Meet the cast of “The Fourth Wall,” one of this summer’s productions by the New Vintage Ensemble. The fourth wall, for those of you who may not be familiar with the phrase, is a performance term for the space between the performance and the viewers. If a set has three physical walls, then the the fourth wall is what separates the actors from the “real world,” a fourth wall that is usually ignored, but is sometimes broken to good dramatic or comedic effect.
When I met with director Kimmie Leff and her cast last week for the promotional photo shoot, we had already decided to shoot the photos in a play off the idea of a fourth wall. So when we began with the group promotional photos, we arranged the case in a series of setups that included an actual wall.
Facing the wall, peering around the wall, against the wall – that last one is a little cliche, perhaps, but it’s repeated time and time again because it does work. With these photos, when the cast is done with the show, they could start a band and have their first album cover!
The real highlight of this shoot, however, is the actor headshots. As a quick aside, headshots can be a bit formulaic sometimes; a lot of productions just want a nice, clean portrait of their actors against a while or colored backdrop. Crisp and classic, and always a good look.
But sometimes you get to play and do something a bit more fun…
This is what happens when you run into the fourth wall face-first!
As much as I’d love to take credit for this concept, it was Director Kimmie Leff’s idea, and it played out perfectly. We were able to find a glass door for the actors to smush their faces against, and we had a lot of fun in the process. It’s a fresh, creative take on the idea of headshots, and I love it.
“The Fourth Wall” will open for a one-day engagement at The Cooperage Project in Honesdale, PA, on 10 July.
“My college roommate was an owl, and now I’m dating him.”
It’s a twisted take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,”, and so begins the New Vintage Ensemble’s latest production, “The Trouble with Sketch Shows,” an original piece written, directed, and performed by members of the Ensemble as part of their 2016 season.
In the hijinks that follow, we meet a self-absorbed newscaster who never actually gets to her program, a school cook, a spelling bee nerd, an Indiana Jones escapade gone wrong, and a truly disgruntled senior citizen, among others.
I was invited to cover one of NVE’s dress rehearsals in order to provide promotional and archival images for the ensemble – it’s pretty cool to get a look at a show before the general public, and I don’t think NVE will have any trouble filling seats for this one.
My favorite part of this whole process is the originality – every skit in the show came from the minds of people I know, people I’ve hung out with, had brunch with, had drinks with, never knowing that this kind of twisted genius was lurking inside. I am hugely impressed by their individual contributions, and by the quality of the New Vintage Ensemble’s original works overall.
“The Trouble with Sketch Shows” opens tonight, with two performances Friday night and one on Saturday at the Scranton Cultural Center.
The New Vintage Ensemble’s winter production of “Hamlet” is fast approaching, and it’s been announced that they will be holding it at the amazing Scranton Cultural Center. But amid an increasingly hectic rehearsal schedule, the cast took a few minutes out for another photoshoot with me.
We began our session with a group photo, which is a combination of promotional cast shot and a holiday greeting. Conor is back in the center chair in his role as Hamlet, with the rest of the cast around him. I’m not sure if the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” concept at top was planned from the start, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but either way I absolutely love it! “Hamlet” is a pretty serious story and there’s plenty of evil to go around, so the juxtaposition of the cast’s seeming innocence versus Conor’s nonchalance in the middle of it all is just amazing.
After the group photos, the cast began their nightly briefing session and I changed my setup for some headshots. Everyone cycled through in the span of about fifteen minutes – I made the headshots short and painless, and am very pleased with how they came out:
As with the first batch of promotional photography, we knew starting out that everything would be processed in black & white. It’s vital to know this ahead of time, so you can focus on tonalities instead of colors. You’d never know that the backdrop wall in the headshots is actually a lovely blue that translated very well as a neutral gray.
The next time I see this cast, they’ll be on stage. After almost three months of rehearsals, I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with. Break a leg guys!
“To be, or not to be, that is the question….” Ah yes, that quote that everyone knows – even those of you who didn’t spend an entire semester in college studying the works of Shakespeare! That, and the quintessential image of Hamlet, the mad prince of Denmark, holding the skull of poor Yorik. “I knew him well, Hortatio.”
We tried to put a slightly different spin on things…
I’m speaking, of course, of the New Vintage Ensemble’s upcoming production of “Hamlet,” which will appear on stage in Scranton this coming January. This will be NVE’s first mainstage production since their smash hit rendition of “Pride and Prejudice” in 2013, and I know that I’m not alone when I say that I am VERY curious to see what they’ve come up with this time.
A few weeks back I worked with the “Hamlet” production team to shoot a series of early promotional photos, and although that kind of access gives me a peek inside the production, I still don’t know all the details, except that it’s looking damn good!
Conor O’Brien is taking the lead as the mad prince himself, and he took to the stage for us during the photoshoot. The whole concept from the production team and director Casey Thomas was a series of images that emphasized darkness. Hamlet alone in blackness, seeming to come out of the darkness, with a little help from some well-considered props.
We had four concepts going in, and we used variations on the same overall setup to capture each of them. First, Conor in an antique high-back chair, almost lounging in it, both with and without some props. Then the three-hands image, which is featured at the top of this post, with Conor still in the chair, but three shadowy hands reaching out, one to each side and one above, holding props.
This was, by far, the biggest success of our shoot that day – a relatively complex scene that came together perfectly, and perhaps even better than we had imagined. Some fun facts: we weren’t able to find a crown that looked right, so we actually fashioned one out of materials we found on-site moments before taking these photos. And the liquid in the goblet? Yeah, it’s hot chocolate.
Our third concept was to get Conor up out of his chair and have him standing, screaming for the camera. This is more of a play on the “mad prince” aspect of the character, but it was a lot of fun to shoot, since Conor wasn’t able to fake a scream. So for each frame we shot, he actually screamed random words at the camera – including “dooooooooor!” – which usually left all of us dissolving into laughter.
We ended the day with the most unusual series, where we wrote the famous “to be or not to be” quote across Conor’s face and neck with a makeup pencil. We put him back on stage, standing, and coaxed some madness-inspired expressions from him before calling it a wrap.
We knew all along that the final photos would be in black & white, which gave us a lot of leeway in our setups. It’s really essential to know if you’re using color of black & white before you walk into a shoot; with color you have to really pay attention to the colors that are present, how they interact and contrast, and how they actually appear in the photos. With black & white, it’s all about tones – a half-dozen different colors may all produce the same shade of gray, so you can drop that factor out of the mental equation.
Working with the New Vintage Ensemble is always a pleasure, and I’ve come to expect that these folks will just hit it out of the park any time they step in front of my camera. I guess that sets the bar pretty high for them, but they keep meeting it!
During the summer I shared some promotional photos from the studio session I did with Kathryn Bondi, owner and designer of Broken Twig. A few weeks after our studio shoot, we got together again for a second session to create a more environmental series of photos.
All products benefit from environmental or beauty-shot photos – something that highlights their qualities and puts them into perspective in a way that potential buyers can relate to and appreciate. And in the case of Broken Twig, what we really needed was a way to highlight the designs – literally.
Each Broken Twig design incorporates elements of rustic, natural design with new-age lighting, in the form of either LED lights or candles. And while the studio promos did a great job of showing design details and produced clean, static portraits, the necessary studio lighting overpowered the design’s built-in lights.
Our goal during the environmental session was to let those lights shine – and did they ever!
We set up outdoors at twilight and waited for evening to really start turning into night before we began shooting. Our goal was to find a setting that had both natural and light-urban elements, like you’d find in a backyard, to highlight the rustic, homey feeling of the designs.
The photography was all done from a tripod, without any auxiliary lighting. The result was a series of long-exposures, which really let the pieces build up a glow and show their function as lit accent pieces in a relatable setting.
Of course there were some challenges to overcome, such as setting up and leveling shots on unlevel ground. We had some interesting moments with the suspended pieces as well. Hanging them from a studio boom with the necessary outlet power was easy, but getting them motionless sure wasn’t! Even the slightest breeze set some of them in motion, and it took a lot of tries to finally get a motion-less photo.
By the time we called it a wrap, it was full-on nighttime. I’ll close with one of the last setups we photographed, which is also one of my favorites – the Midnight Moon lamp set against a deepening sky and a rising crescent moon!
Meet Broken Twig, the creations of local artist and graphic designer Kathryn Bondi. Crafted using branches sourced at the nearby Nay Aug Park, Kathryn constructs these stunning lights that somehow fuse a natural rustic aesthetic with a clean, modern style. And the result is beautiful!
Broken Twig launched this summer, and since then Kathryn has been featured in Scranton’s monthly First Friday art walk, and was also one of the vendors who took part in the annual Arts on the Square festival. So of course being new, and building her own website, she needed some product photos.
After discussing her needs, we decided to break the photo shoot into two parts: a studio session where we’d capture a series of well-lit detail and full-product photos, and a second later session, where we’d move outside and capture environmental beauty shots of each piece.
Starting with the studio made the most sense, as it allowed me to become familiar with each piece from a photographic standpoint. We began the session with a series of tight close-up photos, rotating each piece through a white lightbox in order to capture the exquisite detail present in each. One of the joys of Kathryn’s work is discovering all the little details built into each. Even working closely with them the way I was, several times I was surprised to find a subtle element that I’d overlooked to that point, be it a piece of rope work, a charm, or a feather.
From the lightbox we progressed to using a red wall and my credenza as a shooting area, to capture full product shots. The original plan had called for a more environmental approach, where we’d have the items in a well-lit room and capture them in situ. But as we started trying to setup for that approach, we found that it simply wasn’t working out. It happens, perhaps more often than most people realize – an idea that sounded great on the drawing board falls apart in reality.
The red wall was the solution; we shifted from a semi-environmental setting to a much simpler studio setting, and were able to get back on track and move forward. Through the course of a couple of hours we photographed each piece, about eight in total, ranging from the bottle designs, to several hanging lamps and candle holders, which we suspended from a photographic boom and maneuvered into position.
In the red background shots, the plant and clay pot are actually items from my own decor, which we conscripted into service as props. This happens a lot too. In this case, it was a matter of putting the first couple of pieces – the whiskey bottle designs – onto the credenza against the red background, and realizing that there was something missing.
Although the whiskey bottles provide a sense of scale themselves, there was still an emptiness to the images – they needed something else, a subtle dash of color, something to accept the pieces (with without distracting from them). So we grabbed an orchid and the blue pot, and swapped them out as we worked through the different pieces, and found that they gave the photos exactly the element that they needed.
This last photo is one of my favorites, and all the credit goes to Kathryn, who thought to bring along some of her source materials in their raw form. It’s such a simple image, but I know that I always appreciate it when artists show this kind of background insight – what did they start with? What did it look like before it became art?
There’s more to come in part two, when we’ll look at the second shoot – stick around!
This past August I was privileged to join The Vintage to document their annual “24 Hours of Art” event, which brings together a large number of community artists to celebrate and share their craft non-stop from noon on Saturday through to noon on Sunday. This year the arts community was well-represented by a wide range of visual artists, musicians, poets, performers, and actors.Read More...
Back in early August I shot a series of promotional portraits for The Vintage’s “24 Hours of Art” event. As part of the event programming, participating artists were invited to the session for a series of portraits – we kept it simple, shooting on The Vintage’s stage and then against a standard white backdrop.Read More...