Saturday, December 9, 2017

Bavarian Oktoberfest ... from 2008

Today's post is partly nostalgic (like a couple other recent posts) and partly a move to get these pictures on the blog's official record.

The shoot featured herein is a look at the annual Bavarian Oktoberfest, which is held in Old Heidelberg Park in Glendale, Wis., a north suburb of Milwaukee. I took these photos Sept. 13, 2008, three months before Photo Potpourri launched (which reminds me that PP will mark its ninth anniversary on Monday).

Oktoberfest was the gathering spot picked by colleagues from my college newspaper, The Spectator, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It was great to see these people again, but I wish we would have done it on the weekend before or after. My long drive to Milwaukee from Indianapolis and back was marked by heavy downpours, a rainfall so bad that a lane of I-94 near Calumet was impassable for several miles on the ride up ... and parts of I-80 were under water and closed on the way home, forcing a detour that added 3 hours to my ride.

Fortunately, the rain held off on the evening we met at Old Heidelberg Park. The photos you see here were taken with a Canon 30D equipped with a Tamron 28-75mm f/2 lens. I did do some re-editing of the photos, adding some detail with the shadows slider and applying crops on occasions. I didn't use any photos involving my colleagues (which actually constituted a majority of the shoot) because I didn't contact them to obtain their permission.

As always, to view a larger and sharper version of a photo, just click on the photo. This is particularly useful if you access the blog while using a mobile device. To view a full gallery of the images from this shoot, visit the link in this sentence.

Note: When this post went live on Dec. 9, 2017, I referred to this event in the headline and text as Milwaukee Oktoberfest. I've since learned that there is an event in Milwaukee proper called Milwaukee Oktoberfest that apparently is different from the Oktoberfest I attended in Glendale in 2008. I've since gone back into the headline and text of this post to call the event pictured here as Bavarian Oktoberfest (it is presented each year, at Old Heidelberg Park, by the nearby Bavarian Bierhaus). The Milwaukee Oktoberfest apparently is a newer event -- it's been running only eight years -- and is held at Pere Marquette Park in the Milwaukee downtown area. Both parks are along the Milwaukee River (although at different points) and run weekends from the middle of September until early October. I don't know the history or the "why?" behind there competing events (the one downtown would have sprouted the year after I was at Old Heidelberg Park), but because I'm always in the pursuit of accuracy, I decided to make the aforementioned edits. To make matters even more confusing, there's supposedly a third Oktoberfest operation (one that claims to be the largest in Wisconsin history) that operates in Milwaukee, but I'm just not going to get into that here!












Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reflecting on ...
6 years of community theater photography

After a recent email conversation with an acquaintance back in Indiana, I found myself in a nostalgic funk. I was thinking a lot of about my 40 years in Indianapolis, a reflection that lasted several days. One thing I kept coming back to was my time in Garfield Park, which was walking distance from my home in Indy.

The park was where I had frequently gone to walk and run for leisure and exercise, and it was where I often went to photograph. And ... it was the park that steered me to an interest in photographing community theater for the last six years of my time in Indy.

The park was home to an all-volunteer theater troupe, the Garfield Shakespeare Company, and on a lark one fall night in September 2010, I grabbed my camera gear and strolled to the park's MacAllister Amphitheater for the company's presentation of Macbeth, wanting to get more experience shooting live performance.

My curiosity for theater was piqued six months previously, when I joined a handful of photo club members in photographing a production by a then-new (and now defunct) theater company, The Collective, presenting its one and only show, Love Bites, at the former Locals Only nightclub on the Northside of Indianapolis.

While leaving the amphitheater that night in 2010, GSC's assistant artistic director, Bradley Jones, noticed my camera gear and asked me if I'd mind sharing my photos with him and artistic director Joe Cook, and I agreed. It was the start of a fulfilling association; I ended up shooting GSC's next 12 shows through 2016 at the amphitheater and Garfield Park Arts Center, which in turn would help me get hired to shoots five shows for First Folio Productions and two for Phoenix Theatre, also Indy-area theater companies, but unlike GSC, First Folio and Phoenix charged admission for their productions.

Why did I enjoy photographing theater? For one, theater involves people. The human element -- people's expressions and emotions (which puts the "drama" in the word drama!) -- adds an immeasurable dynamic to a photograph.

Some theater companies want only a handful of pictures of their shows -- enough to promote the event. So they find photographers who will stage their shots to suit those needs. I've seen those, and while they probably do work for the directors and producers, I always found them lacking.

Which is why I preferred to do almost all of my shoots in a show's real time, while the actors carefully walked through their lines and moves. So another reason I enjoyed doing those theater shoots was because -- and this was true of GSC particularly and First Folio to a large extent as well -- I was given unrestricted access to grab my shots. That meant that I was free to roam the stage (almost always during a dress rehearsal the night or two before the show opened).

Both Joe Cook, GSC's artistic director, and Glenn Dobbs, Cook's counterpart at First Folio, would alert the cast ahead of time that they should expect to see me moving about and to not let that distract the performers from their focus on the show and their lines. It usually worked.

I shot only two shows for Phoenix Theatre, and I had pretty decent freedom to roam about for the first one, which was on Phoenix's smaller stage, but the theater people put some mobility restrictions on me for the second, which was on its slightly larger stage. Fortunately, it didn't hamper me too much, but I do remember feeling artistically crippled ... and a little frustrated.

A quick aside: Phoenix right now is building a new complex at 705 N. Illinois Street in Indianapolis. It is expected to open in 2018 and will expand the theater company's working, stage and parking space considerably. I'm excited for them. For its first 34 years, Phoenix had operated out of a converted (and, in my opinion, too small) church at the corner of North Park Avenue and East St. Clair Street, a part of the trendy Mass Ave cultural neighborhood in downtown Indy. When I was there for my shoots, I wondered if the company would soon find more spacious quarters.

GSC productions were presented at two venues in the park. Spring shows were staged indoors at the Garfield Park Arts Center, while late summer shows unfolded at the nearby MacAllister Amphitheater. Only three of my GSC production shoots occurred on show dates (i.e., with audiences) -- the very first one I photographed (Macbeth), the second of two shoots I needed for The Taming of the Shrew (March 2012) and Antigone (March 2014).

What pleased me the most about my theater photography was that with each shoot, I detected improvement in my work, encompassing several facets of picture-taking -- sharpness, positioning, composition, creativity, anticipation/timing ... and patience.

Upgrading my gear helped me shoot better theater (and sports, now that I think of it) through the years.

Early on in my theater shoots, I used Canon 7D and Canon 30D camera bodies along with two lenses -- a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. In January 2011, I acquired a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, which soon became my primary theater-shooting lens. I would turn to the 70-200mm on rare occasions after that, but I found that after a couple productions, being able to roam the stage made the switching to a lens with longer reach almost moot. And limiting the images to a single camera body made it much easier to organize and track photos (and their image file names) afterward in post-production.

The 7D was a significant improvement over the 30D especially in the area of light sensitivity. I could push the 7D to higher ISO levels than the 30D, and therefore, reduce images with lots of noise, which I tried to correct with noise-reduction software in post-processing. Still, in very dark-light situations (especially on the two far sides of the stages), I still was running into excessive noise on occasion.

That was one of my motivations, in fall 2013, to upgrade to the Canon 6D. That camera one-upped the 7D in light sensitivity. I could should up to 6400 ISO without worrisome noise (the 7D's limit was about 2500 if lucky, whereas serious noise in the 30D began at ISO 1000).

In tandem with my reflection upon my photography for Garfield Shakespeare Company and the decision to put down those thoughts in this post, I decided to create a "best of" gallery featuring my favorite images from all my GSC shoots. You can find the gallery at the link in this paragraph. I guess that means the images you see in this post are my favorites of that best compilation.

Shooting so many GSC productions, I came to have favorite cast members, partly because of their fine acting and partly because the roles in which they were cast often put them in the most photogenic costuming, and those performers made the most of the opportunities. (I guess this is quick chance to tip the hat to GSC's Brad Jones, who did the lion's share of the costume preparation, which involved buying fabric, sewing and fitting.)

The one cast member who stands out is J.D. Bonitz, a young man who was involved in theater at Perry Meridian High School then threw himself into every role he had in the productions he participated in with GSC. In the photo leading off the post, a shot from The Tempest, Bonitz is the character in the white outfit. He had the role of the island spirit Ariel.

With Bonitz is Eduardo Torres, whose involvement in the play (in the role of Prospero) is notable because he agreed to join the cast well into rehearsals (in fact, with just three weeks before opening night) when the man originally cast as Prospero dropped out. Prospero is a main character (which means he has a lot of lines), and to help Torres navigate all of the live performances without sufficient time to memorize all those lines, Cook and Jones devised a prop -- a copy of the script -- that they tied to a rope dangling on Torres' side so he had something to prompt him. When I processed my photos for the show, I made a point to crop all of the photos of Torres -- to the extent possible -- to exclude the script.

To view a complete gallery of my favorite shots from GSC productions, visit the link in this sentence.

Above and next two below: Bonitz as the mischievous fairy Puck, expertly costumed by Brad Jones. The wonderful costuming also extended to Stephen Foxworthy (below), who played Oberon. The third photo below made my list because of Puck's rolling in hysterics in the background as Titania (played by Susan Yeaw) gives Oberon a dressing down.



Above and next two below: More scenes of Bonitz as Ariel in The Tempest. I like the depth of field effect I got in the scene above. Below, Ariel is supposed to be invisible to the character in front of him. And the second image below depicts GSC's noble attempt to stage a ship at sea storm scene (a scene a lot of theater communities simply skip because of the production difficulties). Bonitz, as Ariel, personally illustrates the ship's turbulent motion as the cast behind him did their best to amplify things with rocking-motion animation as they went through their lines. 




Above and below: Bonitz in The Taming of the Shrew, the version performed at Garfield Park Arts Center.


Above is the first of six frames from Macbeth (fall 2010), the first GSC show I photographed. Above is a full perspective shot during the feast at which the slain Banquo (far left, played by Charles DiGiovanna) appears as a ghost seen only by Macbeth (far right, played by Eric Eric MacDonald). Below, a tighter shot of Banquo from the same scene. I shot the whole play from the first row of seats in the audience, something I wouldn't have to do again, although my official shots of Antigone in 2014 would be taken during a live performance as well.


Above and below: GSC artistic director had no qualms about casting women in male roles. Sometimes it was because enough men didn't show up for auditions, but sometimes, too, it was because a quality female performer deserved the role. That was the case for two characters in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (fall 2011), when Nan Macy turned in a sterling performance as King Claudius. Above is Macy during the Claudius' dramatic soliliquy. She appears in the photo below, too, but in the background with Susan Gaertner Lange, who was cast in the role of Polonius, chief counselor to Claudius and father of Ophelia. 

                 

In two Shakespeare plays that GSC presented in my time photographing them, there were separate plays staged within the structure of the main play. Hamlet was one of them, and the scene above is from that show's "play within," titled The Murder of Gonzago. There's nothing extraordinary about the photo, which shows a character pouring a fatal dose of poison in the ear of a sleeping target. But I was struck by that manner of homicide, which Hamlet deliberately included in Murder of Gonzago because that's how his father had died, and Hamlet -- believing Claudius was responsible for his father's killing -- hoped Claudius' reaction to the scene when the king saw it re-created would confirm Hamlet's suspicions (it did). Below is a scene from the sword fight between Hamlet played by Pete Lindbloom (left) and Laertes (played by Brad Elliott). I liked this shot because from this angle I was able to fit all the key characters of the scene -- the combatants as well as Horatio (background left) and Claudius and Queen Gertrude (seated) -- into a compact amount of space.


We're back to A Midsummer Night's Dream with the photo above and the next four below ... because I'm personally partial to this show as my favorite (that'll become clear shortly). Midsummer is the other show I photographed in which there was a play within a play. The play within this production was called Pyramus, and Cody Blackford (above) was playing the role of the lion in the subplay. I like this shot because of the expression on Blackford's face and because of how the nice black background sets off the character in the photo. I was using a shutter speed (1/125) that was too slow to freeze fast action when I took the first photo below, but I like the blur that helps connote action that resulted because the two women had just launched into a sprint. The second photo below is another scene from Pyramus, and I chose this because of the fine conceptualization that director Joe Cook employed in the scene. He used Tony Van Pelt (center) not only as the brick wall but had Van Pelt form a circle with his thumb and index fingers to serve as a hole in the wall, allowing fellow cast members Todd Crickmore (left) and Rock Blackwell to communicate. I offer the third photo below because my son, Benjamin, played the role of King Theseus in GSC's Midsummer. Ben hadn't acted in a theatrical show since high school, when he and other school friends entered shows in the Indianapolis CYO's annual one-act play competitions. One year, their Tom Sawyer won best show and Ben won best actor (he had the title role). Midsummer was the only GSC show Ben would appear in while I was in Indy. I was extremely proud of him, if you could not already tell from my bragging. I liked the fourth photo below because of the lighting and color cast on Gabby Sandefer, who played the fairy Mustardseed. Her outfit is yet another testament to costumer Brad Jones. 





Above: A dramatic scene from Romeo and Juliet (summer 2016) featuring Bonitz (again) as Romeo and Knicholas Grimes, in his GSC debut, as County Paris.

Above and next two below are three shots from Jean Anouilh's Antigone (spring 2014), another occasion when GSC broke from its traditional Shakespeare. To help depict his characters as statues that came to life, director Chris Burton had his makeup artist dress up the cast's faces in the manner you see shown in these photos. I include the shots above and below because of the different perspectives I pursued (with some degree of success, I feel) when challenged with having to shoot around or behind a live audience. Above, despite tilting the camera -- a decision that clearly affected the normal plane of the characters in the foreground (Jay Brukaber and Kerry Layne Stauffer) -- I nevertheless composed the focal character in the background (Guy Grubbs) almost on a straight vertical plane in relation to the camera. In the depth-of-field pursuit below, when I saw Elizabeth Fasbinder looking in my direction, I framed her between two other characters in the foreground. I liked the third photo below because of the emotion shown by Caleb "Kabs" Slocum as Creon during a dramatic point of the story. In the background is Kerry Layne Stauffer, who had the title character role.



Above: There were several images from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot (summer 2014), GSC's only musical production (so far), that I could have presented here, but I chose this one because I was pleased to get at least one frame of this moment in focus. Nailing focus when action comes toward a photographer -- without the benefit of knowing it beforehand -- is difficult. And in this case, there was no time to engage the camera's auto focus tracking mechanism between the time I saw it coming at me and when I needed to trip the shutter. In those situations, a photographer must quickly ascertain the subject while composing the shot, place the focal point on the subject's eyes and fire quickly before the action moves much.

Spencer Elliott (above) and Christie Walker (below) appeared as Jack Worthing and Miss Prism in another non-Shakespearean show, Oscar Wilde's farce The Importance of Being Earnest (spring 2016). I selected these because of the expressions on their faces. 


Above and next four below are shots from the contemporary Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker (spring 2013). Most of these I include either for the distinct camera angles or depth of field ... or to highlight the animated acting by the performers. The first and third below feature Mike Merrick, who'll you'll see later on in the post in a costume for the role of Caliban in The Tempest.





Above: Chris Burton, who succeeded Joe Cook as GSC's artistic director when Cook retired in fall 2016, has had several memorable acting roles in GSC productions. Here (right) he's shown in The Merry Wives of Windsor (spring 2015). 

George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (spring 2011), upon which the musical My Fair Lady was based, was GSC's first non-Shakespearean production. The photos above and below are from that show. I loved the expression on the face of Jacqui Sheehan (above). Kyle Eglen and Maria Souza Eglen (they're married), pictured below, played the main characters, Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.


Tyler Gordon (above) had the title role in GSC's Othello (summer 2015), shown here in the critical bed chamber scene with his wife, Desdemona, played by Kate Ghormley. Six weeks after Othello's run ended in Garfield Park, the troupe presented the play in the first Indy Bard Fest, which was held in Carmel. Below, I captured GSC production stalwarts Jay Brubaker (left) and Andy Sturm (below), as Iago and Roderigo, in this scene early in Othello.  


Elysia Rohn (seated) as Bianca and Susan Yeaw as Katharina in GSC's second presentation of The Taming of the Shrew (spring 2012). 

I conclude with three more frames from The Tempest. The ones above and below give props to GSC's longtime costumer Bradley Jones. Above is Mike Merrick in his role of the deformed island beast Caliban, and below, it's Bonitz again, this time as Ariel disguised as a harpy when he visits three other characters to chide them for their betrayal of Prospero. The final image below is Joe Cook, which I include because Cook started the production as director ... then stepped into the role of Gonzalo (shown in the photo) a few weeks into rehearsals when the man originally cast in the role abruptly abandoned the production. Chris Burton took over as director.