Monday, May 31, 2010

After the Fall

I have never been an Arthur Miller fan. There. I've put the admission into print and probably branded myself as an illiterate rube.

In my junior year in high school, I had secretly made the decision I was going to be a star on Broadway. I knew my parents would never approve, so I tried to be as discrete about the decision as possible. Of course being in virtually every play that held an audition within a thirty mile radius of our home might not qualify as discrete to some, but I liked to think of it as living on the edge.

In preparation for impending stardom, I joined the Fireside Theatre. In the days before the Internet, the only exposure a young boy stranded in the cornfields of Iowa had to "real" theatre was the Sunday New York Times and the Fireside Theatre. Fireside Theatre was a magical oasis of culture, book club that allowed you to join for a penny and provided you with an introductory selection of plays, with the agreement to buy five or six at the regular price the next couple years. I thought I was pretty slick. My five selections were all five thick anthologies. For one penny, I managed to purchase forty classic plays. One of these anthologies being the best works of Arthur Miller. That summer I consumed Miller, Williams, O'Neill, Shakespeare, Shaw, the collected theatrical works of Agatha Christie, and a collection of the great American musicals. Only God knew when I would be summoned to play one of those great roles in a Broadway production on a moment's notice, and I had to be ready.

Williams and Shaw became passions. The musicals were fun. Shakespeare a struggle, and Williams and O'Neill a duty. (The less said about Christie, the better.) I felt like I got The Crucible, if not exactly appreciated it, but the rest of Miller left me cold. There weren't really any playable parts for a seventeen-year-old boy as I couldn't throw a football to save my life. I did a production of The Crucible in college, and felt that my time in Miller's world had been served. Years later I saw a production of All My Sons at the Raven Theatre and because of that brilliant production, deemed the script worthy. But I read After the Fall at age seventeen. I didn't get it, and didn't want to. "Slop," was my insightful summation. And I never looked back.

And then Eclipse added it to their season. Sigh. Last week I reluctantly sat down to slog my way through the script. I don't like to take pictures of scripts I don't know because I want to be able to add value to the process. And even though I was certain I'd much rather be pulling out my own molars, I felt a responsibility to at least be able to say I had looked at the script.

Then something very unexpected happened. Miller began to speak to me. Man to man. His story meant something to a middle-aged man that it couldn't possibly to a teenaged boy. And when Miller began to speak, I began to listen. And as I listened, the remnants of my actor instincts kicked in and I became intrigued by how to play the roles. By the end, I almost felt a yearning to give Miller another try.

The shoot was Saturday. Nothing specific had been planned, but I knew I'd have Quentin, Maggie, Louise, and Holga. However, when I walked into the room and met the actors playing the roles, the image came to me immediately. I knew instantly what I wanted to do, if not exactly how to execute it.

I shot Quentin holding each of the three women separately. Steve Scott, the director, had suggested individual marital portraits of the three couples. While doing three individual portraits would have been easy, I wanted a single image that summed up Quentin's relationships. Nat Swift, who plays Quentin, had a difficult time because he needed to hold the same pose for each woman. The acting and the relationship had to be defined by the poses of the women. I wanted some sort of blending of the images, but wasn't sure how to achieve it without making it look cheesy. The amount of distance between each of the women and Quentin was one of the keys. The difficulty was giving each woman her own space, and yet making the relationship with Quentin seem believable. As with the play, Maggie was the most difficult. She is a victim, and the ultimate victim for me is Faye Wray in King Kong. I asked Nora to strike that pose. It was not an easy pose for her to hold. The image I ended up using blended the body from one shot, the arm from another, and her face from a third.

Once the Maggie shot was done, the others were easy. Louise is pushing away from Quentin and Holga is his equal and accepts him as he is.

The real difficulty came in putting them together in some meaningful way, and the key for me was Nat's eye line. The base photo was Quentin holding Maggie. I had to piece the other two women into it. There was a lot of resizing and rotating the images so that they all looked like they might be originating from the same waist, even though the actresses hadn't posed that way. Had I been thinking, I might have had an easier time if I'd used a tripod. That way my perspective would have been constant and resizing and adjusting perspective for Helga and Louise wouldn't have been so difficult. It took about three hours to get all of the actresses into something of a believable perspective, and then to line their eyes up so that it would look like Quentin could be looking at any one of the three.

Once the photo was done, I was not happy. It looked like a Photoshop mess, even though I intellectually understood what was going on in the picture, it didn't resonate. The images were too realistic. Turning it into a graphic representation was embarrassingly easy. Anyone with a modicum of Photoshop skill will look at it and sneer. I had wanted something very Warhol. But if there is one thing I've learned over the years, it's when to stop. The texture is right. So, it wasn't a complex process. It's effective.

In the end, the image isn't what I had originally expected. But it may be better. Much like Miller's work, it speaks to me in an unexpected way and I'm surprised at how satisfying it really is. It may just be possible that Miller taught me more than I realize.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Sometimes my weekend photo safaris don't take me any further than my own dining room.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Congratulations Millie and Chuck

Millicent Hurley and Chuck Spencer, the off-Loop Lunt and Fontanne were each nominated for Jeffs this morning. Here seen in pre-production shots for The Autumn Garden at Eclipse Theatre.
There aren't two more deserving artists!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


In the age of digital photography it just makes sense to take a new approach to marketing yourself as an actor.

Yes, you need the natural-light shot so that your agent feels like she has a marketable product to sell. Although I'd argue it's less about "capturing your essence" or even having a headshot "that just looks like you," and more about having a familiar product to sell -- but that's a completely different discussion.

Still, there are times when it may be in your best interest to have a marketing image that is unexpected. One that is going to stand out after a long day of auditions.

Scenario One: A casting director is looking for a Macbeth. She goes to her files with the specs for what the producer has requested. Dark. Ominous. Hint of fragility. And what does she have to work with? Five thousand toothsome grins. Now, of course she's a professional, knows her talent pool and can pour through those files and pull the twenty photos and resumes she thinks are most appropriate. But what if you're the perfect Macbeth and the casting director has never met you? She sees your toothsome grin, and if you get pulled from the file, when she has to narrow those twenty photos down to the five she wants to call in for an audition, do you think she's going to choose the toothsome grin she knows, or the one she doesn't?

Scenario Two: You go to a casting call for an up-and-coming company that is doing an edgy production of Macbeth. They are having two or three days of open calls, at the end of which they're going to invite selected actors to a call back. If your audition is on day one, are you so confident that by the end of day three your brilliant audition is going to be remembered clearly? How are you helping that director remember you if you went in with your toothsome, one-shot-suits-all-occasions headshot?

Scenario Three: Everybody and his cat has a website, a visual medium. Why would you waste anyone's time with just the same toothsome grin in three versions. "Here I am smiling at the camera while wearing a green shirt. Here I am smiling at the camera in a red shirt. And here I am NOT smiling and wearing a black shirt. Hire me."

A couple of years ago Jennifer Aniston turned forty years old. Yet, still an attractive vital woman she had semi-nude photos of herself published to remind the industry and the movie-going public that she was still a player in the girlfriend archetype and romantic comedy genre. Doesn't your career deserve the same attention to detail and creativity in marketing that Jennifer Aniston's does?

In the end you have to use the marketing tools that you feel most accurately represents your artistic approach and professional comitment. But it's in your best interest to consider adding an unexpected image to your marketing toolkit to give you an edge in your quest to play Macbeth, and to level the playing field against an actress who is willing to strip to get the part you want.