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.


BodyWorlds 2

The whole Icetray joined some friends up at the Maryland Science Center to check out the BodyWorlds 2 exhibit. If you’ve never heard of Body Worlds, it is an exhibit of what the BodyWorlds people call “plastinates”. Plastinates are people, real people, that have been preserved through a process that removes the body fluids an replaces them with a polymer or epoxy kind of stuff. We joked about whether they waited, or actively procured the bodies from drunken tourists or something.

That’s not really saying enough, though. You might think that this is just an opportunity for the average person to have a taste of what a medical school gross anatomy class is like. I suppose it is that to an extent and that would be enough to make it worth your time. That is only the jumping off point.

There are also words, descriptive, poetic, challenging and thought provoking writ large on the walls and psyche. The exhibit explores the brain, birth, health (it gets pretty darn pedantic on anti-smoking) and our relationship to the animal kingdom. One thing is for sure, the creators of the exhibit did not equivocate on their message. We are animals. We are physical beings.

The one thing it mostly wasn’t, was the one thing I expected. It wasn’t really gross. Sure there were some black lungs, cancerous growths, distorted hearts and a particularly cyst-y kidney which was disgusting. Yet, we practically ran from display to display, ooh-ing and discussing. It was a terrific experience though it wasn’t without its disturbing aspects.

While many of the bodies have been frozen for all time in postures that expose organs, or show how the body works during activity, a few are attempts at art. It is really these few examples that left me disturbed. The use of cadavers for education, especially of the masses, I find compelling. Taking the flesh and trying to express artistic intent, felt more like something for a madman in a horror movie. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

If you have the means and the exhibit ends up near you, I recommend you go. I’d also like to know what you thought about it.

“Man is an intelligence in servitude to his organs.” ~Aldous Huxley