Category Archives: Pearl Theatre Company

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.

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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.


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No Exit

“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.

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And Away We Go

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!

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You Never Can Tell

I’m so glad to be rolling in Pearl Theatre Company’s big 30th season with them, shooting You Never Can Tell, directed by David Staller and co-produced with Gingold Theatrical Group!  I must admit, I’m a bad theatre person – I don’t really know Shaw that well.  The closest I’ve been is My Fair Lady.  This show shared some common themes with Pearl’s 29th season closer, This Side of Neverland, by J. M. Barrie (specifically, the second piece, The Twelve Pound Look).  They were both of an era and dealt with women coming into their own, having cast aside their men.  But while Barrie was very sympathetic to his emancipated women, Shaw was a little less so.  Mrs. Clandon, the proto-feminist, seems unsure of the conviction of her choices by play’s end and her daughter/protégé Gloria seems “doomed” to be ensnared by love and lover and to be married.

The shoot itself went without a hitch – The Pearl stage is so spacious and well lit, that there are really no technical challenges, so long as you’re able to keep on top of your exposure triangle as the lighting shifts.  I kept the ISO at 5000 to 6400 and was able to keep my aperture at around f8 throughout, giving me a nice manageable depth of field.  They gave me the run of the first three rows, which was wonderful – though I favored center and house right for most of the evening.

One challenge I’m dealing with, aesthetically, is how to handle the wide shots when the whole cast is spread across a rather wide stage.  Unlike Luft Gangster, where it was a challenge to get the whole playing space in the frame (because the house was so small, I was shooting from the actors’ laps), I can capture the whole space, but the actors get lost in the vastness of the space (i.e., the composition isn’t very compelling).

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In fact, in reviewing the shots I delivered, none of the “top shots” are particularly wide.  Some of the “second tier” shots are, but they’re more about the scenery than the actors.   If everyone’s on the same plane and downstage, I can shoot from extreme right or left, but on a stage like Pearl’s, they can have significant upstage depth and most directors hate a bunch of actors downstage on a board, unless you’re doing A Chorus Line!  I’m thinking that wide angle lens I’m convincing myself to purchase may come in handy here, as well.  That way I could shoot from as close to the stage as possible (larger actors) and still have the whole stage in frame.  Of course, then there’s the danger of some barrel distortion, but these are the trade-offs that get made!

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