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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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

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