Assignment: WIG Coffeehouse – Improvisation

Last week (September 22, 2016) I was shooting the opening event for HCC Arts Collective’s season, the WIG (What Improv Group) Underground Rooftop Coffeehouse at Howard Community College.

WIG, HoCoPoLitSo, Improv Dancers, and Crew

This is the second year that I’ve had the privilege to be associated with this event. The event is an opportunity to see WIG perform and be introduced to their 2016/2017 cast. It is also a chance to explore the collaboration of writers and poets from the HoCoPoLitSo with the improvisers from WIG. This year it was expanded to include dancers and photography to inspire guests and improvisers.

Dancer, Heather Cramer

I thoroughly enjoy all my interactions with the theatre community, as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows. If you were to ask me a couple of years ago, I might have said that my theatrical photography is some of my least creative efforts. I viewed my role as recording the creative output of others. Which I cherish since it allows me to be around truly amazing creatives, but I felt my role was more journalistic.

Musician, Chris Sisson

Improv Dancer, Jeffrey Mensah

WIG Alumnus, Courtney Branch

 

Actor, Jordan, brings the audience into the show.

W.I.G. actors Noelle, J.P., Sierra, Lauren B.W.

It wasn’t until this past week that I recognized what I did as not only being creative, but very much improvisation as well. When I’m shooting an event like this, I’m not involved in the rehearsal process (if there is one) and I don’t know what is going to happen. Especially with improv, since the performers don’t know either. The performance space might be in the defined stage area

or right in the audience’s face.

Whether there is a defined stage, or not in this case, I have a general idea of where the action is going to take place but constructing an image requires the photographer to position himself with respect to the subject(s) and possibly actors (dancers, speakers, etc…) with respect to others in the performance space.

This is where the improvisation comes in. Like the improvisers I was shooting that evening, some of my performance is based on experience and some of it is reacting to my subject. There becomes a rhythm in the performance and in my photography that will develop in concert with the space and performers.

The event was a great time and, as with the best of any shooting opportunity, I learned something about photography and myself in the process.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Assignment: Evil (Dead – The Musical)

As I mentioned last week in Getting your foot in the door I’ve been pushing for more creative opportunity with Red Branch Theatre Company. Back in the early Spring I started talking to them about creating new photography for their Heathers: The Musical production.

Unfortunately, scheduling and budget didn’t work out for that and we decided we would make something happen for Evil Dead: The Musical opening in October.

While not really a horror fan, I love the comedic horror of the original Evil Dead movies. I wanted the shoot to honor those movies and their original posters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is typical with this kind of collaborative effort, you start with some pretty grandiose ideas and the reality of coordinating schedules, location and (yes, again) budget quickly bring you down to earth.

I had hoped to spend the time scouting looking for an actual cabin in the woods that we could shoot at. We did drive around Howard County a bit looking for a suitably creepy spot.

The location was actually in a neighborhood and the, apparently, abandoned house might have been an opportunity for getting arrested for trespassing more than a photo op.

The day before we were scheduled to shoot, I scouted around the theatre. When I saw there was one of Columbia’s ubiquitous path’s leading into the woods down the street

I decided to explore back in the woods there, not even a quarter mile from the theatre… and look what I found. A creepy old fence in the middle of the woods. Not a cabin, but decent enough window dressing.

 

 

 

 

So, we now had a location and we just needed to get our models.

Originally, RBTC production staff had thought about providing me with one or two leads for the shoot. In the end they provided me with the entire cast and took the hit in the rehearsal schedule, which was amazing. We also got the services of their makeup artist, Hannah Fogler, and their costume designer, Andrew Malone, to make the Deadites look awesome for the shoot. My assistant, Allie Press, who is also a trained makeup artist helped Hannah get through the large number of cast members in a timely manner.

 

 

 

 

While the cast was getting made up, I sacrificed my assistant to that process and went to set up lighting in the woods. It was my hope that by shoot time, around 7pm, it would be cool in the woods. However, this was still early September in Maryland. It was hot and ridiculously humid. You wouldn’t know it by how fantastic the cast looked or behaved.

Photo credit: Allie Press

Lighting was an interesting affair and there was a bit of trial and error getting our setup. My concerns were having enough light from the front so I could see good detail in the actors’ faces, so I used my pretty powerful Godox AD360II with a small Godox portable Octabox as my key light and a Godox Ving V860 with a shoot through umbrella for fill. This still left the need to provide some light to separate the subjects from the background. This was accomplished by two more speedlights, one back about 20 feet shooting directly at the back of the actors and one off camera left.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

This didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. The Deadites behind Ash were kind of lost in shadow. So, I took the mid-light and modded it with the Magsphere from MagnetMod. This was placed behind Ash in the midst of the Deadites coming behind him.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

In the end, I’m really happy with how the images turned out. The cast completely got what we were going for. A little post-processing and I think we did credit to the original movie images.

In order to get the look I wanted, I added a ton of local contrast, blue to the background and magenta to the highlights. Here, you can see the before/after:

As always, I want to thank the folks at Red Branch for their trust in me and their enthusiasm for creating art of so many flavors. Thank you to Jenny Male, the director, for giving up some very precious rehearsal time and Dana Medford, stage manager, for making this all come together. This cast was great fun to work with an I think you are going to love their take on Evil Dead. Get out and support local theatre!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Getting your foot in the door

In my previous life as an consultant in the government market I learned that you don’t always get into the ideal situation with a new client. Sometimes you have to just get in the door, consistently deliver results and look for opportunities to make it your ideal job.

I have a long history of involvement with theatre. I love the theatre.

I’ve been working with the amazing creative folks at Red Branch Theatre Company for a number of years. RBTC is a local non-profit professional theatre with a mission to produce socially aware content and serve the community.

First, simply taking production stills during tech week.

 

That being said, I wanted to do more with the theatre. So we expanded my involvement to getting decent, headshots of the casts for display in the lobby and something the theatre could give to their actors.

rbtc-headshots

I kept pushing for more involvement and creative opportunity. While my work isn’t central to the work they do, I felt like I could be a larger part of their success. I hope that extending my involvement to other areas like having the headshots be of the characters instead of the actors would be recognized as valuable.

untitled-1

This was really a fun expansion of my work with the theatre. It meant that for new shows I needed to get an idea of color palette, content, tone and a little more interacting with the incredible casts and crew.

That just wasn’t enough I wanted to have a bigger impact and more creative reach. Instead of minutes with the characters, I wanted some real time for setup, evaluation and experimenting (shocker, a creative who wants more time to do their work). Theatre budgets, of money or time, aren’t large. So managing my desires with available resources was important.


Still we worked together last year in gym near the theatre to create some very cool images for a calendar to promote “Dogfight”.


 

 

I don’t know that the calendars sold as well as we would have hoped, but the project was fun and I think it helped promote the show.

 

 

 

 

It gave me more chance to try different things, change-up lighting and tell more of a story in my images.

 

 

 

 

With the new year, there were changes at RBTC. In addition to finally getting their non-profit status approved, they have become a Helen Hayes Award eligible theatre. The first show they produced that was eligible was Sweeney Todd. For Sweeney Todd we did a studio shoot with the principles that I discussed already.

These are the people I want to work with. When they get the grant for 1.5 Billion Dollars, they’ll be the only client I need. Until that happens my work with them will be more of an expression of my creative passions than my greed. 🙂
Along those lines I had hoped to do something funny and dark for the production of Heathers, but schedule and budget didn’t work out for that. That had me looking forward to the Fall and EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!!! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Sweeney Todd Promotional Shots – Red Branch Theatre Co

Red Branch doesn’t usually do a photo session early in the production schedule to create styled images for promotional use. When they contacted me to do these I was more than happy to jump in. Sweeney Todd is a show I really like and have good familiarity with.

I  spoke to the production staff to get a scope on the job. It would be shots of the two main characters Sweeney Todd (Russell Sunday) and Mrs. Lovett (Janine Sunday).

I  knew I  needed to play up the theme of their season, “Paint it Red”, and keep with the dark malevolence of the show. So, I expected to shoot in the big orange room rehearsal space that is my onsite studio and photoshop a context. With this in mind I stopped by the theatre the afternoon of the shoot to make sure I was on the same page as them.

It’s a good thing I did. While there I spoke to Chester, one of their set designers, who offered me some reclaimed building materials from his father’s yard. It couldn’t hurt to look. Right? Oh man. This stuff was perfect! It consisted of some really old, dirty corrugated steel siding and wooden shutters that looked like they had to be literally dug up. We set them against a wall in the big orange room and Chester produced bailing wire to “secure” the shutter to a nail hole in the siding. Instant set!

I think that looks fantastic, but it doesn’t quite have any mood to it yet. I only had 3 location speedlights with me for this shoot. I felt I could definitely dedicate one to the background. The look I wanted was a wash on the wall from a streetlight over head. So, I put one of my speedlights (the Nikon SB-800) with a RogueGrid and an Orange-y RogueGel on a boom arm to get it over the middle-ish of the background. By under-exposing the background and setting the white balance to daylight, I started to get the effect I wanted.

I almost had the look I wanted, but I thought Sweeney wasn’t menacing enough. I decided a light blue gel on the MagGrid lighting him, would give me more of the effect I wanted.

 

With a little post-processing, this gave me the look I wanted. That post-processing involved adding in a razor, since we were running ahead of the props department.

This gave me my Sweeney set up, but the client also wanted shots of Mrs. Lovett. Lovett is no less scary than Sweeney, but she’s somewhat more light-hearted. I didn’t want her to be as cool as Sweeney. So, she was shot with a warmer gel (1/4 CTO)  on the Rogue Flashbender 2 XL Pro to soften the shadows a little and control the spill onto Sweeney and the background.

Again, there was a bit of photoshop to add the rolling pin and razor (a different razor this time) and toning to get the look I wanted.

So, it was a great shoot. I was able to execute my vision in very short order (about an hour, really) which can be important to some clients. Especially, when you are working into a production schedule.

I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the cast and working with them for headshots and production stills.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Noises Off at Silhouette Stages

 Noises off is a wonderful farce of tax evasion, mistaken identity, theft, trysts and SARDINES!

This latest incarnation staged by Silhouette Stages at Slayton House in Columbia, MD is an amazing undertaking for a community theatre. The set is large and stately. The cast is tight and energetic. (Full Disclosure: My lovely wife, Julie, plays Belinda)

So, what was my involvement?

First of all, I shot all the separate headshots and created the poster you see to the left here. The challenges there probably deserve a blog post on their own.

 


There were also a couple of cast photos like the one here on the right.

 

 

 

 

I also spent a number of days helping out on the shop-filling monster of a set.


Then, I went in and got a great preview of the show by shooting production stills. Yes, you’ll see the set isn’t done and only two days before opening. Theatre people will understand, of course, this is not as rare as one would hope. The situation for this show was even worse as access to both stage and shop was limited by Slayton House as they had other commitments. So, the set did not see the stage until the Sunday before opening Friday.

The show is in three acts. The first act takes place on the front of the set, where our actors are in dress rehearsal the night before/morning of opening for their play.

Act two takes place back stage, weeks later. While the show goes on in front, our audience is treated to backstage shenanigans that are mostly silent but not at all quiet.

The final act is played in front on the final stop of the tour. Things have not exactly gone well and one might think the cast is a bit over the show at this point.

It really is a fun show. I’m hardly objective, but you needn’t take my word for it. The reviews have been stellar. 5 Stars from DC Metro Theater Arts! and from the Baltimore Sun. So, go out and support local theatre!

More production stills from the show: Noises Off Production Stills
More information and tickets: Silhouette Stages

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

First Date at TYA Teen Professionals

Heading in for the headshot shoot, there was quite the captivating sunset.

I really enjoy my relationship with Red Branch Theatre Company/Drama Learning Center. A little theater buried in a non-descript industrial park on Red Branch Rd. in Columbia, Maryland.

They have a well-deserved reputation for both developing young talent and producing theatre that is out-sized for what would be expected by the size of their theater and budget. Beyond that, they are a now 501(c) non-profit with a socially conscious mission to tie their productions to important messages for their community.

My latest work with them was for the area premiere of the musical First Date. When I was asked to schedule headshots, the date conflicted with a planned trip to Atlanta for Imaging USA. So, we had to push that back to the same night as production stills. So, now, I’m shooting headshots and production stills less than two days before the show opens all on the same night. In an attempt to simplify things, I had their awesome stage manager, Dana, send me a couple of set pictures while I was away. It was enough to convince me that I wanted to try to shoot the headshots in the set, a bar/restaurant which is the setting for almost the entire show. This would, at least, alleviate the setup and lighting for a backdrop.

Since we were planning on shooting character headshots, I could shoot with a bit more edge than I usually do for teenage actors. I originally planned on a 3 light setup. But that ended up too cumbersome for moving around the set to get a different setting for each actor. Also, I had a bit less than 30 minutes to set up and test before shooting more than a dozen actors. So, my key light was one of my Phottix Mitros TTL Flash For Nikon with a 1/2 CTO Gel and the Rogue Photographic Design ROGUEXLPRO2 Flash Bender 2 XL Pro Lighting System (Black/White). For the fill I used a second Phottix Mitros TTL Flash For Nikon with a MagGrid and a blue gel to give some separation and tie it into the set motif.

Kendall Grove as Remedy Rose

Patrick Campbell as Aaron Goldfarb

Daniel A Joya as Reggie Knowles

Naomi Muwowo as Renee Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE HEADSHOTS

This lighting setup worked pretty much how I hoped it would. A nice separation from the background, some shape to their faces and yet they seem perfectly in place in the restaurant.  16 headshots, under an hour. *Phew*!

Now, I just have to shoot the production stills. I’ve talked about the challenges of shooting without knowing the show, the blocking or the lighting before. This was no different. I won some,







and I lost some… but, hopefully, you’ll never see those.
MORE PRODUCTION STILLS

I can’t think of a bad photographic experience I’ve had. Every one is an opportunity to learn, improve, meet people and make images.

I recommend making a trip out to Drama Learning Center and seeing what goes on in Columbia’s latest restaurant A New Leaf.

TYA Professional Training Program presents the AREA PREMIERE of FIRST DATE the Musical

Book by Austin Winsberg
Music & Lyrics by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner

January 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 at 7:30 PM
January 17 at 2:00 PM

Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 at the door

FEATURING
Lauren Alberg, Flora Aubin, Patrick Campbell, Lila Cooper, Brittany George, Kendall Grove, Daniel Joya-Iglesias, Brandon Love, Aly Murphy, Naomi Muwowo, Ellie Parks, AJ Patel, Ava Pirie, Jason Quackenbush, Mark Quackenbush, Shannon Taylor

Directed by Stephanie Williams
Music Direction by Tiffany Underwood Holmes
Stage Managed by Lindsay Hopkins
Production Managed by Dana Fleischer
Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin
Props Design by Seth Julius Fallon
Costume Design by Shimra Fine
Set Design by Bush Greenbeck

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail