The Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, MN


Located in the heart of Red Wing, MN is this amazing early 20th century theatre. There was a certain elegance about the performance venues during this era. You’d walk in and immediately feel you were about to experience something special. Very different from the clean lines and blank walls in such places built today.


I was there to photograph Phoenix Theatre’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I took the opportunity before the rehearsal to walk around the theatre and capture a few images. My friend Lindsay told me I’d love the theatre and would likely want to take photos of it. She knows me well!


When I see one of these old theatres, I recall going to such places as a young child to watch movies. In Columbus, we had a couple old theatres where movies had replaced live performances. Through the 1960s, they became rundown and were nearly destined for demolition. But in the mid-1970s, a couple there were saved and renovated, most notably the Ohio Theatre. It’s a rather enormous and grand place that central Ohio is lucky to have.


The Orpheum in Minneapolis, though smaller than the Ohio, has that similar feel to it. So, in Red Wing, here is another of these theatres. Smaller, as you’d expect to find in a small town, it is still a remarkable place.


I shot these photos all hand-held using an HDR technique I particularly like for architectural interiors like this. I was pretty close to my limit for holding the camera steady unaided, but it seemed to work okay. I was a little torn regarding how saturated to keep the colors. The color, especially the walls and the painting above the stage, provide some of the feel of the place. But for this last photo, I decided to give it a desaturated, “older” treatment, which I must say I kind of like!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Red Wing


This week, I had the opportunity to shoot at a new venue for me, the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, MN. Phoenix Theatre is producing Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this weekend.


This is a marvelous play, an American classic, and really a must-see for theatre-goers. I remember RCT producing it about a decade or so ago, back before I was regularly photographing their shows.


Costumes were designed by Sara Shannon and Dace Miller. The simple, but elegant and effective, set was designed by Jeff Chalmers and Rob Meyer. Russell Johnson provided the lighting and sound with Calvin Harper. Props were handled by Jamie Johnholtz. Make-up and hair are being done by Paul O’Connell and Corinne Redman. The show was directed by Julie Martin and stage managed by Kim Chalmers.


My good friends Lindsay Herr and Angus Russell are portraying Maggie and Brick. One of the things I remember from the RCT production was the dialog – especially Maggie’s (aka Cat) constant rambling through most of Act 1. It’s certainly a dialog-driven show, as I think Williams’ plays tend to be. That dialog reveals layers that give dimensions to the characters. You walk out at the end still questioning who they really are.

It’s uncommon and counter to the way we seem to pigeon-hole people, both in fiction and real life.

Other players are Jerry LaCroix, Neil LaHammer, Micheal Lupella, David Oakes, Min Martin Oakes, and Marcy Watzl.


From a photography point of view, this was a nice change from my recent theatre shoots – there was generally plenty of light! There was a single set – the couple’s bedroom. Lighting in the Sheldon Theatre is apparently all LED lights now. These can pose some challenges, but there weren’t the color extremes that make capturing photos a little more difficult.


There were many scenes with two or three actors and some good opportunities to find an angle and focal length to capture an emotional moment.


When several folks are on stage, the goal is figuring out who are interacting and how to collect all of them together in a shot that shows that interaction.


I generally take several shots as they are performing and speaking. I’ll move a little, looking at their physical relationship and backgrounds, and watch where they move, and who is talking.


When the blocking has them all spread out, I will often grab a wide shot or two. While I prefer the more intimate photos, there’s some value to these larger shots. We see – and document – more of the set, and there’s sometimes a feeling there that is just different from what a close-up provides.


But, yeah, I do like close shots!

The show continues its run tonight and tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be there for the final performance tomorrow. It’s well worth your time. And, the Sheldon Theatre is a beautiful performance space with an early 20th century design. It reminds me of a handful of other theatres from that remarkable era. That it exists in the small town of Red Wing is pretty amazing.

I’ll have another post later with a few shots of the Sheldon. Watch for that one soon!

RCT’s Cabaret


It’s theatre season, I guess! And, for the second show I’ve shot in a row, another deep – or maybe heavy is the right word – show. Rochester Civic Theatre’s spring musical is Cabaret.


Here’s another stage show which I’d never seen before this production. I did see the Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey movie many years ago, too long ago to remember much.


Cabaret is set in Germany between world wars when Naziism was on its rise spreading its fascist themes and, of course, producing the Holocaust. By intermission, this ugly truth will clearly affect the story.


Photographing this show was a lesson in extremes. We had extreme low light throughout much of the show. We had the extreme brightness of the spots. We had the extremes of color – costumes, gel’d lights. We had big musical dance numbers with the Emcee’s antics. And underlying stories of hate and intolerance and living life in the consuming Cabaret.


In other words, lot of potential to tap!


The photos I’m posting include some from the musical dance numbers as well as a few from the quieter moments. I tried to capture some of the angst and emotion of those scenes.


We attended the opening last night. Watching the show as a regular audience member allows me to pay more attention to the story and what’s going on. It’s pretty amazing how well the show holds up almost 50 years after its Broadway debut.


By the end of the show, I was struck by the incredible talent we have here – on the stage, in the orchestra, behind the scenes.


And, opening night draws in many of our theatre friends. So, before the show, intermission, and after the show are fun times to catch up with everyone.


The show is selling well, too, which is great.


The spring musical is also the kick-off for the next season at RCT.


The 2015-2016 season was announced recently, and season tickets and memberships are now available – and at a discount for the run of this show.


More shows next season will probably keep me pretty busy. And, entertained!

The Crucible at Riverland

The Crucible

A couple weeks ago, I shot show photos for The Crucible at Riverland Community College in Austin, MN. It was written in the 1950s by Arthur Miller and centers on story surrounding the Salem witch trials.

The Crucible

That it was written in the heart of the McCarthyism era is not difficult to see. As with most of my show photo work, I only caught bits and pieces of the dialog, but the symbolism is pretty clear.

The Crucible

The director, Lindsey, mentioned the generally low light level before the rehearsal – and promised the next show would be much brighter! Ha! But lower light levels can mean a lot more interesting and dramatic light, and that was the case for much of this show.

The Crucible

I’m fortunate to have a camera that handles the low light well. Shooting lots of theatre, that is one technical aspect of a camera that I rely on. Especially when shooting a live rehearsal, there aren’t any opportunities to stop and ask for the light to be bumped. Something really more challenging than the level is the mottled light we see sometimes as in the “night” shot above. Faces can go into one of the small dark areas and lose all of the little light that’s there. I’ll usually shoot a few photos and watch for a little movement out of the dark to grab the (hopefully) good shot.

The Crucible

There were other parts of the show in which the lighting was pretty good.

The Crucible

I also didn’t have spots to deal with. There were some hotter areas, but nothing unusual or difficult to handle.

The Crucible

But there were lots of gels – which I like. They help set a mood, which is key for the performance but helps with the still photos, too.

The Crucible

Still, it’s about finding the angles and the compositions that communicate something of the story and something of the feel of what’s happening on stage.

The Crucible

I believe they are now on to rehearsals for their next show. Meanwhile, back here in Rochester, I’ll be heading over to the Civic Theatre to shoot Cabaret this week. It opens Friday – and tickets are going fast! If you make it to opening night, I’ll see you there!

Social Ice 2015


The Social Ice event is becoming a regular happening in Rochester during winter. Apparently, it was moved a bit later in February in the hopes of a bit more moderate cold, but that wind last night – whew!


The highlight is always the remarkable ice sculptures which decorate the Peace Plaza. Various restaurants each have a bar with a theme. Some of them include backdrops like a huge poster showing a pyramid to match an Egyptian theme.



I was wandering around with a pair of gloves which could allow me to control the camera but which were woefully inadequate for keeping my fingers warm. My fingers seem to be overly sensitive to the cold and have been for many years. Not sure if maybe I got them a little too cold at some point.


But I’m fascinated not only by all the many people who come out and brave the cold – and the place was jammed! – but also by those who spend the evening there behind the bars working.


Some of them are dressed in costumes of one sort or another – matching the theme, of course.


But all of them are spending a lot of time in the cold. I suppose if it weren’t for my very cold fingers, it would have not been too bad. I do, after all, have winter clothing to handle even colder temps. You have to do so in Minnesota!


And there were heaters everywhere, and everywhere there were heaters, there were people! I drove down just after sunset. I wanted to photograph the artwork with the lighting provided, but I also thought going early would mean a somewhat smaller crowd.


Well, not so much. While there were spaces here and there with fewer than 10 people per square yard, the bars were nearly all crowded as were the heaters, as I mentioned.


Many of the bars were serving warm beverages, but I think I saw as many folks walking by with a can of something cold, too.


It’s a Minnesota thing, I suppose. Braving the winter weather is just something the folks here do.


A couple years ago, my daughter treated me to a beer tasting event around the time of my birthday up in St. Paul. It was, of course, all outside. In January.

Social Ice ran from Thursday to Saturday – last night. And, for certain, there was no real concern about the ice artwork melting. Judging by the Saturday night crowd, I’d say this will continue as long as the organizers want to do it. There are many activities to draw folks downtown in the summer, so it’s great to see these winter events, too.

Miss Nelson


Friday was opening night at Rochester Civic Theatre for Miss Nelson is Missing. It’s a family-friendly show based on a children’s book. Most of the actors are teenagers, and I think they have all been involved in the theatre and its various theatre education classes for a while.


They bring a ton of energy to the stage. That, along with the relatively short length, should make it play well to younger audiences. Melissa, who plays the teachers, Miss Nelson and Miss Swamp, has been on the RCT stage several times now, and she plays a teacher in real life. Should be interesting to find out what her students think of the show!


I shot this during the final dress rehearsal before preview, last Wednesday. I settled into the first half which used pretty good general lighting with a few spots where the light drops off. You sort of learn how to deal with that.


But then as the hunt for Miss Nelson commences, we go all low-light! I have my preferred settings – in fact, they’re dialed into one of the custom settings positions on the mode wheel – but a few times I had to bump the ISO even beyond where I like.


And, shooting live, there’s lots of movement. And, with this cast, there’s lots and lots of movement. So, it’s sort of a balancing act between shutter speed and ISO and keeping enough depth of field. Timing can be important. You also just expect you’ll have a little blur here and there, and there will be a few shots that are a background with a haze where a person was.


Sometimes I walk away from a shoot wondering did I get some reasonable shots? Then I scroll through them on the computer and realize, yes, it’s okay. I can relax!


I’ve done my first culling pass, but I have a lot more work to do. I did scan for a handful that I thought highlight the show to pass along to RCT for posting and promotion. And, I grabbed them to put here as well.

The show has only one more weekend to run, so don’t procrastinate!

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