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.

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Assignment: Philadelphia Funk Authority

The Gig

Earlier this Summer I received an email from Gary at Authority Entertainment which handles Philadelphia Funk Authority (phillyfunk.com) asking if I would be interested in shooting group shots and concert stills of the band at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. (Is it inappropriate to respond “duh” to a potential client?) PFA is a super fun party/event/concert band and a great bunch of musicians. Of course I’m jumping at the chance to work with them.

I have had a relationship with PFA through my friend George Hrab, the band’s drummer,
for quite a few years. Over those years I’ve photographed the band at Musikfest,

had the privilege to hang out with members of the band (we even watched humans put a lander on Mars together)

and hired them to play my 50th birthday party. You can see the results

People danced!

Scheduling

The band has gone through some changes in the last year necessitating the new pictures. Not the least of which is the loss of singer Alisa B Anderson to cancer. The new line up should be featured in their promotional materials and website. The job called for a new group shot of the whole band as well as images of them in action. I had originally planned to shoot all this on the first Sunday of Musikfest, when the band plays in the big Festplatz Tent to more than a thousand people. This worked well for me, since I planned on being there anyway and I had a wedding to attend on Saturday in Maryland. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best option for the band, so we negotiated to shoot at the Musikfest Cafe Friday night for their 10pm concert.

So, the weekend would be:

  • Drive up to Bethlehem on Friday
  • Drive back to Maryland sometime on Saturday morning (1am or after a nap)
  • Drive up to the wedding about an hour from home on Saturday
  • Drive back to Bethlehem on Sunday as planned
  • Drive home again on Monday

The Weekend

Friday arrived and I arrived up in Bethlehem around 4:30 in the afternoon. I caught up with George at his place to discuss the plan. While Gary is technically the “owner” of the band and handles the bookings, George handles much of the day-to-day leadership activities. The plan is to shoot a group photo in the “green room” and then out on the floor at their show Friday night I would grab some shots of the band in front of an audience.

I leave George to his pre-show ritual (whatever that is) and head out into Musikfest to grab some food and meet up with my friend Todd. A gyro, roasted corn and baked beans later, I’m heading off to meet George and over to the venue.

Group Shots

The green room at the venue was broken up into a couple of rooms. Two of them were bathrooms. No good. One has a TV, fridge, tables, doors and one wall. No good. Another is a tiny dressing room. No good. So, we were left with a lounge that’s pretty small. Just enough room for me to get the group shot with a 24-70 on a tripod jammed into the corner.

I’m not done with the group shots at this time, but I’ll share a setup shot with George and an Easter egg or two

I was pretty happy with the lighting on this test. Good fill and pretty soft using the Godox AD360IIN and Phottix Mitros bounced high off the wall to camera left to counter the recessed cans in the ceiling. You’ll just have to wait to see what image we choose and how it gets processed.

Concert Photography

I was pretty daunted by the lighting in the concert hall. To say it was a little backlit is something of an understatement.

Definitely cool for the audience, but a bit challenging for the photographer in the crowd. My goal was to get a few decent shots of the new(er) members of the band and get more shots at the well-lit stage at their show on Sunday.

Here’s the wonderful Raysa Michelle who worked really well with the veteran Jillian Rhys

, Matt Asti who has a deceptively chill demeanor onstage, but he’s a monster on the keyboard

and Neil Wetzel who holds up the sax end of the Authority Horns with… um… authority.

I’m still editing shots, so that’s it for now. It was a great weekend and beyond fulfilling my contractual obligations I really enjoyed spending time with the band and making some new friends.

Thanks, again, to PFA for the opportunity to work with them. Like the rest of their fans I can’t wait until the next time.

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