Getting Theatrical. Do you go to the theater or does the theater come to you?

The Majestic Theater, San Antonio.

Belinda and I went to see a performance of Dividing the Estate at Zachary Scott theatre last night.  I wasn't there for a shoot so I had to leave my camera at home.  As I sat in the theater I started really thinking about the positive, symbiotic relationship I have with the theater.

Zachary Scott Theatre has a collection of over 100 framed and matted, 12 by 18 inch, color prints of my work spread across three buildings, in public traffic areas.  Each one has my credit boldly displayed.  My work for each production gets prime newspaper display with a large credit line next to each image.  The marketing people chose one archetypical image from each dress rehearsal shoot and make it into a beautifully designed, printed postcard that gets mailed out to sometimes as many as 25,000 very well targeted and very affluent house holds (approximately 250,000 local impressions per years in print). I am listed in every program as a sponsor.

And I am well presented by them on the web:  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/dividing-the-estate  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/xanadu  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/fully-committed

I get all the comp tickets I can handle and last night there were four complimentary drink tickets paper clipped to my tickets.  I love a theater where you can take your glass of wine in for the performance...

Every year Zach sponsors a Christmas party for me at their production of Santaland Diaries  which means I get to invite 100 or so of my friends and business associates to an incredible night at the theater.  I've learned more about lighting than I can possible imaging by watching the ultimate lighting pros of live theater.  I've learned at the actor's feet.  They've taught me about the importance of gesture and timing and even improvisation.  I've gotten an advanced education in theater with over 200 different plays under my belt.  And they've taught me so much about marketing.  Because they do it non-stop.  And they do it well.

And I've recruited the actors as paid talent for advertising campaigns and even a corporate trade show presentation, all with great results.

The performance last night was so much fun.  Real people, acting, just a few feet from my seat.  Every show, every performance is an original piece of art.  Nothing is canned.  Nothing can ever be perfect but it can make you laugh, make tears drip down your face in public and move you emotionally in a way pre-recorded stuff never can.  In short, it's always amazing. Even when it's a genre I don't usually care for it's amazing. And Zachary Scott constantly expands my idea of what it's like to be alive and unique.  From Angels in America to Jesus Christ, Superstar every single play examines what it is to be a part of humanity.

As I sat in the theater last night I remembered the first time I shot a dress rehearsal for them so many years ago.  It was a play called, Six Degrees of Separation.  In those days we'd shoot "set-up" shots on medium format color transparency film.  We'd put the cast into a scene or a close up moment and then light it and shoot with a Hasselblad on a tripod.  We shot the actual dress rehearsal with whatever 35mm camera I was shooting at the time.  And the dress rehearsal shots were done in black and white because that's what the local newspaper and all the smaller publications printed at the time.

I shot Six Degrees of Separation with two Leica cameras.  I used a 35mm f2 Summicron on one body and a 90mm f2 Summicron on the other and almost certainly I was shooting Tri-X.  I had a Pentax one degree spot meter and I'd use it sparingly.  The light changes weren't as dramatic in the days before programmable lighting boards...

How much fun it was to see my work, just a few days later, splashed across a quarter page in the Austin American Statesman newspaper!!!  The cherry on the whip creme was the large cut line right under the photograph.  I can't remember what I got paid for that first shoot.  Iy couldn't have been much because the theater was struggling 19 years ago.  This year we're about to open a new, $20 million theater.  It makes me smile to think that all those past evenings of shooting in some small way helped to make the theater successful enough that we could raise $20 million for the new theater complex in the middle of the biggest economic downturn our generations have ever seen.

If you don't get out to see much live theater you might consider giving it a shot.  As a photographer you'll find the lighting very interesting.  And the way people move through light.  But I think you'll also have a growing appreciation for gesture, expression and movement.  It's one of the arts.  We might as well integrate it into ours...

1 comment:

theaterculture said...

Lovely writing, and great to hear a "pan-artistic" sentiment today, particularly given the lamentable tendency for the photographic conversation to be so tech-centric that it ignores visual arts, let alone other media. You and the Zachary Scott have a beautiful friendship (and as an aside, for anybody not familiar with the theater's namesake, do yourself a favor and rent "Mildred Pierce" this weekend!).

Sounds like Austin's a goldilocks city for theater - just big enough that there's variety and some genuinely classy offerings and big institutions like UTA and the Zach, without being so big that it's overwhelming and the sheer variety of things available become their own reason not to go. That's a special balance, and it helps make it easier to make the live theater an integrated part of a balanced artistic diet rather than the tribal thing it sometimes becomes in cities where there's so little of it that it becomes an idol, or so much of it that it becomes the air.