Viva Virago Theatre!


Reager and Stan, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80

F-Stop: f/4.5
Focal Length: 34 mm
Exposure Bias: +1.0ev
Speed: 1/25
ISO: 1000

One of my many gigs when I attended college was that of “Theatre Photographer”. Now, I was never really someone who was really all that into theatrical productions until my friend Amanda recommended me for the job, but I found myself enjoying them from the getgo. Theatre photography, like party photography, is a lot of fun because you often find yourself getting way closer to the action than the audience ever will.

What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that this genre of photography is a lot more challenging than one might actually expect. One of my friends hated (and by “hated”, I mean he complained about it for about 3 hours after his one and only shoot… that was a mighty long dinner) doing work for local playhouses because of the numerous variables that enter into the photographic equation. The biggest challenge, of course, is that one typically can’t work with any lighting other than what’s being used for the play itself. This, naturally, can be frustrating considering how dark a lot of the stages are once the house lights have come down. As a result, I usually end up setting the ISO on my camera to around 800 or 1000 and using manual settings to control the shutter speed (I’ve found that 1/25 to 1/60 brings about the best results) and F-stop (which I almost always keep adjusted to 3.5) so I don’t wind up with too-dark images. I also tend to keep my camera’s white-balance on the incandescent or fluorescent settings, because they manage to cut down on the the cooler lighting (remember, cooler light temperatures are more red) just enough to allow most of the different colors to come into play on the final image.

The other challenge with these photos is that it can be really tempting to just stand in one place and take pictures from the audience’s perspective for the entire show. If you try to do that, don’t expect to be asked back for another shoot: play pictures need to be interesting, since they’re effectively advertisements used to whet people’s appetites and motivate them to buy tickets. A lot of times, the pictures will be used by local papers to go along with their reviews, so it doesn’t work too well when a production gets a great review but has some really lackluster pictures accompanying the critic’s praise. The way I overcome this is that I often move around the edges of the stage and change the height of my camera so I can get some great closeups and unusual angles that oftentimes result in some truly interesting imagery.

This past weekend I went and took some photos for Virago Theatre, an amazing little company based out of Alameda. I’ve seen three of their plays so far, and each of them has been impressive in a number of ways, if for no other reason than the fact that the plots are impressively mature and… well… just different from the normal material you’d see in most college playhouses. Virago’s newest plays, shown as a double feature, are “The Death of Ayn Rand” and “A Bed of My Own”. The shows star Angela Dant, Michaela Greeley, Stephen Pawley, Sondra Putnam, Paul Santiago, and Jeremy Vik; all of whom are excellent in their respective roles. The two productions have one common element between them: one person in each play stays in a bed for their duration onstage. In “Ayn Rand”, the titular character lies in her deathbed while she tries to finish a movie script and deal with the hallucinations invading her room; “Bed”, on the other hand, is about a man who visits his ex-wife for dinner only to find her boyfriend rooted to his bed, hurling glares and verbal abuse like shrapnel grenades across the stage towards anyone who invokes his wrath. If you happen to be in the Bay Area and are looking for a good show to watch on the weekend, I’d really recommend both plays for their impressive production values, the impressive acting, and the original stories.

Normally, I attach pictures here as small images that go on the side of the blog, but in this case I’m posting some of my favorites as larger images under here so you can see just how great the plays look.

The Death of Ayn Rand:

A Bed of My Own

Explore posts in the same categories: actors, drama, movement, Nikon D80, photo tips, Photography, stage productions, theatre

4 Comments on “Viva Virago Theatre!”

  1. Erin Lousignont Says:

    Your photography ability never ceases to amaze me. Mike you are very talented. And very impressed by all the camera speak in your blog that I have no idea what it means! šŸ™‚

  2. Laura LP Says:

    Mike, your work for Virago is stunning. You have captured the energy of both shows in these shots. Cheers!

  3. Eileen Mereditdh Says:

    Wow, these are gorgeous. I can’t wait to see the shows! Thank you.

  4. Lisa Bettany Says:

    beautifully lit shots. nice!

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