Thursday, June 12, 2014

A peek at what you don't see
when attending a theatrical production

My shoot for First Folio Productions' presentation of Romeo and Juliet late last month was a two-day affair. As indicated and illustrated in the previous post here, the first day was devoted to scenes from the dress rehearsal.

The second day was used to grab "behind the scenes" images, a group shot of the cast and crew, and some photos reflecting a refinement of the visual "show" the crew devised as part of the opening musical sequence. You saw a couple shots of the latter in the previous post.

This post is about the behind-the-scenes images, and it leads off with a shot of Susan Yeaw getting guitarist/vocalist Al Hoffman wired up for amplification. Susan worked the show in the control booth of the Ben Davis High School theater, but she is an accomplished actress who I met through her various roles with the Garfield Shakespeare Company.

I've come to learn that an angular perspective, or tilt, seems appropriate when composing a shot, and this scene in the control booth in the back of the theater seemed to be that time.

Above and next three below: Crew in the control booth work with the stage lighting and visual portion of the show. On stage are Glenn Dobbs, the play's director (first below) and cast member Jurrell Spencer (in costume), who played Count Paris. Shortly thereafter, Spencer would join fellow cast members Mark Varick and Anderson Parker in the first row of seats to watch further fine-tuning of the visual presentation. Varick played Benvolio, friend of Romeo, which was Parker's role.

Above and below: This silhouette of stage manager Melody Burnett, who also was in charge of set decoration, adjusting the curtain to the balcony is one of my favorite from the night's shoot. Earlier in the evening, Burnett and cast member John Mortell, who played Romeo's rival Tybalt, were nearby as the fog machine was tested.

Above: In the men's dressing room, Stephen Scull (Prince Escalus) makes his way toward a locker to put on his outfit.

Above and below: Outside the dressing rooms, cast member Brian Kennedy, who played Lord Montegue, finds his costume from the rack. A while later, he was in the dressing room beginning the makeup process. 

Above and next three below: Elsewhere in the men's dressing room, Daniel Clymer (above) finessed the look around his eyes, his costume (first below) hanging several yards away at his locker. Clymer played Friar Laurence. Also working on the eyes was fellow cast member Tristan Ross (second below), who played Juliet's father, Lord Capulet. Sitting on a chair against one of the walls were neatly arranged belongings and a dance scene mask.  

Above: In the women's dressing room, cast members Debbie Coon (left) and Michelle Wafford Mannweiler enjoy a laugh while tidying up. Coon played Balthasar, Wafford Mannweiler was Juliet.

Above: Carrie Reiberg's work with the aerosol can is captured in three mirrors. She played Juliet's mother, Lady Capulet.

Above: Kat Paton, who played Lady Montegue, concentrates on the eyes.

Above and below: Makeup artist Delores Dugger adjusts cast member Joyce Feichtner's bonnet (above) and sprays Paton's hair (below). Observing Dugger above is Jessica Thompson.

Above and below: Pre-rehearsal confabs can occur just about anywhere. The one above featuring (from left) Mortell, Dobbs, Varick, Parker (mostly obscured by Varick) and Spencer, ocurred outside the dressing rooms. The one below, featuring (from left) Dobbs, Andy Burnett (who played Abraham), Yeaw, Paton and Mortell, occurred behind the stage curtain, near the stairs to where performers reached the area for the balcony scene.

Above: After the behind-the-stage conference, Mortell has a playful exchange with another cast/crew member.

Above and next two below: The rehearsal's pre-show routine includes various stretching regimens. Above, Scull walks past Varick, who is using the stage as his mat for hamstring work. Both men will need to be limber for combat scenes. Scull (first below), supervised by Dobbs, does a hop routine. And the full cast (second below), in circle form, runs through a drill of tongue-twisters to hone the skill of recall ... and enunciation.

Above: The stage as seen from the theater's control booth, and the crew's table of stage props.

Above and next two below: A couple of performers have come up to me after seeing my pictures from shows, whether theater or music, and have told me how much they appreciated shots I've gotten from the perspective the performer has during a show. It serves as a fond, vivid reminder of their experience. Of course, these shots are missing a key component that they also see -- the audience. But from a perspective standpoint, the above shot is roughly what the actors see when they are on stage (even though lights there are mostly dimmed), and in the case of the second shot below, what a soloist has to deal with by way of a spotlight when they are front and center. The first show below reflects what Juliet looked out on when she did the balcony scene.

Above and below: These two shots represent a novelty of sorts. The Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 ultra-wide-angle lens I used for these was designed for a small-sensor camera, like my Canon 7D. But I used it on my full-frame sensor Canon 6D. I simply had to zoom down to a point where vignetting disappeared. But the wide angle the lens provides give you a feel for what the First Folio visual presentation during the musical interludes looked like from difference perspectives. 

Above: Behind stage, a table holding the sundry props that would be used during the course of the performance. 

Above: The cast and crew of Romeo and Juliet.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

I just completed one of the most challenging shoots I've ever had, largely because of the volume of images to process ... and the goal to turn over the completed JPGs as soon as possible.

First Folio Productions, which is nearing the end of its late-spring run of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at Ben Davis High School on the Westside of Indianapolis, asked if I would shoot its dress rehearsal and also take some "behind the scenes" photos. I've done considerable photographing of theater, until now almost exclusively for the Garfield Shakespeare Company, which is based in Garfield Park on the Southside of Indy.

I decided to do it, largely because I would have the opportunity to shoot in a traditional theater environment, and I was eager to see if the qualify of my images would be affected by the traditional lighting and the kinds of shot angles I would have there. The play's director, Glenn Dobbs, promised me unfettered access on the stage to grab what I needed, except for two sword combat scenes about which he was worried that I would have trouble getting out of the way if I were too close. (GSC, by thee way, uses an outdoor amphitheater for its late-summer/fall shows, and the floor of the main gallery hall of the Garfield Park Arts Center for its spring shows.)

I ended up shooting more than 4,500 images using two Canon cameras -- a 6D mounted with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, and a 7D equipped with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens. Both cameras also featured two new B+W ultraviolet lens filters (thanks, Greg Mitchell).

The quality of photos amazed me, even though the post-processing proved laborious because of the ever-changing and uneven stage lighting that challenged me to find balance and proper levels with a good number of shots taken at the dress rehearsal on Tuesday, May 27. I was constantly changing ISO levels to adjust to the light change. I'd committed to shooting at shutters of 1/250 to 1/320, which were much faster than I had used over the years for GSC, when I often settled for 1/160 (and sometimes less) out of necessity because the lighting for its shows was less intense (although I will note that lighting GSC's production of Antigone this spring did seem as if it had gone up a notch in intensity). But having the 6D, with its superior light-sensitive sensor, as my primary camera enabled me to take such a risk ... and not regret it. I turned to noise-reduction software for only about four dozen or so of all the images I made, and many of those came in the shots taken in the behind-the-scenes shoot on Wednesday, May 28 ... or when nearly all of the lights in the house were down, and a simple spotlight was used to illuminate a performer or performers.

I made my pictures available to Glenn as I plodded through the batch, and he dipped into them to promote the shows in sundry Facebook blasts and at the company's Facebook page in the days following the shoot and through this weekend's final shows. There is one more performance remaining -- at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. You can find ticket information at the above link. I'll publicly open the gallery I provided to him as soon as I hear that he is finishing dipping.

Early on, Glenn seemed most interested in shots from the several combat scenes in the production, and it was clear that Glenn, First Folio and the cast members involved spent considerable time mastering the sword and foot work required to make the combat appear convincing. I chose the one to lead off the post because of the lighting involved -- the dark, blue tone was used to help convey the fact that the actors, Jurrell Spencer (left), who played Count Paris, a suitor to Juliet, and Anderson Parker, who played Romeo, were situated in a tomb in the scene near the end of the play.

Here's a look at some of the images. You can find others at the theater company's Facebook page or visit a gallery featuring the full shoot at my site on SmugMug. I'll look to present a few images from the "behind the scenes" shoot on May 28 in a future post.

Above and next five below: The festive scenes in the play feature these dance routines by the full cast ... and is where Romeo and Juliet, played by Michelle Wafford Mannweiler, also connect for the first time. This series includes one of the few black-and-white conversions I made of the images.

Above: Anderson Parker conveying Romeo in a contemplative mood during a conversation with close friend Benvolio (Mike Varick).

Mercutio (Tim Fox, left) and Benvolio are good friends of Romeo. Mercutio is fun-loving and apt to press people's buttons in the quest of a good time. He challenges Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, after Romeo receives a death threat from Tybalt but refuses Mercutio's urging to fight Tybalt. Mercutio fights Tybalt himself, with unfortunate consequences. Mercutio's playfulness is featured in the two shots below.

Rosaline (played by Kathleen Charek), Romeo's love interest until he sees Juliet, uses a strategically placed kick to set straight one swordsman (Jeff Sanford) during the play's first fight scene.

Above and below: The first fight scene featured multiple swordsmen simultaneously clanging weapons.

Above and next five below: This series could be subtitled "The Many Faces of Holly Hathaway," who played Juliet's nurse. These selections scratch the surface of Hathaway's animated expressions captured during the rehearsal. As a sidebar, from what I understood, the nurse's costume was not ready at the time of this rehearsal, so cast members (possibly even Hathaway herself) were joking that Hathaway's plaid shirt had transformed her role to that of a lumberjack hussy (although they used a slightly more vulgar term). Carrie Reiberg as Lady Capulet (in red dress) pulled off a few striking expressions herself in these images.

Above and next two below: Shots from the balcony scene.

Above and next three below: Mercutio's run of prankish behavior comes to an end in his duel with Tybalt (played by John Mortell), beginning (above) with one last vulgar gesture. It ends in the third image below, with Tybalt's second of two thrusts into Mercutio's midsection.

Above and next two below: After witnessing the demise of his friend Mercutio, Romeo takes up the sword and gives Tybalt his just due, also with two avenging jabs to the midsection.

Above and next two below: The first and second halves of the show open with musical interludes provided by vocalist Rachael Whitlock and guitarist/vocalist Al Hoffman. The frame above and below are from the opening of the second half. The second shot below was taken with an ultra-wide-angel lens, a Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5.

Above: The play's denouement begins when a despairing Juliet swallows a potion intended to put her in a temporary coma-like state so she can feign death to avoid marrying Count Paris at her father's insistence. She gets the potion from Friar Laurence, who promises to get a messenger to Romeo to inform him of the plan. But the messenger doesn't make it to Romeo in time before Romeo hears of Juliet's apparent death. Juliet's parents (first photo below), Lord Capulet (played by Tristan Ross) and Lady Capulet, also are unaware of the ruse. The friar isn't about to clue them in, as he helped Juliet hatch the plan.   

Above and next five below: Romeo discovers what he believes to be a deceased Juliet, kisses her goodbye, downs a lethal poison that he had obtained from an apothecary after learning of Juliet's alleged demise, then collapses to the floor. When she awaks, Juliet discovers Romeo -- and his empty bottle -- and decides to end her life as well, using a short-blade sword before collapsing onto Romeo. 

Above: Lord and Lady Capulet and others discover Julie a second time, this time mortally wounded.