Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Folio brings "Hamlet" to the stage

I've shot full-show Shakespeare productions by First Folio Productions of Indianapolis since its 2014 spring presentation, "Romeo and Juliet." And while First Folio always has done a remarkable job, this spring's "Hamlet" might just be its best yet.

"Hamlet," which is playing at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, opened last weekend and has one more weekend of shows -- 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 3-4, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday June 5. Check the link in this sentence for ticket information.

I first saw "Hamlet" male lead Carey Shea as the cynical philospher Apemantus in the rarely performed "Timon of Athens," Casey Ross Productions' contribution to last fall's inaugural Indy Bard Fest at Studio 15 in Carmel, Ind. I was struck then by his ability to convey a non-lead but nevertheless important character. When I photographed the "Hamlet" dress rehearsal on May 24, I saw it even more so when he brought Hamlet to life and, alas, to death on the stage.

Devan Mathias was cast in the play's female role lead, Ophelia, and her dramatic meltdown scene gives photographers the thrill we seek in trying to best capture the moment. Kudos go out, as well, to Matthew Anderson, whose portrayal of Claudius, the evil, conniving stepfather of Hamlet, is strong and convincing, reaching its apex in the dramatic soliloquy just before intermission.

Director Glenn Dobbs devoted attention to intensifying the climactic swordfight scene depicted in the photo leading off the post. The scene pits Hamlet (Shea, left) against John Mortell's Laertes. Mortell is a veteran of First Folio swordfight scenes in shows that I've photographed ("Macbeth" 2015 and "Romeo and Juliet" 2014), and directors of Shakespearean dramas no doubt find those skills a welcome complement to his character portrayal acumen.

First Folio's "Hamlet" has had favorable reviews by at least three theater bloggers -- Melissa Hall ("Stage Write"), Ken Klingenmeier ("A Seat on the Aisle") and "Jay Harvey Upstage."

Ah, but this blog is about pictures, not about words (although I'm sure you can find many posts to present as evidence otherwise). Here are a few of the shots from the show, which is likely to be one of my last to photograph, to whet your appetite for the real thing. A full gallery of my shots from the play is available to view at my SmugMug.com site.

Photo geek stuff: I shot the entire production with a Canon 6D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I used a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens to shoot individual shots of the cast members, which the director, Glenn Dobbs, asked me to take in addition to the play photos. Those photos are not included in this post but might be represented in a separate post down the road. My settings for the play shots varied according to light conditions and when action on stage was normal or intense. I did shoot using shutter-priority mode for the entire play. For non-action scenes, I was able to shoot at shutter speeds ranging from 1/160 to 1/200; for the climactic sword-fight scene, I raised the shutter speed to 1/640 and set the ISO to 8000 (there was good lighting). My ISO setting was my major variable, as stage lighting varied frequently throughout the show. For lighting at its most optimum point, my ISO was usually from 1600 to 2000; at lighting's lowest point, I used ISOs ranging from 4000 to 16,000 or more (the ghost scene).

Above and below: Throughout Shakespeare's classic drama, Hamlet's relationships with key characters run friendly and violent, the most notable of which is that with Ophelia. Carey Shea and Devan Mathias portray those characters.

Above: A confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes, played by John Mortell. With the help and encouragement of Claudius, Laertes will seek revenge for the death of his father, Polonius, at Hamlet's hand in his mother's bed chamber.

Above: Hamlet with Polonius, portrayed by Tom Weingartner. 

Above: Hamlet has anger issues even with his own mother, Gertrude, played by Ericka Barker.

Hamlet above with trusted friend Horatio (Benjamin Mathis), who later in the story (below) comforts Hamlet in his last moments. First Folio's production takes the unusual step of opening with the denouement ... before presenting the whole story as a flashback. 

Above and below: Ophelia begins her run off the rails in this scene ...

... then completes it shortly afterward in the scene captured in the photos above and next three below.

Above and next three below: Claudius in his soliloquy of anguish and remorse just before intermission, climaxing with the emergence of Hamlet with drawn dagger. Hamlet refrains from using it this time, but Claudius isn't as fortunate in the final scene when the prince follows through. 

Above: In the final scene, Hamlet, moments after his mother had fallen fatally to a swallow of poison that was intended for Hamlet, finally follows through with the slaying of Claudius.

Ericka Barker as Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, in a moment of conversation (above), and in the violent bed chamber scene with her son (next two below).  

Above: Hamlet confronts the ghost of Hamlet's father, played by Andy Burnett. 

Chris Burton (above) and Anne Gross (with Burton, next two below) are the lead player and player queen in the performance of "The Murder of Gonzago," a play within the play that Hamlet devises to replicate the slaying of Hamlet's father. Hamlet hopes the play can help him determine if Claudius was responsible for his father's demise.  

Burton has the dual role of gravedigger (above), who presents Hamlet with a skull, supposedly of Yorick, jester in the court of King Hamlet, prompting a monologue on mortality (below) by the play's lead character.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Those magnificent trees ...
You can't help but notice them

One thing you cannot help but notice when entering the grounds of Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, S.C., are the trees. There are hundreds of them, and they're most everywhere.

The most striking cluster of trees, however, are the perfectly positioned "avenue of oaks" lining both sides of the dirt drive leading to the mansion's gate, illustrated by the photo leading off this post.

Even if the trees were the only thing going for this very popular tourist attraction, I'd make a visit there at least once. The avenue of moss-draped oaks were planted in 1743 and took two centuries to meet in the middle, but the spectacle is well worth seeing.

Only a portion of the plantation has the mansion, access drive, slave cabins and gift shop. The largest section of property is used for raising crops, including strawberries, blueberries, grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and pears. The plantation passenger tour vehicle shows visitors all of this as it meanders through its 738 acres, although the total acreage once was much larger and began almost exclusively to raise cotton. There is still a very small patch of ground near the parking lot devoted to cotton (first photo below), a nod to the plantation's historic origins.

The plantation's house and grounds have been used for settings and backdrops in television ahows (NBC's "Days of Our Lives" soap opera and ABC's miniseries "North and South") and motion pictures (the movies "Queen," "The Notebook" and "Forest Gump.")

As always, click on any image to view a larger, sharper version. That's important especially if you're viewing this post on a mobile device. To view a full gallery of images from my shoot at Boone H all Plantation in Mount Pleasant, visit my galleries at SmugMug.com

Photo geek stuff: I bracketed exposures for all of my photos used for this post so that I could process them in Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software afterward, although there are several photos below processed from single frames, especially those taken while on the tour vehicle exploring the various crops grown on the plantation. I used a Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 24-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens and a polarizing filter. Most of the three shots for each HDR image were taken at ISO 160, boosting upward accordingly to adapt to darkening available light. I used an aperture of f/8 or f/9. The shutter became the variable camera setting to render my different exposures.

Note: This is my final post in a series from a recent visit to the Carolinas. 

Above: A close up of the modest cotton crop grown on a plot near the parking lot. 

The mansion above sits at the opposite end of the avenue of oaks shown in the lead-off photo. Between the mansion and the long avenue is the gates below. 

Above: Near the gift shop not far from the main gate to the mansion is the old cotton gin house, whose suspect structural integrity has required a battery of support beams to keep it standing.   

Above and next three below: The cabins where slaves stayed in the early years of Boone Hall. Each of the cabins now is used to tell a different story or theme about black history. The third photo below is a look inside one of the cabins, which provides information about slave participation in religious services.  

Above and next three below: The Gullah Theater, located at the end of the row of cabins, has live presentations of Gullah culture

Above and below: The smokehouse was where plantation owners preserved and store meat.

 Above and next four below feature shots from the floral gardens near the mansion. The last two integrate the gardens with the mansion.

Above: This long-arching tree branch frames a meadow where horses graze (next two below) along the left side of the avenue of the oaks. 

Above: Another arching branch on a tree adjacent to the horse meadow.

Above and next seven below: Not far from the Gullah Theater is this waterside compound, which has been rented by scores of brides and grooms to accommodate weddings. It apparently motivates some visitors to conjure thoughts of romance (third photo below). One noted wedding held here, in September 2012, united celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively

Above and next three below: Distinguished trees (including one heavily adorned in Spanish moss) behind the mansion. No photos were allowed inside the mansion.  

Above and next three below: Single-frame shots taken during our vehicle tour of the grounds, which included a trip down a heavily shaded but narrow dirt road, views of several crops raised (and sold) on the grounds and play area for children. When I was there in late April, strawberries were being picked and sold there. Our tour guide told us that to avoid theft, pickers are weighed with their baskets before they pick and when they check out.