Author Archives: AlFoote3

Philadelphia, Here I Come!


I love me some Brian Friel.  One of my fondest memories of theatre was a production of Translations in one of Seattle’s small theatres (I think it was AHA!)  I haven’t seen as much as I would like, so I was happy to get the call from my friend Janet at T. Schreiber to come shoot their  production of Philadelphia, Here I Come!

It is amazing how much theatre you can fit into the small spaces in NYC.  The show is at the Gloria Maddox Theatre, where I’ve shot (and even performed) for a few Nylon Fusion shows.  The set is very evocative of a small Irish home of the 1960s and provides some nice levels and playing spaces for the actors.

The play gives us the last night in Ireland for Gar O’Donnell, before he heads to Philadelphia to stay with his aunt and uncle and work in a hotel.  He’s leaving behind his father and his job at his dad’s shop.  The action is commented on by Gar’s inner voice, his conscience, who seems to say what the public Gar wishes he could.  We see several of the characters who make up his life in Ireland — his widower father who is more boss than father, the doddering headmaster, who might have been the father he could have had, the mother figure housekeeper, his mates and the local Canon who comes to play checkers with his dad.  All of these characters seem to be living their lives by rote.  Even with Gar leaving the next day, not too much seems to be changing about their daily interactions.

Gar is also “visited” by some figures from his past and future — Kate, the  girl who got away, and her father Senator Doogan, who made Gar quite aware that he was not good enough for his daughter and his mother’s sister, his uncle and their friend, all visiting from America and the reason he is invited to come live with them in Philadelphia.

All of these people (with the exception of the American contingent) all seem to be on the verge of asking Gar to stay and he seems so on the edge, that given any excuse — any deviation from the daily ritual of his life — he would stay.  But we never see it happen.

Performances were strong all around and the direction (Jake Turner) kept me wondering if Gar would find what he’s looking for — either in Ireland or in Philadelphia.

Posted in Shows

Uncle Vanya at the Pearl Theatre

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The Pearl’s 31st season started with Uncle Vanya.  It’s a Chekhov I had not seen before, but it does not stray far from his other big works.  Good, solid country people collide with bored or frivolous city people, everyone’s lives get shaken up, murder is attempted, no one is happy and the invaders leave again, but leave the good, solid country people worse for wear.

As always, the Pearl’s production values do not disappoint.  A lovely pastoral set morphs into a colorful country house.  My one complaint — purely as a photographer — is that huge table.  It cut off all the actors who got caught behind it.  Costumes were, as always, perfect.

It’s fascinating to keep coming back to Pearl and see these familiar actors slipping into various roles.  It really does point out the benefits of a rep company.

Posted in Pearl Theatre Company, Shows

Macbeth – MKA 7th Graders


I wasn’t originally going to blog about this.  It was just going to be some shots for the kids, but darned if there aren’t some compelling visuals in here!

I met Christian Ely a few years back when I choreographed the fights for a play he was directing for a short play festival.  It was a food fight that goes over the top… in an elevator!  Fast forward 7 or so years later and Christian reconnects with me through a friend — he’s teaching and directing at a middle school in NJ and would I like to come fight direct a Romeo & Juliet?  Well, schedules didn’t work out that year, but this year they did for Macbeth.  I didn’t know what to expect — I knew going in that we had a cast of almost 40 thirteen year-olds.  20-odd witches, an army of soldiers… but what could we actually accomplish?  I needn’t have worried.  These kids were committed to the play and to their director.  He does not pull the play down to a “middle school” level, he pushes it up above some NY productions I’ve experienced!  The witches are an omnipresent force of nature (or supernature?) and create some gorgeous images with their striking makeup and costumes.  The set is a mobile and grand canvas for evocative projections (created by an MKA alum, now in the business).  Add haze, lights and sound and it’s an effective take on this story of ambition.

One of my favorite moments was a discussion about if we should have blood.  “Oh, I want blood,” Christian said.  “OK, how bloody can we get the children,” I asked — expecting a couple little smears or blood packs.  “Buckets!”  came his response.  A gallon of blood was ordered and with dilution, we’re talking about 1.5 – 2 gallons possible.  From what I’ve seen, I’m guessing these kids will wring every last corpuscle out of that jug!

On to shooting it.  The auditorium is a vast space and the stage, including an apron built into the space made for a lot of area to cover, especially trying to fit all 37 kids into a single frame.  I moved between all of my lenses, but relied more heavily on the 70-200 mm f/2.8 L IS II than I have been recently in the usual small NYC spaces.  Light was challenging — the look of the piece was very stark, so lighting tended to be dark, sometimes accented with hot spots, with few scenes in any kind of wash.  the witches in their white makeup and gowns tended to blow out quite easily, especially when they were sharing the stage with Macbeth and Banquo in their pseudo-military garb.  The witches movement was very dance based so I tried to dial down the shutter speed on a few occasions to get some motion blur to evoke that dynamic.

The battle scene was pretty epic, with just about everyone on stage — soldiers fighting, witches applying blood and feasting on the carnage.  Visually it was chaotic — we slowed the fight to slow motion, not for safety concerns (the kids were very good about stage combat safety!), but because there were so many bodies, it was too much to take in at full speed.  Blood effects for the final fight went well.  You can see the spray of blood coming from a couple of syringes, which “painted” his body with blood, but were also effective photographically.

Posted in Shows

The Tragedy of Dandelion


Joan Kane, the director of this play, also directed of one of the pieces in Nylon Fusion’s last This Round’s On Us: Spring Break Forever! (The first three images in the gallery for TROU – Spring Break Forever!)  She and her partner at Ego Actus reached out to me about shooting their production of The Tragedy of Dandelion at Urban Stages.  The play is a bold undertaking — 29 roles played by 10 women across 5 acts, 13 scenes and 12 locations.  Oh, and in verse!  From the playwright’s website:

The Princess Dandelion dresses as a boy in order to escape her rapist and would-be husband, along the way falling in love with another princess, and traveling through her society, meeting nuns, soldiers, and clowns, and all the time her pregnancy continues, the impending birth complicating everything.

The play takes a lot of familiar tropes and stands them on their ears to defy expectation.  Shakespeare allusions abound, but there is a serious through line about identity and the ever present danger of being a female in a male dominated society.

Urban Stages is a small showcase theatre (65 – 74 seats) with a fairly deep stage.  The producer and director both told me they needed wide shots that would highlight the scenery and costumes for their website, so I tended to work a little wider on this shoot, again favoring the 24-70 mm f/2.8 with my new standby, the 16-35 mm f/2.8 coming in second.  The 70-200 mm f/2.8 still saw duty and got some of my favorite shots.

Lighting was widely varied — from a well lit throne room to a dark, dank dungeon cell — but most challenging were the scenes where the space was strongly defined by the lighting, for instance a hallway defined by a strong diagonal lane of light across the stage.  The actors had obviously not had much time to acclimate  to the lighting and were frequently half in and half out of the light.  This resulted in their heads and torsos in shadow and their belt and below strongly lit.  It took some work with the gradient filter tool in Lightroom to save what could be saved.

Ultimately, this is one of the challenges with working with a show so early in its life and especially showcase productions that don’t have the leisure of more than one or two runs on the stage before opening night; the actors are still trying to figure out their environment.

Posted in Shows

TROU: Spring Break Forever!


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).


Posted in Nylon Fusion, Shows

This is How I Don’t Know How to Dance


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.

Posted in Shows, SITI Company

The Rivals

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.


Posted in Pearl Theatre Company, Shows

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

Richard III

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!

Posted in Shows