Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Big Funk

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).


Posted in Nylon Fusion, Shows

A Snowfall in Berlin

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.

Posted in Nylon Fusion, Shows