Wednesday, August 24, 2016

GSC's bittersweet Romeo & Juliet

For the first three years of presenting live theater productions in the MacAllister Amphitheater at Garfield Park, the Garfield Shakespeare Company was extremely fortunate in avoiding bad weather. No performances had to be postponed or canceled.

GSC artistic director Joe Cook would boast about that luck in his welcoming addresses to audiences before each show. Alas, the string of good luck ended in 2012, and a string of bad weather has dogged the troupe's full outdoor schedule ever since. I don't think a year has gone by since 2012 that one or more of the outdoor shows has had to be rescheduled or canceled by rain and/or cold.

But this year's weather dealt GSC an unprecedented setback: It forced cancellation of the entire opening weekend of shows of "Romeo and Juliet." Hence, this Friday and Saturday (Aug. 26 and 27) will serve as opening weekend. It will mark the second time GSC has presented this Shakespearean romantic tragedy; the troupe performed "Romeo" in its very first season as well.

While the cancellations already have left their mark on "Romeo" 2016, the show promises to be bittersweet for another reason.

Cook (left) told me recently that he and associate artistic director Bradley A. Jones, also GSC's longtime costumer, will depart the company when "Romeo" completes its run of performances. "Romeo" has four more shows scheduled for MacAllister and an abridged version to stage in late September at the annual Clayshire Castle Medieval Faire in Bowling Green. Ind. Cook said he thought it was appropriate that he and Jones say farewell with a play they produced to help launch the all-volunteer theater company eight years ago.

Cook and Jones co-founded GSC four years after moving to the Garfield Park-South neighborhood of Indianapolis. In a way, GSC was a revival of the park's Shakespeare in the Park series that had run for several years in the 1980s before shutting down well before the new millennium. Until GSC came along, there had been no park-based theatrical company in the interim.

Cook, a retired Spanish and Latin teacher at Ben Davis High School (where he was not involved in theater productions), has been involved in Indianapolis community theater for a while. Two troupes he previously founded, Hendricks Civic Theatre, based in Danville, and Spolight Players, Beech Grove, are still in operation -- just without Cook's participation.

Jones (right) has already departed the troupe, although before doing so, he contributed some work on "Romeo." Both men and Kassy Cayer, who has served as GSC marketing and publicity director for two years, also left the GSC Board of Directors, a group whose membership currently stands at five. Cook had been its president. Cook said he doesn't know who will take over as artistic director.

The likely candidate is board member Chris Burton (left), who co-directed "The Tempest" in 2013 and directed "Antigone" in 2014 and "The Importance of Being Earnest" this spring. Burton  is directing two more GSC shows this fall -- "Twelfth Night" (the troupe's entry in the second annual Bard Fest in Carmel, which runs in October) and "The Waverly Gallery," a contemporary drama with comedic elements written by Kenneth Lonergan that will be staged at the Garfield Park Arts Center sometime after the Bard Fest. (Note: The cast for "Twelfth Night" has been named, but auditions for "The Waverly Gallery," a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001, will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30 and 31 at the arts center).

In the past year or so, GSC obtained certification as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, qualifying it to receive grant money and enabling all contributions to the troupe to be declared as charitable deductions for income tax purposes.

On to the show ...

The "Romeo" cast features a good mix of veterans (12 people have performed in previous GSC productions) and first-timers (14), as well as a novelty -- two women were cast in the role of Juliet to allow for one or the other to be out of town for at least one of the performances. Consequently, for the official photo archive version of the show, I shot both nights of dress rehearsal -- one featuring Bita Eisenhut Paige as Juliet, and the other with Sabrina Duprey in the role. When Bita is Juliet, Sabrina takes a non-speaking role.

Remaining performances of "Romeo and Juliet," which pits the Montague and Capulet families against each other, are at 8 p.m. Aug. 26-27 and Sept. 2-3. No rainout dates had been planned as of this writing. As always, admission to all GSC productions is free, although the troupe eagerly welcomes donations and has receptacles at the amphitheater access points to accept any.

For a gallery of all my images of the shoots, visit my site at SmugMug.com. Because I shot two performances, I am still working on processing many of the photos, so the gallery is not complete, but I'm adding to it daily.

Leading off the post is a photo from one of several combat scenes in the play. This swordfight features Tybalt (left), played by Andrew Ohning, and Mercutio, played by Andy Sturm. Lurking in the background is Romeo, played by Joel David Bonitz.

Photo geek stuff: I shot both rehearsals with my Canon 6D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I used shutter priority mode throughout. For most scenes, the shutter was locked on 1/250. I boosted the shutter to 1/640 for the combat scenes. My ISO varied throughout the performance, which started at 7 p.m. with decent daylight, at which time I used ISO 240 and/or thereabouts. In post-processing, I addressed spot overexposure from direct sun hitting pockets of the stage by moving the highlight slider in Camera Raw software to significant levels below 0. If that wasn't enough, I also lowered the saturation slider. I then tried to make up lighting elsewhere in the frame by boosting sliders for shadows and, occasionally, exposure, though I tried to keep the latter to a minimum. As dusk settled in, I had to raise ISO levels. If the action occurred on the majority of the stage, the ISO rarely inched past 1600. But if it occurred on the stage's extreme sides or at the very front, where stage lighting was not good, I had to push the ISO to as much as 6400.

Above and next two below: Bita Eisenhut Paige will handle the majority of performances as Juliet. Above, she interacts with Friar Lawrence, played by Rich Steinberg.



Above: GSC veteran Joel David Bonitz (Romeo) struggles with Knicholas Grimes, who makes his debut with the troupe in the role of the County Paris. 

Above: One of two short, simultaneous scraps in an early scene.   

Above and below: Bonitz in a scene with Zoe Cunningham, who plays Benvolio, Romeo's cousin ... and an unsuccessful peacemaker. 


Above: Ohning and Cunningham in an early scene tussle that does not end in any casualties. 

Above and next four below: Mercutio, Romeo's best friend, is neither a Montague nor Capulet, so he easily frolics among members of both clans ... at least until he tangles with Tybalt.





Above and next two below: Sabrina Duprey in the Juliet role in scenes with her nurse, played by Peggy Herrod, and in a solo scene ... preparing to take a sleeping potion she obtained from Friar Lawrence.



Above: Duprey and Bonitz in a late scene in which Romeo finds Juliet and thinks she is dead. 

Above: After seeing Juliet and believing her to be dead, Romeo takes a dose of a lethal potion he purchased from an apothecary. In this photo, and the one below, Eisenhut Paige plays Juliet. 

Above: Juliet finds Romeo dead in her bed. 

Above: Romeo moments before the end of his struggle with Tybalt.  

Above: Lady and Lord Capulet, played by Erin Hamilton and Bill Baker, reacting to news of their daughter Juliet's death.  

Above: Prince Escalus, played by Guy Grubbs, is the voice of authority in Verona and appears on the stage thrice -- each time to administer justice after major developments in the Montague-Capulet feud.   

Above: Eisenhut Paige in a scene as Juliet with her nurse (Herrod).

Above: Duprey (left) in her non-speaking role when Bita Eisenhut Paige is playing Juliet.

Bonitz as Romeo and Eisenhut Paige as Juliet (above) and Duprey as Juliet (second below). 



Above: Bonitz in a scene with Friar Lawrence (Steinberg).  

Above and below: An example of how a quick change of focus directs/redirects the focal point in a photo, a technique that utilizes depth of field to help accomplish the goal. 



Above and next two below: Bill Baker in his breakout role as Lord Capulet. I could run a montage of Baker facial expressions (and I have at least a score of them!), but I'll let these three examples make the point. 



Knicholas Grimes as County Paris in three scenes -- in conversation with Juliet (above), upon beholding a lifeless Juliet (below), and briefly hiding behind Juliet's bed as Romeo enters the room (second below) in the distance.



 Above: Mourning the loss of Romeo and Juliet. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

UIndy baseball player invests lovingly
in diamonds to honor, help his family

In the eight years or so since I launched this blog, I've occasionally pursued photo shoots of things that piqued my interest after reading or seeing something in the media. Today's post is one of those instances.

On Aug. 1, Indianapolis Star sports columnist Gregg Doyle wrote about University of Indianapolis baseball player Brendan Dudas who, with his girlfriend, Madison Harris, obtained legal guardianship several years ago of two of Dudas' nephews whose mother was unable to care for the boys, then ages 5 and 3.

In the previous paragraph, I provided the link to Doyle's column, who far better than I can provide the background of this fascinating story. It's a tale that also involves Dudas' 12-old-niece Whitley, who contracted and died from a rare form of brain cancer.

On two occasions recently Dudas, a Perry Meridian High School alumnus who played catcher as a redshirt sophomore for the Greyhounds this past season, and Harris opened their hearts to young relatives. One time it was to help care for the two very young boys, and the other is an ongoing endeavor to raise money to battle Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG). This past Sunday, Dudas hosted the annual Wifflin' for Whitley Summer Classic open Wiffle ball tournament at his parents' house in Perry Township on the Southside of Indianapolis.

In addition to being a fundraiser, the tournament is an offshoot of the Indy Southside Wiffle Ball (ISWB) League, which Dudas launched in 2009, the year after he carved and developed a baseball diamond -- complete with dirt infield and warning track -- out of land in his parents' backyard on West Epler Avenue. Why? The answer can be found at Dudas' brief Twitter account bio: "Baseball is my way of life," he says.

Gauging by a welcoming sign hanging from one of the chain-link outfield and foul line fences on the diamond property, Dudas has dubbed his version of Field of Dreams "Baseball Land."

I have vivid memories of Wiffle ball play as a child. Parents of the kids in my neighborhood encouraged us to use plastic Wiffle instead of rubber and traditional hard balls -- primarily to safeguard their properties from damage caused by the more destructive balls. Most of the time we played in our yards, and none of us had the expansive real estate to lay out a decent-sized diamond like there is at the Dudases' home. I also used Wiffle balls for my personal home run derby I played. It was a derby that involved "real" Major League Baseball players -- (OK ... it involved just the real names of baseball players) -- which I played inside my parents' garage. Ah, but I digress ...

When I contacted Dudas by email last week to see if there were any ISWB games left in the season that I could photograph, Dudas told me the regular season and playoffs had ended. But he mentioned there would be a fundraising tournament in Whitley's honor all day on Aug. 7, so I decided to stop by, even though I had family coming to visit from out of town that afternoon. Neither of Brendan's young nephews, Kevin or Tristan, nor his girlfriend Maddie, were at the tournament while I was there. But if you read the Gregg Doyle piece in the Indy Star, you'll learn that players on all eight teams in the ISWB league know Kevin and Tristan and reach out to them in friendship and baseball kinship.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have camped out at the tournament for the daylong duration, but I could stay only two and a half hours before leaving to tend to my own family. Unfortunately, my pictures are not representative of all the teams that participated, but on Monday, Brendan provided me the following information that helped tighten loose ends from the day's competition:

-- Fourteen teams (of three players per team) registered for the double-elimination tournament; each team played at least two games.

-- All of the teams that made the final four had at least two players from the ISWB. The Skeeters won the tourney, and Dudas' team, the Sand Gnats, was runner-up. Also in the final four were ISWB's Seawolves and Naturals.

-- Two of the teams in the tournament consisted of Dudas' connections at UIndy -- one team of coaches, the other of players.

Wifflin' for Whitley 2016 raised $400 on the day of the tournament, bringing the three-year league fundraising total to $2,000. I say "day of the tournament" because anyone can still contribute financially. If you'd be interested in doing so, visit https://www.gofundme.com/wishesforwhitley

Leading off the post is a shot of Brendan belting the first of two home runs he notched in his first two at-bats in the Sand Gnats' first pool game. Just below the lead-off picture is a shot of Dudas watching the homer clear the fence. He told me that there is about 105 feet between home plate and centerfield on the primary diamond, where this homer was hit; the distance is about 85 feet from home to the left and right field foul poles. The plate-to-fence distances on the secondary field are a bit shorter, he said.

While ISWB fosters fun and competition, the league is serious enough about its competition to keep stats and dish out awards. Indeed, ISWB devotes a page of its website to the annual pitching and batting leaders and honors winners. This past season, Dudas led the league in all of the batting categories and has been the league most valuable player the past two seasons.

Photo geek stuff: I shot the tournament with my Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens. Because I knew I'd be moving around a lot, my primary interest about gear Sunday was versatility and mobility. I had two options -- the relatively light, long zoom Tamron on one camera body, or two heavy L quality Canon lenses (24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8) on two bodies, I chose the light and compact route. I used shutter priority mode (1/800) and ISOs ranging from 100 to 320. However, for my non-action landscape shots, I bracketed three exposures (normal and 1 stop over and under normal) for processing in high-dynamic range (HDR) software, using a constant f/stop (f/8) and boosting ISOs a bit to ensure three different exposures. My biggest challenge Sunday was working with significant light contrast on the main diamond. There were huge amounts of large-tree shade swallowing chunks of the diamond alongside bright sunshine everywhere else. HDR helped me close the light disparities with non-action shots, but it was a battle for any of those single-frame action shots where tree shade appeared. Most of my time in post-processing was spent trying to resurrect detail in the heavily shaded areas. In Camera Raw software, I pushed the shadow detail recovery slider to the hilt in images where you see heavy doses of shade -- and in some cases, I boosted it again in Photoshop Elements 13 when converting the images to JPGs.

To view a photo gallery of all my shots from the tournament, visit my site at SmugMug.com.

A grounder skips past a fielder as a baserunner rounds third base to score easily. A photographer's note: I was virtually shooting into the sun here, and luckily, the shadow-detail recovery editing tool on my Camera Raw software provided a welcome assist ... especially bringing out details in the baserunner's face.

Above and below: Freezing a ball in flight coming right at me is a favorite pursuit and challenge when I shoot baseball (or, in this case, Wiffle ball). 


Above and next three below: Brendan plays a mix of contemporary music (well, a lot of '90s stuff) from a boom box during play, and I caught him unable to resist grooving in the outfield while the opponent was at bat. 




Above and next two below: Family, friends and other ballplayers comprise the tournament spectator galleries. 



Above and next three below: The Sand Gnats had this runner on first base caught dead to rights while heading to second after the pitcher (left) snagged a come-backer and turned to throw to Brendan covering second base. But the throw hit the runner, who reached second base safely. These photos are a perfect example of the radical light contrast from shade cast by large shade trees hovering over the main diamond. 




Above: Gary Vaught, head coach of UIndy's baseball team, took a swing in his first visit to the diamonds to see what Brendan had developed.  

Above and next three below: A sort of Keystone Cops performance emerged from this Texas league pop-up on the main diamond. It did not end well for the defense ... well, unless you want to award points for the one-legged ballet dip in the last photo of the series. 




Above and below: This snag of a long fly ball at the fence was among the better defensive plays I saw. 


Above and below: These photos taken behind the netted backstop required strategic cropping and intense touch-up work to minimize distracting streaks caused by foreground net. 


Above and next two below are various perspective shots of the diamond and grounds. The first below was taken on top of an elevated slab of concrete adjacent to a wooded buffer at the end of the property. 



Above and next three below: Another defensive miscue on a grounder that hugged the third-base line. 




These flags (from left), Indiana state, Old Glory and Perry Meridian High School battle cry ("Don't Give Up the Ship") fly in a fenced-off area between the fences separating the two diamonds. 

The tournament bracket (above) early in the morning before any games were completed and (below) at the tournament's conclusion, when the players on the winning Skeeters posed. Photo below provided by Brendan Dudas.