Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3 show dates left for GSC's Antigone

Rather than present this post simply as the coda installment of my recent work photographing the Garfield Shakespeare Company's current production of "Antigone," which it is, I thought I'd use it to share a bit about "the good" and "the bad" that went into photographing it. And because "the bad" forced my hand, and thereby directly led to "the good," I'll start chronologically. For those of you more interested in the non-photography stuff about the play, there is a bit of that near the bottom!

Ordinarily, my preference in taking official archival photos for the troupe is to shoot a dress rehearsal. That way, my movements and the constant shutter tripping of the camera aren't a distraction to people in the audience during a live performance.

Most theater troupes have only one dress rehearsal, so it's crucial that the troupe's schedule and mine coincide if I'm to do it the way I really want (and, I think, the way the troupe would enjoy, once it sees the results). If we are not in sync, which happened with "Antigone" -- I had to work late into the night on the evening of the dress rehearsal -- one of three things happens: 1) I end up shooting a live performance; 2) the troupe finds someone else to do it; or 3) nobody gets the shots. For "Antigone," it was option No. 1.

"The bad" about shooting a live performance goes beyond just possibly annoying audience members, which I rank a very high No. 1 "bad" factor. To minimize audience distraction at a live performance, I minimize my movement, or at least limit it, by standing behind the back row as much as possible. Back row people still hear the shutter clicking, true, but at least they don't see me moving about to the degree I would at a rehearsal.

However, in addition to the distance from the subject, standing behind the audience challenges me to work around seats, audience members' heads and line of sight challenges, most of which I deal with via more work in post-processing -- strategic crops, mostly. I end up with more feet chopped off because they're behind a seat or a spectator's head, but ... a photographer tries to crop as judiciously as possible. Having limited perspectives also forces a photographer to work harder to avoid background nuisances -- bright lights and linear patterns, mostly. Again, strategic cropping and, on occasion, cloning-and-removal in post-processing is the best remedy for that.

On the plus side, GSC's spring productions are indoors, and the seating doesn't go too far back from the stage, so standing behind the back row doesn't put me so far away that I can't still get decent shots.

For "Antigone," I decided to do something I've never done before -- use my 1.4 lens extender indoors. I wanted more reach on the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens because I'd be so far back. Given that the Canon 6D I was going to use had such an improved light-sensitivity sensor over my previous body (the Canon 7D), I was going to gamble that losing the largest f/stop (2.8) -- losing large f/stop(s) is the trade-off of using extenders, and the longer the extender, the more large f/stops you lose -- was not going to have as great of an impact on image quality if I had to push my ISO as high as 6400. If I'd been using the 7D, I would not have wanted to do that ... or, I'm sure I'd have had to process all images through a noise-reduction filter afterward.

I'm tickled to say the 6D delivered for me. The images you see here were taken with the 6D and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens and 1.4 extender, and I didn't process any of them through noise-reduction software.

And now, about the play ... 

"Antigone," the Jean Anouilh version, starts a 2014 program that features two "firsts" for Garfield Shakespeare Company. It's the first time in GSC's modest history that both shows on the troupe's annual schedule will feature modern classics (i.e., no Shakespeare). The show for late summer is Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," which will be GSC's first-ever musical.

"Antigone" goes back to ancient Greece; it was penned by Sophocles, hence the characters' Greek names. In Sophocles' version, the focus of the play falls on Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, and the loss of so much family in the tragedy. French dramatist Anouilh advanced the story to 1940s Nazi-occupied France, and the plot's emphasis turned to Antigone, Creon's niece, and her moral and political resolve. Anouilh enhanced a second-half scene involving niece and uncle and turned it into a powerful exchange, one that left both Nazis and the French resistance debating whether Anouilh meant to favor one side or the other, something Anouilh would never set straight entirely.

Director Chris Burton (right) added a visual twist to GSC's production of Anouilh's "Antigone." In consultation with key crew members, he decided to use costuming and makeup to cast performers in the roles of statues coming to life to tell the story. Creon ascends the Theben throne after co-rulers Polynices and Eteocles, Antigone's brothers, die on opposite sides of a civil war, Creon's first loss of family in the story. For political reasons explained in the play, Creon must allow only one of the brothers to be buried in honor, while the other's remains are to be left untouched on the battlefield. Anyone who attempts to move Polynice's body or give him a proper burial, Creon orders, will be arrested and put to death. Creon chooses to honor Eteocles, and Antigone fervently, and at first, furtively, strives to see that Polynices gets a proper burial.

Even though Antigone's relationship with both brothers was marginal, and even though Creon, in the course of the play, divulges to Antigone the despicable character of both brothers, she insists on defying Creon's order. Creon pleads mightily to get Antigone to come to reason. He tells her he does not want to order her execution, but Antigone -- perhaps for reasons she doesn't know herself, even after learning from Creon that both brothers sought to assassinate their father, Oedipus -- won't back down.

I saw both performances last weekend -- I did the photography on opening night, then returned on Saturday to enjoy the show as a spectator. The roles of Antigone, Creon, the narrator (also called the Greek chorus) and Jonas, one of three guards, are key ones, and I want to mention here that each of those performers did great jobs in their roles.

Caleb "Kabs" Slocum as Creon, who you see with Kerry Lane Stauffer (as Antigone) in the photo leading off the post, makes the aforementioned one-on-one scene with Antigone a riveting one. Creon tries furiously to bring Antigone to realize the futility of -- and recognize the thin substance to -- her cause in the face of paying a much larger, permanent price (death) for standing firm. Slocum does well to convey that frustration in every deliberative move, and every deliberative utterance, he makes.

John Garlick's spin as the socially clumsy guard, who is the last person to see Antigone alive, provides comic element in the otherwise serious story, making it difficult to believe that this is his stage debut.

For most of the play, it's cast member Robert Routier's job, as narrator/Greek chorus, to give spectators the back story. Indeed, Routier opens the performance by introducing all of the characters, which sets up the audience nicely for the drama that unfolds. And Stauffer, in the title role, makes for a model Antigone, nicely depicting the sometimes naive defender of moral and political ground, one who ignores the petitions of her sister Ismene (played by Ashley Chase Elliott) and fiance, Haemon, played by Spencer Elliott, in addition to those of Creon. And on two occasions at the end of the play, Routier briefly steps out of his narrator's role and interacts directly with Creon, questioning the ruler's monolithic approach and even offering a final argument on Antigone's behalf.

"Antigone" has three more show dates -- 7 p.m. March 21 and 22 and 3 p.m. March 23. Performances are at the Garfield Park Arts Center, 2432 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis, in Garfield Park. Admission is free, but you are asked to call the arts center in advance, during normal business hours, to ensure and reserve seating, which is limited. The center's number is (317) 327-7135; its normal hours of operation are 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays except for special events, such as the GSC plays.

For a full gallery of shots from the production, visit my site at SmugMug.com.

Above: Antigone (Kerry Layne Stauffer) in an early scene with her nurse, played by Megan Dale Slocum.

Above and below: Creon's son Haemon (Spencer Elliott) is introduced as a man who enjoys sports (such as sparring with the cast's messenger, Andy Sturm, below) ... and women. Above, he dances with Ismene (Ashley Chase Elliott), the sister of his fiancee, Antigone. The Elliotts are married in real life.

Above: Creon's wife Eurydice (Monica Verdouw) passes the play's narrator/Greek chorus, Robert Routier, during introductory remarks. 

Above and next two below: Antigone confides in sister Ismene and fiance Haemon that she must see that brother Polynice gets a proper burial.

Above and below: Creon (Caleb "Kabs" Slocum, right above) first learns, from Jonas (John Garlick), one of his guards, of attempts to cover the remains of Polynice, which violated his order to not touch the body. 

Above and next two below: The palace guards (above, from left: Guy Grubbs, John Garlick and Jay Brubaker), with Antigone present (below), as they answer to Creon's inquiries about who tampered with the body of Polynice.

Above and below: Two more frames from the dramatic exchange between Creon and Antigone.

Above: Routier updates the audience on the play's latest developments.

Above: Creon's page, played by Elizabeth Fasbinder, watches the back-and-forth between Creon (not pictured) and Antigone, flanked in the foreground by one of the guards. 

Above and below: Antigone in the final moments of her exchange with Creon in the second half of the play. 

Above and below: Antigone's sister, Ismene (Ashley Chase Elliott) tells Antigone she'll support her in the effort to bury Polynice, but Antigone tells her it's too late. 

Above: When Antigone is led away after her dramatic exchange with Creon, the narrator/Greek chorus (Routier) pays him the first of two visits near the end of the play. Standing at the back of the audience, he says, "You're mad, Creon. What have you done?"

Above and below: Creon confirms Antigone's fate in an exchange with his son Haemon, Antigone's fiance. 

Above and below: Antigone engages guard Jonas in conversation, as he is the last person who'll see her alive. She coaxes Jonas to write what turns out to be a very brief note to give to Haemon: "I'm sorry, my darling," the note reads. "It would have been nice and peaceful for you all without me. I love you."

Above below: Andy Sturm, as the messenger, announces not only Antigone's death, but that of Haemon, who dies alongside his finacee.

Above: The narrator, in one last visit with Creon, informs the ruler that Creon's wife, Eurydice, took her life after learning of the death of her son, Haemon. "Her, too," Creon mutters. "They are all asleep." 

Above: In the end, only the guards remain, and they care nothing about what has just transpired ... just the game of cards before them.

1 comment:

  1. Perfectly told... Great shots, just the way I recall.