Mari’s Last Friday

RCT Staff

Those of you who wander this blog from time to time know I volunteer my photography skills regularly to Rochester Civic Theatre. And I’ve done so for, well, let’s say a few years. A theatre like this becomes something of a family. I’ve become friends with many who also volunteer – as actors, musicians, crew, set builders, etc. – and also theatre staff, current and past.

Folks come together from all over, with varied backgrounds, and work to bring performance art to the community and make it the very best they can. It’s very rewarding and fun, and I encourage everyone to become involved.


Friday nights during the summer, RCT has their free patio concerts. Last Friday was the final one of the 2015 summer. Sad to see summer come to an end, and this was yet another sign that autumn will be on its way soon. But it was sad for a different reason. A family reason.


Mari has been a rock of sanity and calm at RCT for several years. She’s been the go-to person for me. Headshots go to Mari for the program. Questions about this or that? I contact Mari. She’s been a stage manager. She’s been on stage. She’s at many of the events we attend.


Mari came to us from Japan. Her cultural background was very different from the typical American’s making for countless discussions. Yet I think she’d say she’d become American in many ways. All the best ways.


Mari’s visa was finally set to expire with no more possible extensions. So, this weekend she headed back to her homeland to start the next part of her life. Back in Japan.


And those of us here begin the next part of our life. Life far from Mari. A life without her joy so easily accessible. And we thank the technological times in which we live, knowing she’ll be closer than she’d have been just few years ago.


I took my Canon cameras to the event Friday. I was asked to shoot some video of a few special comments and song. And, I wandered around to capture some moments in stills as Mari said goodbye for now to many of her American friends. So glad I did.

I wanted to put together a post with some of the shots and to honor Mari and the impact she’s had on so many of us. But, to be truthful, it’s hard to find words that do it justice.

We love you, Mari! Japan had better treat you well. Keep in touch, and we will see you again!

Photoshop World 2015


I just returned from Photoshop World 2015 in Las Vegas. It was my fourth time attending the conference and Expo – three of them in Vegas. The day before the main conference begins, they have what I think they now call In-depth Workshops. Those of us who’ve been around a while still call them pre-cons. As in before the conference. I decided to spend a bit of time around Joe McNally again and take his pre-con.

I keep hoping some of Joe’s vast understanding of light and story-telling will rub off on me! We went to what is basically a large open space filled with various gym equipment used by some of the Vegas performers to train. As models, Joe brought some friends (who doesn’t he know?) from the local scene.

Charlotte is a show girl and was dressed as such. The lighting setups were set ahead of time, each station using a different kind of lighting arrangement. Charlotte is very natural and at home even with a line of photographers waiting to take a few pictures.


I decided to go for something whacky, and asked her to give me a surprised look. She was awesome. This is probably my favorite photo of the day.


Manu is a lead in Cirque du Soleil’s Ka. A very fit young man. And, he’s from Paris. The lighting station here was a black backdrop and rim lighting. Perfect for highlighting his physique. There was something missing, though.


I asked Manu if he’d mind removing his shirt. He obliged. When I checked a long while later, no one had apparently asked him to replace the shirt. Go figure!


Sasha is a former Olympic swimmer. I believe Joe said she performs in O. Beautiful lines and flexibility. Look at her fingers – no posing, she just naturally does that.


I had a little fun with her, too. I’m not sure she knew what to make of me. I figured they are standing there for 40 or 50 photographers – they were given some much-needed breaks – shooting frame after frame, so I wanted to add a bit of levity. Hey, I do what I can!


Drew is a former NFL player. I didn’t talk to Drew as much as I’d have liked – he was a very popular subject. Very popular. He had some cool props. While I was in line, he had a shirt on, and I was thinking it would be cool if he could tear it off for a photo. Someone beat me to that request, and from what I could hear, it turns out he had a handful of tear-away shirts. Too obvious, I guess.


He had just been oiled up, so I thought it would be good to try the cowboy hat and give me a just back from the field kind of look with a jacket over the shoulder. I’d like to have worked this a bit more, but I wanted others to have their opportunities to shoot.


Our final model, Alyssa, is a freelance acrobat. She said she can’t dance, but you’d think she must. She grew up in a circus performing family. I suspect this is just in her blood. She did some ring work, then a lot with this hanging fabric – climbing, sitting, hanging, and used it as a backdrop at ground level. When she was up in the air, I kept looking over at her amazed at her stamina. Hanging and moving without stopping. How can she do that? This station used continuous lights (no flash) which have some nice benefits. But what they don’t do well is overpower the ambient light, so lots of my shots of Alyssa have distracting backgrounds. But one benefit was everyone around her could all shoot at once – no flash triggers were needed.


While I was looking over at Manu later in the afternoon, I saw this incredible window light behind him. The sun had moved, pushing a lot more light through those windows. I kind of slipped in to grab some shots between the flashes of the photographer with the radio trigger. Made sure I stayed out of that photographer’s way, but I had to grab a few shots. Ambient light can be really great. But, it’s good to recognize that Manu was still in front of a black backdrop that helped guide that window light where it would produce this sort of pattern.

This was all on Monday. Photoshop World began in earnest on Tuesday starting with the always amazing keynote event. There’s always a theme and a video, and this year it was a spoof of Wayne’s World. They posted the whole keynote here – the first seven minutes or so is the video. This sets the tone for the conference, and you realize it’s going to be educational, but it’s going to be fun along the way, too!

Apart from the conference and Joe’s pre-con, I had some time to walk a ton, ride in the High Roller (basically a very large Ferris wheel), do some indoor freefall at the Vegas Indoor Skydiving center, and attend Zarkana, one of Cirque du Soleil’s amazing shows. I have a lot of iPhone photos! Ask to see them sometime!

The 39 Steps


Last week, Summerset Theatre in Austin put on their second show of the season, The 39 Steps. This is a comedy spoof of the Hitchcock film with only four actors and minimal props and scenery used brilliantly for comedic effect.


Two of the actors, “Clown 1” and “Clown 2,” portray most of the people encountered by the hero, and the lone female cast member plays three roles. Even some of the props get into the act of multiple roles. A door might represent several doors in a single scene.


When I’m shooting, I’m somewhat disengaged from the show – at least the auditory aspects of the show – while I’m working to compose a good photograph. So, I may chuckle now and then during a comedy, but this was way beyond that. It’s just one sight gag after another. There’s this train scene that was hilarious – and it was funny from beginning to end.


Among the cast members was Greg Miller, artistic director at the Rochester Civic Theatre. Greg is a comedy master, so we made sure the RCT regulars knew about the show. Many made it to Austin, and we attended as audience members on Saturday with a large Rochester contingent in the house. All four in the cast were terrific. What a fun show!


Apart from having to occasionally brace myself to keep the camera from shaking while I laughed, most of the show was lit reasonably well. A comedy like this one, filled with tons of physical humor and action, presents some of the same challenges as a musical. So, managing shutter speed and trying to catch action at peaks is most important.


A little motion blur will slip in from time to time. That can be okay. You just try to keep it under control especially where you need a little more depth of field to capture the shot you want.


Then, after loading the photos all into Lightroom, you start to relive some of the moments and laugh out loud again.


Next up at Summerset is their final production for this season, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. RCT did that show several years ago, so this will be my second time shooting it.


There, we have a musical and a comedy, so it will be a fun and demanding shoot.


Next summer, RCT will be ending their eight-show season with The 39 Steps. There are some comedies that lose something in the second (or third) viewing. Others are funny over and over. I’m thinking this show is of the latter variety – to me at least. And the local audience who didn’t make it out to the Summerset production will be in for a treat!

Tribute at the Rep


Last week, I photographed my first show at Rochester Repertory Theatre, their production of Tribute. It’s a 1970s period drama or comedy or tweener as the director, Bill Schnell, calls it.


The Rep tends to put on a variety of shows, many lesser known (at least, to me!), with one big musical each spring. They’ve been around a long time – next season is their 32nd – and provide another local outlet for actors, directors, and theatre-goers.


I’ve seen quite a few shows there, and Lynne has acted on their stage. Their facility is small and can be challenging for the creative staff. But the size can work both ways as the Rep’s shows tend to be much more intimate than at other theatres.


Going into the shoot, I was thinking about how to photograph a show in their space. In many ways, it’s not too different from other theatre shoots for me. I generally work pretty close to the action anyway.


One goal I had was to convey the story and not the size. Regardless of the facility, a good show should draw you into the story. The actors, the lighting, the sound, all help to do this. Once we distill it down to a two-dimensional photograph, though, the other senses are missing. We have to try to capture the emotion in the photo.


Doing so is always my goal, but here I additionally wanted any limitations in the physical setting to be irrelevant and unnoticeable.


I’m pretty happy with the results. I did take a few wide shots which someone will look upon and think, yep – that’s the Rep’s stage. But I feel a few of those shots are important for the documentation aspect of the photographs.


Technically, this is a pretty straightforward show lighting-wise. Box set, reasonably good and balanced lights. There were some bright spots like in the first photo above, a couple scenes with “nighttime” lighting, and a couple places where the contrast from bright to dim required some dancing on my part.


We attended the show last night, so I had a chance to pay closer attention. It’s a great story, touching and funny both. And it’s well played.


This was opening weekend – there are two more weekends of shows, so you can still see it yourself. It’s a great way to spend an evening – watching real live people perform right in front of you. (Just turn off your electronics – cell phones ringing are annoying!)

Thanks to Bill for asking me to shoot the show! It was a blast.

100 Theatre Shoots – 9 to 5: The Musical

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On Saturday, I photographed the final dress rehearsal for Summerset Theatre’s 9 to 5: The Musical over in Austin, MN. It’s a musical stage version of the movie with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton – who, of course, wrote the title tune and starred in the movie along with Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin.

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It’s pretty light fare and fun, and Dolly’s songs are great. It’s easy to forget how prolific and good she’s been as a songwriter. It also carries a lot of the movie’s 1980s sensibilities.

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This show had some additional significance to me. This was my one-hundredth theatre shoot! My first show to photograph was Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys back in 2005 at Rochester Civic Theatre. I reached fifty shows in 2011, so the second fifty has been a bit faster.

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We used to shoot all the RCT shows staged with a special call for the actors. There are some advantages, and it can be helpful for fast-paced action or very low light – I’d sometimes ask the stage manager to bump the lights for a particular scene.

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But, as I branched out  to other theatres, I started shooting the shows live, and I’ve grown to enjoy shooting that way. Technology has helped, as my camera is much more tolerant of low light than the model I used for my first show.

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I’m now doing the same at the Civic, and I believe the actors (and director and stage manager and crew) appreciate not having to spend this extra time.

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Summerset Theatre puts on three shows in the summer. 9 to 5 is their first for this season (my fourth season photographing their shows). While it’s a musical with lots of singing and dancing, the lighting and sets are appropriate to the story and not like Cabaret or Les Mis. So, the photography was technically more similar to non-musicals.

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I tried to capture the fun moments and expressions that help show the comedy.

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There are some more tender moments rounding out the show, as well.

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This show runs through Saturday, so you still have time to see it. I also have to mention the top-notch pit orchestra – lots of talent there as well as on-stage!

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Next up at Summerset is The 39 Steps. RCT’s artistic director, Greg Miller, will be on stage for that show, so we’re hoping to gather some of our Rochester theatre peeps and caravan over to see it. That plays July 7 through 11. Then they end their season with A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. That will be my second time shooting that musical! It runs July 28 through August 1. More info is on Summerset’s website.

I’ll be shooting my first show at the Rep next week – number 101. Should be fun!

See you at the theatre!

On Golden Pond

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The current show at Rochester Civic Theatre is the play On Golden Pond running a couple more weekends. But the run is sold out!

I vaguely remember the 1981 movie mostly because of the high-profile casting of Katharine Hepburn with Henry Fonda and his real-life daughter Jane. With the focus on the father-daughter relationship, I remember that casting being especially interesting.

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The story takes place at a summer cottage on Golden Pond, a small lake in northern New England. That may make the story relevant here in Minnesota where there’s a similar tradition. And, while shooting the rehearsal, it made me think of the lake in Michigan where Lynne’s grandparents had a cottage, and where she’d spend her summers. The lake was a big part of their lives.

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There’s a single set for the show – the inside of the cabin and a lakeside porch. The style reminded me of Neil Simon shows. I tend to think of them as day-in-the-life stories. You’re witnessing a day or a series of days in the life of some ordinary people during which they experience something and grow. That they are ordinary lets the audience relate to them.

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The lighting for the show was what I’d expect for this kind of show. Not a lot of dramatic gel’d lights, pretty consistent and well lit. That helps the technicality of photographing the show and allows me to focus on composition and story-telling.

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There’s lots of good interaction and interesting blocking to work with. And the actors are all top-notch, so I had a lot of great emotion and expressions to capture.

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I also enjoyed the use of color between the set and the costumes. The warmth of the wooden-walled cabin made a great backdrop for many of the shots. And who doesn’t like a bright yellow poncho?

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There were a couple shots I considered putting here in the blog, but I decided they might serve as visual spoilers to someone unfamiliar with the show. So, I left them out!

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Hopefully, you’re one of those who bought a ticket – as I mentioned, it’s now sold out. This is the final show of the 2014-2015 season at RCT, but next season looks great with eight shows. It will be a pretty full schedule. There’s also construction that will be happening giving RCT a new box theatre which should provide a great venue for a wide variety of performances.

I’m looking forward to next season. Meanwhile, Summerset Theatre in Austin will be starting their summer season of three shows soon. Good times!

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