Thursday, October 30, 2008


Several years ago I had the great fortune of working at Circle Theatre on an original script that was loosely based upon the friendship that founded that little company. In that cast of four, was Michael Pacas. The production would probably best be described as an unappreciated gem. The cast delivered a fine performance, if I do say so myself.

Since that time Michael has gone on to work with just about every non-Equity company in the city. Now he's mounting a one-man show as a showcase to spring himself into the larger houses and get special notice from the area agents.

Michael is an actor after my own heart. I LOVE that moxy and drive. And it's that dedication and guts that produce results.

Barrymore will only be running a short time, but if you want to see the essence of Chicago theatre, if you want to see what it's really all about, you cannot miss this production!

Presented and Performed by Michael Pacas
with Scott Sumerak
November 3 & 5 - 19, 2008
Sunday thru Wednesday
8:00 pm.
The West Stage at
The Raven Theatre Complex
6157 N. Clark Street

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ray T. Ready

The exciting thing about working with actors is that nothing is really ever predictable. It takes a certain strength of character to be able to accept that and I admire the actors who can embrace the adventure of a life in the theatre. It's not an easy one, but with the right mindset it is rewarding.

Case in point is Ray Ready. Ray came to me for his headshots fresh from college. He was doing his first show in Chicago and needed new headshots. He had been using an artistic shot with some leaves superimposed over it. It was a beautiful picture, and it had helped him land the show he was doing, but he rightly felt that the picture he'd been using wasn't going to get him much further.

As with all actors I work with, my first question is about career goals. Ray wanted a life on the stage. Film would be acceptable, but he really wanted the great roles. Because it's my best frame of reference, particularly with male actors, I asked him which Shakespearean role he wanted to play. He was a little stumped, because he felt like he wasn't really old enough to play the great comedic roles, but that's sort of where he saw himself. Then we hit on Puck, and the picture began to take shape. Ray is a perfect Puck: impish, with just a hint of danger. So we came up with this shot that communicated his angular body.

It was weeks after the shoot and sending the proofs to Ray before I heard from him. I had begin to think he was somehow disappointed with the pictures. That was not the case. Somehow he'd found himself in London, and was getting work as an actor there. In his e-mail to me, he gave me a list of the shots he needed and asked me to translate them to black and white as well as color. The Brits are still doing black and white. The above shot is now making the audition rounds in London.

Archetype Images is now officially international!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Wedding Show

I've always been fascinated by weddings. There's a surreal quality to them where everyone involved seems to pretend as if they are someone they're not. Or maybe a better way to put it is that everyone involved agrees to be the best version of themselves for the day. It's no wonder people want elaborate wedding photo packages to commemorate the event.

Recently I attended my first wedding show, which was geared toward the Chicago bride. I was an observer, not a participant, and I attended with a female friend of mine. We posed as a happy couple to get a sense of what an actual Chicago bride and her groom might experience at one of these events and to try to find affordable wedding packages.

The pressure was incredible. From the very beginning the message sent to a bride is that your day must be PERFECT!!, with the implied message being that if your day isn't PERFECT!! then you have failed in some way. There were a lot of expected vendors at this event -- bakers, DJs, florists, and photographers, all beaming at me and my friend, all dying for us to sign contracts that will lock in a date and guarantee their rates, which were anything but affordable.

Of course I knew weddings are expensive. And I even had an inkling of how expensive, but what I wasn't prepared for was just how difficult it would be to find a top-quality wedding photographer in Chicago who provides great value. Now, to be fair this was my first show and I plan to attend a few more before I sign myself up.

I've been studying weddings in general and Chicago brides in particular for months now. I think I have at least a fair understanding of the industry. For instance, I can tell which is a dress for the upcoming season and which is from two seasons ago. I'm a retired actor. I can spot the difference between costume-quality and real quality from across the footlights of a runway, and I can tell you that the dresses I saw were of inferior, yet were going for top dollar. I've worked in restaurants for years. I know a cake mix and one made from scratch. I know quality, and in terms of Chicago wedding packages, I wasn't seeing it.

One of the reasons Archetype Images has been slow in entering the wedding market is because I wanted to develop my own style. Just as with headshots, there are thousands of photographers doing the work, but I don't want my work to look like everyone else's. Yet, going from one photography booth to another, I could not see much difference in quality of work. The larger studios displayed a wide array of quality, from beginners with consumer cameras, all the way up to gifted photographers with state-of-the-art equipment. But they were all charging for the top line talent. What’s more, there were five booths, and yet we only met one actual photographer. To me that was shocking.

I've done two weddings now, I can tell you that I would not be happy with my work unless I know something about the bride. It's the same way with my headshots and the publicity shots I do. I have to feel a connection to the event in some way. To me, going to a large, impersonal photo studio would be a lot like going to someone new to do your hair for your wedding. Yeah, you might look good, but the day is all about presenting the best version of you, and only someone who has a connection with you can know what that is. It's all about capturing a unique vision of the best version of the people and doing it without pressure. A Chicago bride needs an affordable wedding package that reflects her own sense of style, and that's my goal.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Autumn Garden

My first scene in my first acting class was from Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine. I hated the play. Combine that with The Children's Hour, which it seemed every third high-school girl did at drama competitions, and I had almost no use for Hellman. Then I watched Jane Fonda in Julia and I was completely finished with Hellman. Even though she is considered one of America's premiere playwrights, I could not be convinced. America has been wrong before.

Then, about a decade ago, some friends and I were discussing film actors. We were trying to decide who was the greatest film actor of all time and although I'm not sure we fully resolved that riddle, we decided that somewhere near the list of top ten was Bette Davis. We resolved that once a month we get together and watch every Davis film we could get our hands on. On either end of her career there are some real howlers, although Davis is always riveting. But in the middle of her career, particularly from 1939 to about 1951, from Jezebel to All About Eve no one could touch Bette Davis. Man or woman, there was simply not a more fearless actor working in Hollywood. Davis would try anything, and while she wasn't always successful, you could never take your eyes off her.

Late one Saturday evening we sat down to watch The Little Foxes. It had been a long day, and simply stretched out on the floor, ready to drift of to sleep. I was convinced that even the great Bette Davis couldn't keep me awake for Hellman's story and words. I was wrong. Davis is, of course, brilliant. But more important, Davis reintroduced me to Lillian Hellman. From that viewing I realized my mistake. Hellman is a brilliant playwright.

Hellman's brilliance, from an actor's point of view, is that there are no throw-away characters. If there's a character on the stage or the page, he's fully realized. Even the ones who are clearly plot devices are filled with human wants, needs, flaws, and love. Her work gives credence to the old saw that there are no small parts, only small actors.

So, when Nat Swift asked me to do the pre-production shoot for The Autumn Garden I was thrilled. Eclipse Theater is a great group, and I love working with them. The casts that I've shot have always been perfectly constructed. But the real gem of the assignment was having to sit down and re-read The Autumn Garden. I don't like to shoot a play that I'm not familiar with. I need to have an understanding of the characters, the mood, and the moment that we're trying to capture. I like to read the play and if possible see a run. And with The Autumn Garden I fell in love with Hellman all over again.

The story is sort of a 1949 Big Chill (that's a gross reduction - barely adequate) set in an old, Louisiana mansion at the end of a summer. For the pre-production shoot, we used one of the houses that has been surrounded by the DePaul campus. This was the first time that some of the cast members actually met one another, and each and every one of them was clearly over the moon about playing his or her role. The shoot was fun and it's clear to see that this is going to be a crackling production, and one of the more important ones of the current season.

The Autumn Garden opens in November at the Victory Gardens Green House. This is a must-see show, that is rarely produced. Don't miss it!