Photo Shoot: Chance and Layers of Play
Sunday June 24, 2012
Alder Manor, Yonkers, NY

A series of meetings inspired by music, enhanced by fellowship, fueled by a love for theatre and respect for the preservation of its ephemeral record lead me to a photo shoot in an empty mansion in Yonkers on a beautiful summer Sunday.  Sound designer Fitz Patton attended a brunch I attended a month or so ago — he knew one of our hosts and I knew the other, and we soon found a common language in the theatre making we love.  He has a scheme: a new magazine with fashion photography photographic quality that will capture as straight production photos, behind the scene photos, and photos inspired by theatrical art — the ephemera of theatre.  His magazine in development will be called Chance — from a line in Tom Stoppard‘s Travesties: “Everything is chance, even design is Chance.” And so it is.  Chance and attention to detail and capturing the moments and being inspired by the possibilities. Fitz says to me at one point that what he seeks to create in this publication is a “noise-free, calming, focusing, meditative space.”  I hope to be a part of it as it goes forward.

We meet up several weeks later, sandwiched in between tech rehearsals for him and an evening performance for me, to review his luscious plans for the magazine, complete with beautiful images from test shoots.  With sections titled “Word” (an essay), “Document” (a production film shoot, intended to illustrate how to do this kind of theatrical photography a bit differently), “Reality” (actors getting into and out of and being in costume and make up, back stage and in and out of character — delightfully reminiscent of Amy Arbus’ The Fourth Wall), “Interview” (designers interviewing designers), “Portfolio”, “Focus” (high-resolution still photography of characters and/or props and/or costumes, inspired by fashion photography), “Play” (a photo shoot to express the themes or characters or mood of a new play rather than its literal production), “Past” (a place for documentation of archives and papers and history), and “Book” (about new publications hot off the presses). And perhaps other sections. The aesthetics play out through the words:  a clear raw immediate focus is planned for the sections of this publication. Just summarizing the notes of our conversation over his laptop, oohing and aahing over the luscious sample shots, gets me excited all over again.

And this past Sunday, about twenty people at different times showed up at Alder Manor in Yonkers, a semi-abandoned Gilded Age mansion, to film a “Play” spread inspired by a play-in-development by Sharr White — yes, he who penned The Other Place coming to Broadway this winter.  White’s new play (which I have not yet read, still in draft form) features a well-to-do family in 1917, with a young soldier, a servant who was Russian aristocracy, and family secrets — all of which I glean from the set ups I observe around the estate for the several hours I am on site.

The location was rented for the day and everyone volunteered their time — including makeup artists, wigmakers, costumers, photographers, director Trip Cullman, beautiful actors. The possibilities are great, the energy high, the location beautiful, the promise full. I am breathless with anticipation. What follows are my own amateur snaps, attempting to capture some of the misty wonder of this day and these generous professional artists creating some delightful original art before my eyes.

Alder Manor shoot, makeup room at the far end of the hall, endless possibilities. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
Actors, directors, technicians in motion for the meal set up. Director Trip Cullman in the red shirt. Wigmaker working with Charles LaPointe, Leo Brown, at far left. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
Makeup artists after they’ve applied the secret ingredient — facial mud. I have not yet seen where they’ve applied it. Tools of the trade peek out of pockets. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
Between shots, wigs touched, luminous actor smile. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
Actor, photographer, silhouette and reflection. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 27, 2012)

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