” “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The list goes on.
They all feature work from Scenic Art Studios, a premier scene painting studio for Broadway that Joseph founded more than 25 years ago. The company’s backdrops, sculptures, and painted built scenery have brought to life more than 350 Broadway productions over the years.
In June, Joseph received the ultimate honor for his decades’ worth of work – the Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre, an annual award for individuals and organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theater. Joseph was one of four individuals to receive the award this year.
For Joseph, it all started in the early 1970s, when he was studying set design under Professor Andreas Nomikos at UNCG. His first assignment – draw a tree, a cloud, and a person – didn’t go as planned. Joseph sloppily drew an array of sticks and puff balls, and walked away defeated....uc.uncg.edu
Scenic Artist Irina Portnagina with Scenic Designer Beowulf Borritt - scenery for “Bernhardt/ Hamlet.”
The 73rd Annual Tony Awards
"The 2019 Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre will be given to four contributors to the Broadway industry: Broadway Inspirational Voices, founded by Michael McElroy; Peter Entin, retired vice president of Theatre Operations for the Shubert Organization; Joseph Blakely Forbes, founder and president of Scenic Art Studios, Inc.; and FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9." - Playbill
Congratulations to our founder, leader and most of all friend. We love you Joseph Forbes
"Upon graduating from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, with a BFA in Scene Design, Joseph Forbesmoved to New York to attend classes at Lester Polakov's Studio and Forum of Stage Design. Forbes became a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829 in 1979 and began his professional career at Nolans Scenery Studios where he painted several iconic Broadway productions including Annie, Cats, A Chorus Line, and Evita to name a few. In 1994, Forbes founded Scenic Art Studios, Inc. which has become the premiere scene painting studio for Broadway Scenery. Since its inception, the company has created backdrops, sculptures, and painted built scenery for more than 350 Broadway productions. Productions include Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Hello Dolly, A Bronx Tale, School of Rock, Beetlejuice, and Beautiful. In an effort to share his love for scene painting, Joseph founded The Studio and Forum of Scenic Arts in 2004, a not-for-profit school, where he still enjoys being an instructor. It is the studio’s mission to teach the traditional skills of scene painting while incorporating new materials and techniques. His passion for teaching also leads him to Purchase College, where he was a Lecturer in Theatre Design/Technology for 12 years." - tonyawards.com
BROADWAY’S BEST: ALUMNI RECEIVE TONY AWARD, NOMINATION
It’s a big week for UNC Greensboro alumni and Broadway veterans Joseph Forbes ’75 and Beth Leavel ’80 MFA.
On Monday night, Forbes was one of four recipients to receive this year’s Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre, an annual award for individuals and organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theatre. Forbes is the founder of Scenic Art Studios, a premier scene painting studio for Broadway.
Leavel, already a Tony Award winner for her work on “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her role as “Dee Dee Allen” in “The Prom.” “The Prom” is also up for Best Musical.
The 73rd annual Tony Awards will take place this Sunday, June 9, and will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. CLICK for UNCG full article!!
LIVE DESIGN INTERVIEW JOSEPH FORBES
"Live Design: Is scenic painter a rigorous role? How so? What skills are needed?
Joseph Forbes: A scenic artist must be a jack-of-all-trades. He or she must be a little bit sculptor, a little bit architect, a little bit art historian, and a lot of pure painter. It helps if you are also a little bit of a mad scientist, able to create and invent new tools and techniques to solve problems. Scenic artists should have a thorough working knowledge of the history of architectural and decorative styles. You should not only be able to draw a relatively accurate Corinthian capital, but know the difference between a Corinthian, an Ionic, and a Doric capital.
A scenic artist must have strong working knowledge of the human form, good drawing and color matching skills, and the ability to mimic another artist’s style. A working knowledge of the history of art is an incredibly valuable tool. You also need to be able to communicate, not only with designers to understand their requirements, but also with carpenters, electricians, and automation technicians all of whom are trying to accomplish their goals at the same time as you. It’s essential you be able to work in a group. The ability to listen and understand the problems of other people in other departments helps everyone get their work done in a smooth and timely fashion.
Scene painting can also be a physically demanding job. There is a fair amount of time spent climbing ladders, troweling heavy textures and finishes, and unfortunately, a lot of time spent on your hands and knees. A single injury can significantly limit your ability to work. I had been in the business only a few years and was painting the original Broadway production of Cats for Nolan’s Scenery Studios when I took a fall off a ladder and blew out my knee. For a number of years thereafter—even after surgery and a lengthy recovery—I remained limited in the tasks I could perform. Many scenic artists suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists and hands that requires corrective surgery, as well as having back and shoulder problems.
Read all about Joe's early career, his philosophies on scene painting, and the present growth of Scenic Art Studios.
LIVE DESIGN INTERVIEWS JOSEPH FORBES
Technical Theatre Legend Joseph B. Forbes to Receive Award
This year, Purchase College’s Broadway Technical Theatre History Project will present the Backstage Legends and Masters Award to Joseph B. Forbes, one of the most prolific and influential scenic artists of all time.
His work is represented in the vast majority of Broadway productions mounted each year. Some of his most recent productions include Waitress, Beautiful, The Humans, and Shuffle Along. Theatre goers don’t have to wait long for his new productions, either. He’s currently working on Hello
Dolly and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “To say that Joseph Forbes is one of the all-time greats is an understatement,” said associate professor Dan Hanessian, who launched the Broadway Technical Theatre History Project in 2011. “Not only is he a master of scenic painting, but he is also dedicated to inspiring and influencing the next generation. We’re honored to have Joseph Forbes as a faculty member in our Design/Technology Program where he shares his superb knowledge and teaches scene painting and rendering.”
- Purchase College
Go Inside the Scenic Paint Shop Responsible for the Brilliant Looks of Hello, Dolly!, Frozen, and Thousands More
Richard W. Prouse is drawing a backdrop, a charcoal pencil at the end of his drawing stick in his left hand, the designer’s original paint elevation (a.k.a. design plan for the drop) in his right. An expert at his craft, he sketches freehand the outline of a city street for an upcoming production of Shining City. No snapping of grids, just a pencil, and a canvas. But after 25 years, his boss, Joseph Forbes, owner, and president of Scenic Art Studios, knows to trust him.
“I hire geniuses,” Forbes says of the artists he employs at one of the foremost scenic paint shops for Broadway shows. Scenic Art Studios specializes in painting the built scenery (flats, moveable pieces) and backdrops that brighten the Great White Way. “We take a designer’s drawings and concepts and turn them into reality,” explains Forbes.
Broadway is known for its combination of splash and flash—glittering lights, dazzling colors. And in no other show are the colors more necessarily vivid than in Guys and Dolls’ world of gambling and gangsters, based on Damon Runyon’s stories.
Tony Walton’s scenic design won the Tony Award for the 1992 revival of the show, but his vision came to life with the help of Joseph Forbes and the paint artists of his Scenic Art Studio. “[Guys and Dolls] was the show that established me on Broadway,” says Forbes. “It was the one that everyone went, ‘Oh, OK. This guy is a player and he can do it.’”
Forbes first discovered his love for theatre through an extra credit assignment for his college English class: volunteer ushering for the school production of Look Homeward Angel. Immediately hooked, he began studying scenic design at the University of North Carolina. “[My teacher] would put a backdrop down on the stage floor and we would all gather around between classes and sit there just awestruck while this man painted,” he says. “I think that’s where I got the love of backdrops from.”
But it would be a few years before Forbes realized his love for paint and color exceeded his love of design. Forbes began designing sets for Off-Off-Broadway productions and—as is the case with lower budget theatre—painted all of his own shows. “It was going to be ten years before I got a Broadway show to design and people were offering me ten times as much money to paint because I was good at it,” he says.
- BY RUTHIE FIERBERG NOV 03, 2017
Driving along North Water Street, you catch a glimpse of the Regal Bag Building, a hulking 19th-century factory on the Newburgh waterfront. Its nondescript industrial exterior conceals a hub of artistic and artisanal enterprises, including its top-floor tenant, Scenic Art Studios, which paints most of the scenic backdrops featured on Broadway. Recent shows Scenic Art Studios has fabricated backdrops for include "Hello Dolly!," "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," "War Paint," and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."