Pre-Publicity: To run before the run
Demands for sophisticated and versatile imagery have increased as digital photography has made turnaround virtually instantaneous. For theaters that can afford marketing departments, or have company members with the tools and talent, photographs will be taken as early as the first day of rehearsal.
To get pre-publicity shots for its 2016 production of Romeo and Juliet (running through May 6 and reviewed here), A Noise Within contacted Daniel Reichert. One of the region's most reliable actors (Theatertimes' review of his performance in The Weir is representative), Reichert is also a fine photographer.
To discuss what would fit director Damaso Rodriguez' concept, Reichert turned to the production's set and costume designer, Angela Balogh Calin.
"She gave me a clear sense of what Damaso wanted," Reichert said. "She said to avoid anything gorgeous and lush that smacked of the Zeffirelli film. 'Damaso wants a gritty, urban feel.'"
Reichert was to shoot both studio and "location" shots. His studio is in downtown Los Angeles, where "there's plenty of grit to be found."
"I wanted a sort of Italian Neo-realism look," he said. "Like something out of a Rossellini or De Sica movie, but in a contemporary setting. I had a couple of locations in mind, one of which was an alley around the corner from me."
Those assembling at Reichert's studio included Will Bradley and Donnla Hughes, the actors in the title roles, ANW co-Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Managing Director Michael Bateman, as well as Rodriguez.
"We started in my studio, and everyone contributed ideas, which was great. The actors, who barely knew one another at this point, were remarkably open, and managed to convey real intimacy. As we began, we agreed that Donnla was looking too pretty, and too 'put together.' So we smeared her mascara to make it look as though she had been crying. I didn't want dreamy-eyed lovers; I wanted a kind of raw, emotional nakedness. I told Donnla to bite Will's lip, which she did, good sport that she is. And Will took it well.
"The studio session served as a great warm-up, and we headed to the alley, which Julia and Damaso loved. I didn't realize it at the time, but the set design included large dumpsters, which the grimy alley furnished plenty of. We talked about conveying a sense of danger, a feeling of these romantic outlaws being on the run. It seemed fitting to have them run down the alley in front of the dumpsters. That's how we got the shot.
"It was a truly collaborative effort. When everyone (actors, designers, directors, photographers) has a good sense of what needs to be captured, it's a lot easier to create stuff in the moment."
For information on Daniel Reichert Photography visit his website.
Ed Krieger is a name careful theater-watchers regularly see on theater websites, blog posts and in publications. An actor himself, Ed is especially wary of interfering with his subjects during a photo call.
"The challenges of theater photography vary depending on whether you are shooting set-ups, a run, or a dress rehearsal," he says. "When shooting a dress in 99-seat theater I sometimes feel that I am onstage with the actors. I don’t want to disrupt them. That's obviously less of a concern when shooting set-ups, but there the challenge is that we still need to run that moment in the scene so the pix have the feeling of action and don’t look like a Sears catalog.
"Either way, whenever I come, because the show is in that crunch before opening, I know I may have to deal with raw nerves. Technically I am really at the mercy of the lighting designer. That can make all the difference in the photos. A lot of stuff can be Photoshopped but the texture of the photo depends on the lighting, and I can’t control that.
"I have memorable shots but these days not favorite shots. Some have certain celebs I have been honored to photograph. Sometimes it's a friend in a breakout role. I shot Dick Shawn in his one-person show The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World. It was shortly after that, while doing the production in San Diego, that he died on stage during the intermission. That was memorable.
"I fought the shift to digital for a long time but the ease of retouching and adjusting things now cannot be beat. And I definitely don't miss driving around from lab to lab! Took a while for me to get used to the different image size, since the sensor is a little smaller than with 35 mm. I had to get wider angle lenses."
Ed can be reached through his website at EdKriegerPhoto.com.
Michael Lamont began his photography career shooting headshots and soon expanded into shooting theater productions. In 1989 he was sponsored by Universal Studios to join I.A.T.S.E. Local 600, International Cinematographers Guild, and began shooting unit and publicity for the studios. In 1997 he shot his first feature film, and has been a Director of Photography on independent features, shorts, and pilots since then.
His studio is in North Hollywood, and his clients include The Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, Wallis Annenberg Center, McCoy Rigby Entertainment, The Old Globe, Deaf West Theatre, Colony Theatre, East West Players, No Ho Arts Center, West Coast Jewish Theatre, The Rubicon, Interact, Reprise, Havok Theatre Company, Cornerstone Theater, Getty Villa, Shakespeare Center/LA, and the UCLA Department of Theatre Production.
"Every shoot is like an improvisation, it has its own life," he says. "In the end, it is always about the specific emotional life, natural behavior, working moment to moment, and being well lit. Combining these elements with the artistry and experience of the photographer to create and capture the moment. The human and technical issues are not dissimilar. Most important is being totally present in anticipating emotional moments and lighting changes. Focus and concentration are critical."
Michael singled out five favorites that accomplish his goal of capturing "storytelling photos that in one moment let you know what the play is about."
From the recent Barcelona at the Geffen Playhouse (reviewed here, "I love this moment because of the intimacy, tenderness, and caring in their behavior. It is the first time we see where the relationship may be going, and how they really feel about each other.
"With Cats, produced by McCoy Rigby Entertainment at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, we caught a stop-action moment. The joy and energy are infectious. It's the perfect mix of emotional life and dance.
"The image from Kristoffer Diaz' The Entrance of Chad Deity at the Geffen Playhouse shows the power of a moment. It was technically challenging because of the mix of stage lighting, into the house rack lights, and projections.
"Another McCoy-Rigby production in La Mirada was Miss Saigon and I feel that this image captures a beautiful depiction of the power of government and the horrific tragedy of war.
"In the climactic scene in the Geffen's Wait Until Dark, Alison Pill's character finds a menacing intruder in her apartment and uses her blindness to survive. In the play, she actually is turned upstage, but I did a set-up after the run-through with her facing the audience to get this haunting image."
To see more of Michael's work, visit MichaelLamont.com.
Alessandra Mello is the better half of a husband-wife team of professional photographers in the Bay Area. She and Kevin Berne share several theaters among their clients. Alessandra's clients include Sunset Magazine, PBS Kids, the Adobe Foundation, San Francisco Art Institute, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California Shakespeare Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), Monsoon, Center Repertory Theatre, West Edge Opera, University of San Francisco, Oakland Magazine, the Contra Costa Civic Theatre and the National Association of REALTORS®.
"In the 'performing arts' category I mainly photograph theater," she says. "I think photographing theater, if you compare it with other assignments, is a great school. It teaches you how to think fast and be in the moment. There is a lot to accomplish in a really short time. To get everyone in the picture, you have to move around since you can’t talk to the actors. And, you have to make sure everyone has a good expression while capturing that moment with all the emotion."
When she started shooting, photography had already evolved to digital. Among the challenges of shooting theater, she says, "You have to be fast, have good instincts and have the technical part in your brain because if you take a second to think about it you miss the shot."
The photos she has chosen "have been favorites and that’s why they are on my website. Each shows good composition or a moment that was hard to capture."
Alessandra's photo credit is "mellopix," and you can see more samples of her work and find out more about her at Mellopix.com.