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In the best productions, even the savviest theater-goer hopes to become so transfixed by the story unraveling onstage that she doesn’t stop to think of the scores of people who honed costumes and lights and direction for months or years leading up to that night.

But that crew of artists rowing in the same direction is a fascinating phenomenon to watch. And we’ve got an unusual window into that process with La Jolla Playhouse’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”

New York City-based artist Michael Arthur draws theater and dance rehearsals, capturing their essence in ink. He was in town for two weeks of technical rehearsals at the Playhouse. “Yoshimi” opened for its first preview performance on Tuesday.

Arthur and the Playhouse shared a few glimpses of the energy between those three worlds as the cast, crew and directors worked on and offstage.

“In a rehearsal, there’s sort of three worlds living at once,” he said. “There’s this play, this imaginary thing being created. And then there’s the work that goes into that. And there’s also this space, this theater, where that work happens.”

Arthur has a Ph.D. in theater history. He picked up visual art on his own. He stepped into this rehearsal-drawing niche — making pen-and-ink drawings, capturing moments live — about a decade ago. You can read more about how he got into this work in a piece he wrote for the New York Times a few years ago.

“I love the process, I love the people, I love everything, I love the spotlight operators, I love the community that comes together to make a show,” he said.

Arthur tries to enter a rehearsal process without preconceptions. When he arrived in San Diego, he didn’t know anything about the show, other than that it centered on music from The Flaming Lips. He said he even avoided listening to the album before he came.

“There is so much that went into this show,” he said. “There’s puppetry. Music. These unbelievable projections and animations. The use of a stage in a very unique way.”

The Playhouse paid him to come capture the creative process. Sometimes theaters frame his drawings for gifts to members of the cast and crew. Other times, the theater will mount his work in the lobby at a show for patrons to see — you can see a display of these drawings and more in the lobby at “Yoshimi.” His drawings for the Playhouse’s “Hands on a Hardbody” production appeared in American Express’ Departures magazine in September.Over the two weeks, Arthur made nearly 40 drawings of the various aspects of the show.

“There’s not one I’d throw out, which is very unusual,” he said.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

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Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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