Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A cloud show .. at the Sunken Garden

Since 2004, one of my annual pursuits is photo documenting the annual summer floral display in the Sunken Garden of Garfield Park in Indianapolis.

I took a few years hiatus (2012-14) from the project because the park's rangers during that period gave photographers like me a difficult time while enforcing a conservatory rule requiring professional portrait photographers to obtain a license if they wanted to use the Sunken Garden as a backdrop for their portrait photography.

I may have expounded on this experience with the rangers previously, so I'll skip the details. Suffice it to say I had no trouble shooting the display last year, so I ventured to the garden last week to shoot the 2016 display. It was an extremely humid day, and I knew of weather reports that a storm system would be heading through Central Indiana in the afternoon. It was mostly cloudy around 2:30 or so when I got to the park, and I tried to get it done quickly to avoid getting caught in the downpour.

I succeeded ... but barely. I started feeling huge but sporadic raindrops as I walked home, and the full deluge came about five minutes or so after I'd made it into the house. But I knew the storm was coming when I was in the park. I could see crazy cloud formations, which I integrated into some of my photos. Those clouds will be the distinguishing aspect of the 2016 shoot.

The photo leading off the post is one of three images I made that involve some interesting textured sky. It also is notable because at the last minute, I applied a crop on the stair rail at the bottom of the image. I included the full rail in the composition because I thought it would make an interesting framing element ... and a leading line into the garden. But the more I gazed at it, the more I felt it distracted the viewer from what I considered to be the focus -- the garden and sky. I include a copy of the pre-cropped version at right. What do you think? Did I make the right call?

A full gallery of the shoot can be found at my site at SmugMug.com.

Photo geek stuff: This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but here goes anyway ... All photos were taken with a Canon 6D and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. As I do for all my landscape images anymore, I bracketed exposures for treatment in Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software in post-processing. I took three images for each scene, one at normal exposure, one at plus 3/4 stop, and one at minute 3/4 stop. The bracketing and melding in HDR proved particularly beneficial for the images with the detailed cloud formations, scenes that contain a high degree of contrasty lighting. I used an ISO of 250 and aperture of f/8, rendering the shutter as the variable. The average exposure shutter was 1/160, so the two other frames were taken at speeds slightly above and below that. usually 1/333 and 1/80.

Above and below are the two other images in which the sky was a key element of the composition. The image above looks northeast, the one below looks due east. I had to shoot both images twice because first attempts were too overexposed. 

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.