Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shakespeare troupe tackles Tempest

With the fall production of the all-volunteer Garfield Shakespeare Company's The Tempest scheduled to open Sept. 27, I spent the past week or so shooting two practice sessions to garner pictures to promote the show online and in as many media that will have it.

The first shoot was an informal practice; most cast members were still rehearsing with the aid of the manuscript. No sooner had I completed the editing of those pictures -- and was preparing to post a couple dozen or so on Facebook -- when GSC artistic director Joe Cook scheduled a practice at which cast members would wear costumes for formal publicity photos.

When we did the publicity photo session for last year's show, A Midsummer Night's Dream, costumes for only a few cast members were ready. The pictures turned out wonderful, but only a few actors were featured. However, the shots were taken early enough in the evening to benefit from good natural lighting. For various reasons, this year's publicity photo session was scheduled later, which probably had a lot to do with why costumes were ready for just about everybody.

Unfortunately, we didn't get into the back area of the amphitheater (where performers could change into costumes) at Garfield Park until well past 7 p.m., and performers weren't ready to take the stage until almost 7:30. We lost valuable time at a point in the year when daylight gets shorter and shorter each day. If we'd started at 6:30 p.m. or thereabouts when practice was supposed begin, I'd have had some very nice ambient light to work with ... and wouldn't have been presented with the lighting dilemma that I ended up having.

My first thought was to use flash, powering down so that the intensity would be enough to provide nice highlight to faces. I slipped a Wescott Micro Apollo light modifier over the flash head to diminish any chance of harshness with the light. At 7:33 p.m., when we were about 10 minutes or so from starting, I tested the intensity settings on the flash (minus 1 1/3) on Mary Dando (right), who is playing Alonsa, queen of Naples. I had the camera set at shutter priority (1/160) and ISO at 200, and the settings rendered me f/2.8 on the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens I was using on my Canon 7D. The shot looked splendid. Note the ambient light -- still a bit left; that would turn out to make a difference between this shot and the ones I'd be getting in only 10 minutes time.

By the time we got the real show on the road, it had turned much darker, and those settings were giving me harsh face lighting -- and even shadows on the black backgrounds. I'd obviously overlooked the fact that the shot of Mary had the stray light going harmlessly into the atmosphere; on stage, that light was giving me shadow fits. I tinkered with the flash intensity several times, and I was getting either shadows and white facial features ... or not enough light at all. I was so irked, I didn't save any of those photos, not thinking they might be something I could use in this post. I chucked the flash and decided to shoot at a high ISO in available light. It was nearly 8 p.m., and I upped the ISO to 320, leaving the other settings alone. I got some good shots for a short while, but I had to keep boosting the ISO periodically ... I finished at 3200. The crew eventually turned on the built-in lights on the stage, but those were relatively weak ... so certainly better than none at all.

Actually, I've shot with available light at this facility before in the dark -- on nights when this troupe has done live performances. But the live shows usually have a bit more lighting, enough so that the 7D can use slightly less ISO -- maybe 2500. The 30D I was use for my backup or secondary camera, however, is in trouble in those situations. I can push it ISO 3200, but the 30D's noise is unacceptable (to me, anyway) at 1600 already, whereas the 7D usually does well through 2500 and, on occasion, even at 3200. I ran all of the photos through Noiseware noise-reduction software in post-processing, including the one leading off today's post, a shot from the wedding of the characters Miranda and Ferdinand, played by Stefanie Maier and Peter Catlin.

GSC is daring to stage the Shakespeare play's opening scene, a violent storm at sea and shipwreck -- something many producers skip over because of the complications of staging such a scenario (rocking boat, huge waves slamming into the boat, etc.). The Act 1, Scene 1 storm scene lead off the photos below.

The Tempest opens at 8 p.m. Sept. 27; there are additional performances at the same time on Sept. 28 and Oct. 4-5, with rain dates set for Oct. 11-12. Admission is free.

Above and next several below: GSC is counting on the audience to help visualize the setup above as the deck of a boat being rocked back and forth in a violent storm at sea. Cast member J.D. Bonitz, in his costume of the spirit Ariel (in white below), will assist audience members with the visualization. For this photograph, he stood at stage right so I could get him into the picture with the other cast members. For the live shows, however, he will be standing in front of the stage -- level with the audience -- and holding this model ship and rocking it back and forth (as well as gyrating himself) as if the ship would sway during a real storm.

The characters of Stephano (above left, played by Jay Brubaker), a drunken butler; Caliban (above right, played by Mike Merrick), a villainous island native and deformed island slave; the mischievous spirit Ariel (first below, played by J.D. Bonitz) who does Prospero's bidding; and jester Trinculo (the woman in orange, played by Heather Bartram) are featured in these next several photos.

Above and below: GSC was happy to welcome Eduardo Torres, who stepped in only last weekend to fill the important role of Prospero, the right duke of Milan, when the performer originally cast for the part had to drop out of the show.

The wedding ceremony (above) for Miranda (Stefanie Maier) and Fernando (Peter Catlin), officiated by the spirit Juno (Monica Verdouw), and an alternate post-ceremony celebration photo, where the three characters above are joined by spirits played by (from left) Sam Brandys, Elizabeth Fasbender and Nicolas Roberts. 

Above: Sebastian (played by Corey Shea), treacherous brother of Queen Alonsa, and Antonio (Sam Fogleman), Prospero's brother.

Adriana (left, played by Jean Long) and Queen Alonsa (Mary Dando).

Above and below: Monochrome and original color versions of a face-to-face encounter between siblings Alonsa, queen of Naples (Mary Dando) and her treacherous brother Sebastian (Corey Shea). I slipped to the back side of the stage and looked out toward the seats for this shot. Lighting was unusually challenging, rendering one of the noisiest images of the shoot.

Above: Ariel (Bonitz) along with flutists Sam Brandys (left) and Monica Verdouw.  

Above:  A depth of field composition, featuring a slumbering Queen Alonsa (Mary Dando) and her lady, Adriana (Jean Long). Mary prolonged the posed to indulge my setup of this one, one of the few times I leaned on the performers to step out of script for the benefit of photographs.  

Above: Two images from a sequence of Bonitz adding a beak, a black top and wings to his spirit costume, a stunning creation of GSC's associated artistic director and longtime costumer Bradley A. Jones. 


  1. I prefer the B/W of Queen Alonsa and Sebastian over the color! I think it makes her inner thoughts more visible...on display.