“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!