Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Nevermore

I’ve been busy with various balls up in the air at once and, unfortunately, the blog has suffered. But, no blog posts does not mean I’ve not been shooting. I’ll likely have 17 theatrical productions added to my portfolio this year in addition to other shoots. In fact, I recently shot three shows on successive evenings. Whew!

One of those three was Mantorville Theatre Company’s production of Nevermore, a rock opera fictionalized telling of the life of Edgar Allan Poe. The music is fantastic – and nearly all lines are sung. Those that aren’t are still delivered in metered verse. Denise Ruemping introduced me to the music. When she described the look – costumes and lighting – I volunteered to photograph the show. It sounded like a show that would be a challenge to shoot and would produce some cool photos for the portfolio.

The Mantorville theatre uses an old, and small, opera house in “downtown” Mantorville. They’re known mainly for their series of melodramas they produce every summer. But they’ve been branching out in recent years. This show was a major departure for them, and even a bit risky given their usual repertoire and audience.

So they scheduled this show during their fall dinner theatre slot. Then they put together an amazing cast and crew with some of the best talent in the area. I imagine it didn’t hurt that folks fell in love with the show and wanted to be a part of it.

As usual, I showed up during one of the final dress rehearsals. I’d seen a few photos and videos shared on Facebook leading up to the opening and had a rough idea what to expect visually, although cell phone cameras tend to be less than ideal for theatre photos.

My expectations were high, though, and I was just a little worried it would not quite meet what I expected. Then, my photos would be good but not so special as I’d hoped. And others’ expectations of what I’d produce would be dashed as well. You really just never know.

Such are the fears of a photographer, hoping to make good photographs, hoping the viewers of those photos would find them engaging at least.

The fears were quickly squashed as the rehearsal began, and I began seeing images appear on the back of my camera (I love digital!). This shoot was going to be special and going to easily match or exceed my hopes for the evening.

I was lucky to be able to attend a performance a week after opening night, when I could sit back and relax and take it all in without the camera. From all I’ve heard, the risky move by the theatre paid off. Good attendance the first weekend led to huge word-of-mouth and sold-out performances for most of the run.

I drive to Austin tonight to shoot She Loves Me at Riverland, and next week I’ll be shooting Every Christmas Story Ever Told at the Rochester Rep. And I still have photos to work from Blithe Spirit I shot last week at the beautiful Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing.

So, yep, keeping busy. And somehow it’s November already and almost Thanksgiving, and Christmas will be here before we know it. If you don’t hear from me here again before then, have a wonderful holiday season! Even without any travel to speak of this year, it’s been a good year so far, and I have a couple big trips on the books for 2018. I hope you’re having a good year, too!

Rock of Ages and What Happened to Summer?

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It seems I’ve been remiss keeping my blog up-to-date! Well, yes, I have been busy this summer. I shot several shows including one up in Red Wing at the beautiful Sheldon Theatre. I also shot my first Bat Mitzvah which was fun and interesting and a learning experience.

Oh, and I just returned last week from a two-week trip to Italy which remains one of my favorite countries. I spent a few days in Roseto Valfortore in the Puglia region (which apparently the English speaking world calls Apulia). I took my small travel camera (the Olympus OM-D EM10 I’ve written about) and still have many photos to cull through. When I do, I am sure I’ll add a new post about the trip. Once I begin talking about it, it’s hard to get me to stop. So be forewarned.

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I returned with a couple days to try adjusting to the time change before shooting Rock of Ages at the Civic. This is one of those lets use all this cool music and wrap a plot around it kind of shows. None of the seriousness of Fiddler or Cabaret. What it has is fun music and almost as much energy as a four year old!

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While other shows will sometimes have the band on stage, here they’re a more integral part of the show. That’s apparent right from the start when the guitarists are downstage center at the beginning of the show. As soon as I saw this and began shooting, my reaction was, “this is like shooting a concert!” That realization flipped a switch, and I then shot the show mostly as though it was a concert. Quite differently from my normal show photography mode.

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Where I’m normally a stickler for straight, level photos, here I was shooting all sorts of angles. Instead of lots of long-lens shots, I was shooting much of it wide angle, in-your-face.

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Among other things, this meant I really needed to move around a lot, running  from one side to the other. That things happen quickly increasing the necessity of moving.

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So it was different. And different can be good. In this case, it was a ton of fun to photograph.

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Like most musicals, there were cool costumes and lighting. Unlike most musicals, the costumes included a lot of long hair – the music is from the 1980s hair metal era – and the lighting was often supplemented with smoke.

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It all added together to make for some interesting photos.

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There were the typical challenges, though, like bright spots and some LED lights down front that have to be dealt with. Mostly, those are things I have worked out. I could spend my time thinking how to shoot a particular scene and where to position myself.

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There were a handful of photos that struck me as good black and white candidates. With the vivid colors, it sometimes takes something of a leap of faith to throw that away and go monochromatic. But a photo will sometimes speak to me and push me over that hurdle to give it a try.

All-in-all, it was a great way to get back into the routine after my vacation. There are three more weekends of shows. If you like live rock music and like when it pulls you in and you feel you are a part of the experience, you have to go! Oh – and I saw it as an audience member on opening night. I don’t think I’ve ever been to another show in which everyone in the audience was on their feet before the curtain calls began. So, yeah, it’s like that.

More to come. Time to work on my Italy photos now…

Mary Poppins at RCT

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Mary Poppins is the spring musical this season at Rochester Civic Theatre. It opened on April 1, so the third weekend of four begins tonight. As I’ve been doing, I shot the show during the final dress rehearsal before Preview night.

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The stage musical version of Mary Poppins is similar to the movie, but there are a fair number of changes and new songs. It’s a pretty technical show to put on with lots of set pieces moving on and off and a good bit of stage magic to pull off.

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It’s a pretty long show as many musicals are, but the talent on stage is amazing, and the time just flies.

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Like many musicals, there are some great colors, both costumes and lighting, which make for some fun photos. I do like that!

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There’s also an abundance of choreography and several big numbers. Photographing those, it’s a balancing act of trying to capture the whole stage to convey a sense of the grandeur of the number and grabbing closer shots, usually of the main characters.

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Smallish web photos miss some of the impact of the wider shots, but I think they still work.

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One scene in the stage show not in the movie is the toys coming to life. The lighting through that is great, it’s visually very cool. It’s also the scary scene for some of the audience!

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Shooting this sort of show does demand a lot from your equipment and your experience – both shooting and in post. It was a real mix of fairly dark scenes and brightly lit scenes with spots thrown in for good measure.

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Sometimes, you get everything right and that’s a good feeling.

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And sometimes, especially at the end of big numbers, the director has blocked everyone into a group that creates a terrific photographic composition. So, you have to be ready for those, because you really don’t want to miss such amazing shots.

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In March, I helped backstage at Children’s Dance Theatre’s production of The Mermaid. I was one of four people working the flying wires – some of the mermaids “flew” under the sea. I hadn’t crewed a show for quite a while, and I forgot how much fun it is.

A call went out looking for help for Mary Poppins – it requires quite a number of folks helping backstage – and I decided to volunteer to crew some of the performances.

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That gave me the opportunity to take some behind-the-scenes pics.

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You have to be careful, of course. First, if you’re part of the crew, you have a job. So, you can only pull out the camera when you’re between things. For many scenes, I didn’t shoot a single frame.

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Then, you have to honor the sight-lines – the areas where you can be and not be seen by the audience. Sometimes, that means you don’t have a good shot of the on-stage happenings at all. But, there are other photos waiting for you if you look.

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These big musical productions at RCT have been earning a reputation for their quality. This combined with the popularity of certain titles have resulted in sell-outs. For this show, the entire run was sold out before opening night. A shame for many would-be attendees or folks who loved the show and want to see it again, but great for the theatre and the community for providing such support for the arts.

Two more weekends of performances – I hope you have your ticket!

RCT’s Almost, Maine

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This past week, I photographed Rochester Civic Theatre’s latest production, Almost, Maine. It’s a show made up of eight stories happening during one evening in the not-quite-town called Almost, Maine.

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A ninth, somewhat shorter story bookmarks the others.

Greg, the director, likens it to the film, Love Actually. Its setting in Maine, in winter, with the northern lights showing up in the background of the outdoor scenes, speaks pretty well to a Minnesota audience.

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Friday, we attended opening night. It’s always interesting to find out what I missed of the dialog and story while I was shooting the show. Like some of the references to the same places and some of the same people from one story to the next.

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There were some scenes taking place indoors, and for those the lighting was a bit more intense. But the outdoor scenes were pretty dimly lit as usual for such nighttime scenes. There is plenty of physical comedy, too, so that was a challenge of this show.

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Nearly all the stories involve just two people. That provides a lot of freedom for how I frame up the subjects to tell a story.

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On the other hand, that also means their interactions and reactions won’t be amplified by other folks around them. So, I think the photos are somewhat more intimate.

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The aurora background was pretty cool, and it did come across in several of my photos. The lighting overall was great.

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Even though it provides a challenge technically for shooting the show, I love the look of the “nighttime” scenes. There’s a moodiness to them that adds atmosphere to the shots. Many non-musicals have none of that or only one or two such scenes. Here, there’s an abundance.

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There’s also a mood portrayed by the sparse set. I’m often amazed how we humans can interpret the few lines of stick figures or make creatures from clouds. A few walls and a door and we know what we’re looking at. And we can then focus on the actors and their story instead of the set. We seem to accept it readily in theatre. Probably not so much in film.

The show is running for only two more weekends. It’s a terrific show, and you can feel the enthusiasm and fun the cast is having. It’s contagious. What better way to spend a cold Minnesota winter evening?

Plainview’s Beauty and the Beast

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Shooting at a variety of local theatres, I get to see lots of different venues and production capabilities. Some have large stages, some can reconfigure the stage, some are small and intimate.

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I’ve been shooting the one annual musical production of Plainview Community Theater for a few years. Previously, they’ve had their shows in the Jon Hassler Theater. It was used for professional productions since 1999 or so, and PCT was able to stage their shows there. While not a sophisticated theater, it did have good seating and was setup with a full complement of stage lighting.

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Alas, the building was sold and is no longer available to PCT. Instead, they used the sanctuary of the church across the street from the old Hassler. It’s much smaller with pews for seats and no lighting. But the group made do, constructing a stage and bringing in lights on large stands. Scene changes used minimal pieces that could be easily brought in and out or reconfigured as needed.

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The lights provided less ambience than might be expected at a musical, but in some ways made photography easier. They were good and bright, there were some hot and cold spots, but they really weren’t able to do a lot of gels.

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It’s all really an amazing community effort to make a big musical happen. I’m always struck by the community spirit I witness at these shows. They are big, they have a big cast, everyone seems to be so thrilled to be in or working on the show. And they fill all the seats they can make available.

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I view it as the poster child for community theatre. An amazing outlet for a small town filled with folks who love putting on a show. I heard there was some discussion of trying to gain support for adding a suitable auditorium to their high school which could certainly bring their productions up to another level. I hope they can manage that – their community sure deserves it.

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Once again, the show this year, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, was a hit with their audience. And while the lighting was limited, they sure had their share of fun and colorful costumes, so the photos can highlight that.

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A large black drape covered much of the front of the sanctuary. I tried to keep that behind the players for the most part, and black works well to showcase the colors and actors.

I haven’t heard what show they will tackle next year, but I’m sure it will be fun. I wonder where it be staged…

I have a couple theatre shoots coming soon, one this month and another early December. Should be a blast!

Riverland’s Into the Woods

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Earlier this month, I shot the first show of the fall semester at Riverland, Into the Woods. It’s a Sondheim musical that’s a sort of mash-up of several fairy tails into one story. It was made into a movie last year which was my first experience with the story.

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I find I really enjoy Sondheim. Music and lyrics are engaging and fun. The Riverland folks did a great job with it. I’d have loved to sit through it as a regular audience member, but I didn’t make it back to the show after shooting the final rehearsal.

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Photographing the show was fun, though. The set – the woods – was done well and lighting was a treat which is always great for me. Lots of colorful costumes rounded out the look, giving me tons to work with.

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To shoot a show like this, it helps to have some good technical capabilities – a camera that can cope with lower light levels is a real plus.

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That’s probably the biggest technical factor I need for shooting theatre. The 5D MkIII is up to the task, but I do sometimes look longingly at the spec for Sony’s cameras and Nikon’s using Sony sensors. But I love the ergonomics of the Canon and how it fits me.

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Rumors have the Mk IV coming “soon” which will perhaps improve in the low light arena. Meanwhile, there’s really no complaining for what this hardware can do. Sometimes I recall where we were in film days, and there’s no comparison. You work with what you have, but I’d never be getting this kind of quality if I was limited to film.

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It’s sometimes fun to go back and shoot “analog,” develop it using smelly chemicals, waiting to see how you did until the processing is complete. It forces a discipline that’s a useful exercise and produces a look that is just a bit different. It can be emulated in digital, but it’s still somehow a little different.

When push comes to shove, though, I’d never want to give up the expansive world digital opens for us as artists.

I have another show to blog about soon, but I’m also looking forward to the next Riverland show I’ll be shooting in November.

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