Category Archives: Shows

Posts about the shows I shoot.

TROU: Spring Break Forever!

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The latest installment in Nylon Fusion Theatre Company’s This Round’s on Us series featured 10 plays loosely inspired by the theme of spring break.  Nylon Fusion and I have a great photographer/theatre relationship, but they came and saw me in The Merry Wives of Windsor last year and realized I can act, too!  Now things are complicated.  They want me to shoot the show, but they want me to act, too!  So you will only see 8 of the 10 shows  that were presented. The other two were right before mine and mine.  Sorry, guys. Maybe I’ll wear a GoPro next time, like I did for a certain zombie project…

Photo by Lori Kee

Photo by Lori Kee

We were back in T. Schreiber’s Gloria Maddox Theatre and I was still trying to find a good location for shooting.  Luckily, with the purchase of the EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 L II USM, I had a few more choices, in this very shallow, but wide space. I ended up on the furthest house left, front row seat, on the tip of the shallow U that makes up the audience.   The 24-70 mm still saw the most use, but I was glad to have the 16-35 mm at a few points — about as many as the 70-200 mm.  It wasn’t a bad location, unless actors weren’t cheating out when they were stage right. Know where the camera is, people! 🙂

The lighting at the Maddox remained quite nice to work with — even the darkest play, about a man counting stars, was lit enough to not have to resort to extreme measures. In fact, I was able to drop the ISO to 3200, well below the 5000 & 6400 I was using to shoot SITI Conservatory’s “Darth Vader” show.  As I mentioned in that post, I had changed to Spot Metering, due to the high contrast in lighting.  I probably should have moved back to Evaluative Metering for this show, since the lighting was more even here, but it wasn’t a big hindrance (again, it’s a suggestion from the camera, it doesn’t actually affect any settings).

 

Also posted in Nylon Fusion

This is How I Don’t Know How to Dance

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I’ve had a close relationship with SITI Company for several years now.  I started training with them about seven years ago and what I learned fundamentally changed my relationship with the theatre and my process as an artist.  It even colors how I approach photography.  I’ve been wanting to shoot a SITI show for some time now, but they have a relationship with the wonderful Michael Brosilow, whose work has been inspirational to me.  But last year, SITI started their conservatory.  A nine month full-time program to teach a new generation of artists how to create using the processes, tools and sensibilities that SITI has refined in its years of exploration as a company.  The culmination of this program is a devised piece of theatre created by the students and SITI Company, under the direction of company member Leon Ingulsrud.  And Leon asked me to photograph their show —This is How I Don’t Know How to Dance (TIHIDKHTD).

I had seen a sneak preview of the show a couple weeks prior and I knew the space they were using, The Barrow Group Theatre, where I had shot The Tragedy of King Arthur.  So I knew two things: 1) I had 20 performers wringing every millimeter of space out of a moderately sized space.  2) I knew some low angle shots were going to serve the stage pictures well and, since it’s a raked audience from stage floor to the back of the house, I knew I needed to be in the front row.  This meant I needed the final piece to my puzzle.  The missing panel in the triptych.  The last item in a fulfilling list of three things!  I needed a wide angle lens.  I ran into this issue back on Luft Gangster, actually in this same building, albeit in a different and smaller space, and I knew a wide angle lens was going to be an eventual necessity.  I knew I needed f/2.8 or faster, because… theatre.  I wanted as wide as I could go without going fisheye and obviously I needed good image quality.  In the months since Luft Gangster I’ve been researching and there was only one real contender: Canons EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM.  So I’m now covered from 16 – 200 mm (400 with my 2x extender 🙂 ).  I also knew that I was going to go back on Saturday and shoot the matinee performance from the back of the house and that would be exclusively on my 70-200 mm f/2.8, so I could be a little more creative and cover anything I might miss later.

On to the show!

Leon’s first words to me when I entered  were “It’s a Darth Vader show.”  I looked at him, puzzled.  “It’s on the dark side.”  Yep, that f/2.8 was the right choice!  Up goes the ISO!  I shot the whole thing at ISO 5000/6400, which isn’t crazy, but certainly not optimal.  While there were some moments that were VERY dark, the biggest challenge was actually contrast.  Often there were performers in very bright lighting, while others were in darker areas and often interacting, so you either expose for the person in the light and lose the other in shadow or vice versa and let the bright performer blow out.  Well, it is easier to recover detail from shadow  than from blown out whites in Lightroom or Photoshop, so generally I split the difference a little, slightly overexposing the brighter actors, which I could fix in post without losing detail and not have to recover as much out of the shadows.

The lighting challenges did prompt me to make one major change in my regular camera settings.  Normally I use Evaluative Metering to judge exposure.  This means the camera looks at everything in the viewfinder and tries to set the exposure so the whole thing evens out to about 18% grey.  With a evenly lit scene, it gives a decent idea of exposure and since I shoot in manual mode, the metering is a suggestion to me — it doesn’t change any settings.  The pitfall of evaluative is if there is a very dark subject matter (say someone in a black tuxedo against a black wall), it will tell you the scene is underexposed unless you change the settings (or add flash) until all that black looks 18% grey.  Same thing in an all white scene.  It will prompt you to make your settings lower until the white is grey.  For this show, the Evaluative Metering kept trying to increase exposure until everyone’s skin was blown out, since so much of the rest of the scene was dark.  So I tried Spot Metering for the first time.  Spot Metering does what it sounds like — it judges the exposure based on one spot in the viewfinder.  I could quickly meter someone’s face, judge the settings, compose and shoot and have much better results, much more consistently.  Definitely a new tool in the toolbelt.  So thanks, SITI Conservatory, for that lesson!

Several moments were in extremely low light.  Like almost none.  Lit by cellphone screens or just very low, blue washes, nothing was going to help but moving the triangle of aperture, ISO and shutter speed to the extreme and I was out of aperture.  I really didn’t want to go much higher with ISO, because of noise, but I guessed that there would probably not be much fast motion in the dark.  So I started dropping the shutter speed, braced the camera as well as I could to reduce shake and hoped for the best.  There were some nice results.  There is a whole “dream ballet” sequence with the performers lying against a wall “asleep” while doing choreographed group movement.  A shutter speed of about  1/3 of a second, the motion added a dreamy quality to the images.  As some of the performers moved into the main playing space, the light came up a bit, but the shutter speed still was low enough (1/40, 1/60) to add a little motion blur to the choreography, which I quite like.

Getting the wide angle for this show was so very much the right choice.  There are several moments where performers are looking directly out into the audience and being below their eye line was just the look I wanted.  Above them and their view gets shortened and at the same level they are often looking right into the camera — but slightly below, their gaze seems to be infinite, extending above and beyond you.

I was not expecting much from the Saturday matinee — I was in the next to the back row and the house was pretty much full.  Despite the relatively steep rake of the audience, there were still heads which would be in shots for things happening near the front of the stage.  I needn’t have worried.  Yes, there are some silhouetted heads, but the higher angle did grant, literally, a very different point of view and one that still offered great images.

Also posted in SITI Company

The Rivals

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Last week I got to shoot The Pearl Theatre Company’s production of The Rivals under the direction of their new Artistic Director, Hal Brooks.  The show is set in its historically accurate period and features sumptuous costumes and furnishings appropriate to the time.  The set is a simple, yet effective, proscenium stage with flats adding depth through forced perspective.

One of the challenges of this kind of production, oddly enough, is the time period.  It enforces a certain distance between the actors.  Some of it is simply that the ladies’ costumes are so large that they physically can’t stand too close to anyone else.  Also, social convention prevents too much closeness, especially in public and particularly between the sexes.  So while I generally favor my 70-200 mm lens and add in some establishing shots, shots for the scenic designer or large group scenes with the 24-70 mm, this time the roles were reversed.  I found myself favoring the 24-70 and using the 70-200 to get a few close individual character shots or intimate shots when the lovers were in private or when the ladies or gentlemen were alone with their own gender.

Luckily, the play does not call for any overly dark settings, so I was able to keep my aperture at an average of f/5.6 which meant a good depth of field and keeping everyone sharp and the colors rich.

 

Also posted in Pearl Theatre Company

The Big Funk

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The folks at Nylon Fusion Theatre Company always keep me on my toes.

They are running two shows in rep right now — The Big Funk and A Snowfall in Berlin — at Teatro LATEA, on the Lower East Side (a space they “discovered” when they came to see me in Merry Wives of Windsor, everything is interconnected!)  I was  recovering from a nasty late winter cold and that evening had to be back in Queens for my Richard III at the Secret Theatre, but I couldn’t leave them in the lurch.

The Big Funk is John Patrick Shanley’s jadedly optimistic comedy about people overcoming the damage that parents and life can do and coming into their own.  It’s a visually lush production directed by Lori Kee, with wonderful costumes by Debbi Hobson, sets by Cassie Dorland and lighting by Wilburn Bonnell.  They took full advantage of the space, bringing characters in through the house and sometimes working their way through the audience itself.

The audience is welcomed with a quirky two person lounge act called The Roly Polys and is then introduced, in turn, to Jill (Ivette Dumeng), a woman with a pretty rotten opinion of herself; Fifi (Meghan Jones), the colorfully attired assistant and wife to knife-thrower Omar (Josh Sienkiewicz), each with scars from their upbringing; next Omar’s friend, the young still idealistic Austin (Jacob Troy) and finally, Jill’s date, the greasy Gregory (Paul Walling).  The characters are pushed to the very edge of reality and sometimes step to the other side.  Twins are coming for one of the characters — oh, and she’s due tomorrow!  It all serves for Mr. Shanley to focus his light on how life can change in an instant, rendering your current life off-target, moot.  The cast all meet the challenge, fully committing to the normal as well as the outlandish.

The shoot was technically fairly straightforward, the lighting, especially in the first act, was mostly bright, if a little contrasty (very bright or very dark with little fall-off between).  The second act is a dinner party for the two couples (Omar & Fifi, and the newly minted Jill & Austin), so the lighting remained constant throughout, until the coda, a monologue by Austin that takes him up through the audience — a bit challenging, that, but not impossible.

The main challenge was the nudity.  Jill and Austin both have scenes where they literally bare themselves to the world.  Both actors were fearless and the nudity is supported fully by Shanley’s script.  The images are beautiful, but as I’m shooting, part of me is thinking about “usable” shots vs. artistically satisfying shots.  Let’s face it, the gorgeous shot of the Jill’s back above, dappled with shadows probably won’t be making it to the company’s Facebook page and Austin nonchalantly standing at the dinner table won’t be too useful for marketing materials (yeah, it’s not here, either!)  So you do have to find the shots… where is he slightly behind another actor (or a mirror)?  How can I frame her so the suggestion of her nudity is there, but it can still pass the TOS of everyone’s favorite social media sites?  Like I said: Nylon Fusion keeps me on my toes!

Next: A Snowfall in Berlin — same space and set pieces, completely different challenges (plus a dead, naked actress in a bathtub).

 

Also posted in Nylon Fusion

A Snowfall in Berlin

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This is a continuation from the post about The Big Funk, so you might want to start there…

The day after shooting Nylon Fusion’s The Big Funk, I was back at Teatro LATEA to shoot the sister production, A Snowfall in Berlin.  Where Funk compacted the action into localized spaces, with occasional incursions from the house, Snowfall exploded the space, working edge to edge, sometimes with actions occurring in multiple locations and even timelines, simultaneously.  It’s a whodunnit, but so much more.

Led by director Shaun Peknic, the play by Don Nigro feels like a film noir detective film, a David Lynch psychological thriller and a paean to the golden age of cinema with all the reels tangled together, like the treatment of the cyc at the back of the stage.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to shoot a full run through, timing being what it is, they were needing to work through one last time before opening, so I came in part-way through the action.  What I do know is that a girl is dead.  Rosa, an actress (Brandi Bravo), has been found dead in a bathtub and a hard bitten Irish detective Mulligan (Don Carter) is on hand to find her killer.  The likely suspects are the other characters in and around the film she was acting in when she died.  Director Natasha (Tatyana Kot) discovered Rosa and tapped her to be in her film, possibly derailing the chances of the other young actress, Megan (Stephanie Heitman).  Two other behind the camera forces, fiery Italian producer Emilia (Jessica Vera) — who herself discovered Natasha — and smarmy British screenwriter, Coates (Eric Percival) round out the suspect list.

Mr. Peknic’s staging is visually complex and what you find in the resultant stage pictures vary depending on where in the shallow 3/4 thrust house you are — but each has been carefully considered.  You could watch this show three times (at least) and see three very different takes on what is happening on stage.  In this way, it was actually fortunate that I was shooting during a working session — I would shoot from one angle, they might stop and go back and I could reset to a different spot in the house and get a different view on the same scene.

The lighting in Snowfall varied quite a bit more than The Big Funk and there was much more use of color and, again, with different time lines happening at once, sometimes multiple colors across the stage.  This kept me hopping a bit more on my settings (and in my post processing), but it definitely made for some striking images.

As with The Big Funk, A Snowfall in Berlin has some nudity.  In this case, Rosa spends her time as a recently passed soul, confined to her bathtub.  As I mentioned in my previous post, there’s a line to be walked between optimal artistic composition and the best composition for a shot that can be used for marketing purposes.  Here, that was a question of inches.  The lower the angle, the higher the edge of the tub is against Rosa’s body and there are several low-angle shots that really served the noir-esque character of the play.  But sometimes looking down on the action gives the look you need and in those cases, more gets seen.  As with The Big Funk and Love Gone Bad before that, my agreement is that the actor gets to approve what Nylon Fusion or I use.

Also posted in Nylon Fusion

Richard III

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This is one of the most challenging aspects of what I do.  How do I shoot a show I’m IN?

Richard III for The Queens Players at the Secret Theater in Astoria has been an incredible process.  Set in a punk rock club in London in the early ’80s, Richard is a tale of acting out and defying social norms and good behavior in the pursuit of power.  As with so much Off-Off-Broadway theatre, there hasn’t been near enough time, but skirting immodesty, we’ve got a very talented cast and director (Alberto Bonilla) that have been able to make the most of the time we have.  There’s also the band.  It is hard to imagine a show that is made worse by live music and these guys bring the music of the era come to life adding an amazing energy to the show.

There’s also the look.  Our set IS a nightclub.  Everything is perfect.  I’ve been in this club before.  The band posters and graffiti are so evocative of the era.  And then there’s the costume, make-up and hair design.  They are dead on.  Sue Waller is a serious fashion designer making her first foray into costuming and the aesthetic is right up her alley.  Emily Lambert is responsible for hair and make-up design and just knocked it out of the park.  As an actor, these things are all wonderful — they help us live in the world of the show without feeling like you’re making excuses for what is not there.  The less you have to worry about what is not there or feeling that you’re pretending that you’re in the right setting or the right clothes the easier it is to just be.

And as a photographer?  The images come alive!  There is no acting when the band is playing — they are a band playing music, it’s honest and dynamic.  The actors have such intense looks, it’s hard to get a bad picture of them!

The challenge, as I noted above, is that I’m in the show.  I wanted to get the shots, but I couldn’t go into the house and I had to give myself adequate time to prepare for my scenes and make my changes.  Unfortunately, this meant I only got coverage of a few scenes.  But what I got, I’m really happy with!  The lighting is all over the place (in a good way) — straddling theatrical and club lighting, so there are extreme color casts and starkly lit scenes that kept me on my toes, but ultimately added to the overall look.

Nylon Fusion’s double header is coming up in a couple weeks!

No Exit

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“Hell is other people.”

I returned to The Pearl Theatre Company on the far West side of Manhattan last Sunday, after a full day of Richard III rehearsal with the Queens Players in Astoria, to shoot Pearl’s production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.  I was excited to see the play, as I think every theatre student has read it during the course of their education, but I don’t recall it being produced often.  This production is directed by an old theatre friend, Linda Ames Key, who with her talented cast have created a tight and engaging production.  While the characters may be damned to an eternity in Hell, the audience is left wanting more!

The Pearl once again provided a gorgeous set — this time the interminable hotel room for the three damned souls doomed to be the others’ torturers for all eternity.  It felt a bit like a W Hotel…  furniture more for style than purpose, ostentatious art that looms, yet adds nothing.  But enough about my business travel prejudices.

Shooting the show was a pleasure — as, in Sartre’s Hell, there is no escape via sleep or night, lighting was almost constant and fairly bright.  I was able to keep my ISO down at 3200 and still had the ability to do most of my shooting in the  f/4 to f/5.6 range, which gave me a little more leeway in terms of depth of field.  Linda and the cast created so many distinct and dynamic stage pictures, I was just trying to keep up with them and capture them all!

Next up, I’m going to shoot some of my Richard III for the Queens Players (the blessing of being dead for most of act 2) and then Nylon Fusion’s two shows in rep, John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk and Don Nigro’s A Snowfall in Berlin.

Also posted in Pearl Theatre Company

This Round’s On Us: Love & Civil Rights and Love Gone Bad

This Round’s On Us: Love & Civil Rights

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Love Gone Bad

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Happy 2014!  I know It’s been a few months since I posted last, but I’ve been busy working on the other side of the lens, playing Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the reading of a new musical called Wild and Willful Women and King Edwards IV and the Lord Mayor in a Richard III set in the heyday of the London punk scene.  But now some of my favorite people are back on the boards and calling me in to shoot.

Nylon Fusion Theatre Company is being particularly prolific right now – they had another of their This Round’s On Us short play festivals, this time with the theme of Love & Civil Rights.  The same weekend, they had another short play festival benefitting the ASPCA, called Love Gone Bad, featuring plays by by Neil LaBute, Robert Askins, Kristina Poe and Don Nigro.

These works saw Nylon Fusion move into The Gloria Maddox Theatre at T. Schreiber’s studios.  This space had some pros and cons over the Gene Frankel Theatre, where I had shot the prior two iterations of This Round’s On Us.  First of all, at the Frankel I had a nice, out of the way seat with access to floor space where my gear could live at easy reach.  Not so much here – I had a good seat, in the corner of a very shallow, squared-off U, but I had no choice to keep my gear accessible, but to take an extra seat.  These were a hot commodity, as these are always very well attended shows.  The way they use the space at the Frankel was also a bit more inventive.  Added seats on the stage turned it into an L shaped audience, making directors and actors deal with audience on two sides – I think it forced a little more mindfulness and creativity in staging.  Here, it was essentially a proscenium stage, flat to 95% of the audience (except the 3 columns of folks on each of the arms of the U).  Still, it is a nice space with decent lighting (yay, decent lighting).

Love Gone Bad presented some unexpected challenges.  First and foremost, all of the characters spend at least part of the play in their underwear.  My thanks to Nylon Fusion and the actors for letting me post these here — part of my agreement with the production was that all of those shots would need pre-clearance with the company and the actors in the shot.  Glory Kadigan, the director, was very protective of her cast — making sure they were each comfortable with being photographed and communicating Nylon Fusion’s requirement about usage of the material.  Luckily, this shoot was able to be done during a final dress, literally moments before the house opened to the opening night audience.  I think shooting people in their underwear with an audience present (and on opening night!) would have more likelihood of making the actors self-conscious (not to mention you don’t want the audience to feel they have any excuse to take their own cellphone photos).  The show consisted of four monologues cleverly tied together with a repeated connecting scene between one of the actors with two of his or her partners, like ghost images of two separate, but simultaneous post-coital repartees.  Other than costume, the shoot was fairly unremarkable.  The lighting was generally enough to be able to shoot at ISO 5000.  Some of the interstitial scenes were lit in a deep red wash, which was challenging, but gorgeous!

Coming up next is The Pearl Theatre Company’s production of No Exit next weekend.  Next up with Nylon Fusion will be a March double header of Don Nigro’s A Snowfall in Berlin and John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk, wherein they go one step further… nudity.

Also posted in Nylon Fusion

And Away We Go

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I had the distinct pleasure and honor to shoot Pearl Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Terrence McNally’s And Away We Go on Sunday.  There were actually many pleasures involved – first, this was the first run post-tech, so I was in the first audience to see this performed, ever.  Second, Mr. McNally was there and I got to chat with him briefly about the show and finally, I got to shoot side by side with Sara Krulwich, the renowned New York Times’ theater photographer.  While this does mean no NY Times credit for me this show, it was great to talk with her a bit and see that our equipment list and processes (at least the shooting part) aren’t all that different.

The challenge shooting this show is apparent the moment you walk into the space.  The set.  The set is a character unto itself and it is a very demanding character.  The stage is completely open to the walls, as it was for Henry IV, Part 1.  But it is supposed to be the back stage of one of several (any?) theaters.  One where collected props, costumes, marketing materials and actor detritus have collected over decades and created a warren chaotic to an outsider, but intimate and welcoming to any theatre-folk.  It’s a lot to take in.  You want to examine each piece.  Create the backstories, consider the symbolism.  Luckily since there’s no curtain (a recurring theme), the audience will be able to take it in before the actors take to the stage.

But as a photographer… The set was more of a consideration than usual.  How much do I include?  When might it overwhelm the actors and when does it support them?  Our human eye is made for following motion, so live it wasn’t such an issue.  But looking through the lens and freezing moments, the actors lose their upper hand.  And there’s a gorgeous verticality and scale, as you can see, with the lighting.  But to include the sculpture of the lighting dwarfs the actress or actor, which is cool from an overall composition aesthetic, but my style favors tighter shots on actors – seeing their bodies and faces, the tools they have that convey their art in a photograph.  That was all but lost in that scale.

So balance was needed.  Compromises were made.  It is a wonderful show.  Anyone who is of the theatre or who just truly enjoys theatre will adore this love letter, with its in jokes and themes.  Just be sure to go early and take in that set!

Also posted in Pearl Theatre Company

This Round’s on Us: Halloween

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This post is late in coming.  I’ve been up to my ears playing Falstaff in The Baited Bear Players’ production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Believe me, I tried to figure out how to shoot the show while I was in it.  The best I could do was some shots from a rehearsal and some from the wings.  But that is another post!

Despite it all, photo gigs will come!  Once again, I’m thrilled to be shooting for the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company.  This was another in their This Round’s on Us 10 minute play festival series.  This time the theme was, appropriately, Halloween.  It really is a pleasure working repeatedly with a company and getting to know their people and their style.  While each show is different, there is a certain common energy to their productions, which I hope I am capturing on my sensor.  I certainly see it!

As with the last iteration, TROU: Independence, TROU: Halloween was in the Gene Frankel theatre, which the Nylon Fusion people use to its utmost – they fill that place to the rafters!  I took my now customary spot on the corner of the L they create with their seating and got to work.

While “Halloween” led to a few darker plays, thematically, despite my worries, they were generally bright, technically.  Shooting went well throughout, with no technical challenges.  For each shoot, I try to learn and grow.  This time, it was about the nature of the show and how I cover it, shot-wise.  During a traditional, long-form play, I shoot several shots per scene, depending on the action of the scene.  Two people at a table talking will get fewer shots than a fight scene, obviously.  But for eleven ten minute plays?  I feel like I’m shooting more than I normally would for those “quieter” pieces, because I don’t want them to get short-changed at the end of the culling and editing process.  Then during the culling process I’m trying to keep things even, so I’m maybe a little harder on the more “active” plays, really focusing on the best of the best so they don’t overwhelm the gallery.

Ultimately, they did a great job.  If my hardest job is to be spoiled for choice?  I’ll take it!

Next up is the Pearl Theatre Company’s production of And Away We Go!  So happy to be shooting for them again.  And rumor has it, I’ll be dealing with a VERY interesting challenge for Nylon Fusion’s next show (or duet of shows) coming in 2014!  Stay tuned!

Also posted in Nylon Fusion