April 22: Everything Old Is New Again

Happy birthday, Shakespeare – the Bard turns a staggering 455 years old this week!

In honor of the special occasion and because many of my recent shoots have involved familiar people and places, I’ve decided to focus this week’s blog entry on a return to the past – not just 455 years ago, but one year ago, too! In the spring of 2018, I interned at Shakespeare & Company, a theatre company in Lenox that performs modern adaptations of Shakespearean plays.

The shows they put on rotate each spring and summer, but last year’s featured shows on the Northeast Regional Tour were A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello. Funnily enough, I photographed Midsummer three times in full – and became a part of the show during one performance! – whereas I only photographed about 20 minutes of Othello.

Although the tour shows were my primary responsibility photography-wise, I got to do a variety of behind-the-scenes shots for the season playbill and social media as well.

The tour cast were so fun to work and live with!

My job wasn’t strictly photography; it was a combination of graphic design, social media, photography/videography, and assorted Development tasks. Overall, Shakespeare & Company was a fantastic place to be.

In other recent non-Shakespeare news, my photo activity lately has been a mixture of new theatre and sports from old stomping grounds. (I won’t focus on the sports stuff in this post, though, for thematic consistency.) WAM, one of my local theatre clients from last year, recently onboarded a few new people into their growing staff, and they hired me to take those new headshots, something I did for their staff last August as well.

Last year’s photos, like the one above, involved natural light, one umbrella for the overhead window, and one reflective white board, per their request. This year, however, we were able to play around a bit. Notice how Kristen’s face below has a golden tint? We used a golden reflector – but a bit differently than you might expect. To save time, we didn’t unload a light stand and set it up there – we simply had a tall WAMmer stand near the subject and wear the reflector material like a hood!

WAM also recently hired me to shoot the press rehearsal shots for their new show Lady Randy, which is currently playing at Shakespeare and Company as well. 

This, too, was a return to the past: the rehearsal room itself was a room from Shake & Co that I’ve shot in many times before. In the right conditions – aka, when you bring your own lighting – it can be a very useful photography space; one of my favorite portrait sessions last year came from this room. (This session was especially meaningful, in fact, because it was the last one Andy did before shaving off all of that hair for his acclaimed Off-Broadway role as Renton in Trainspotting!)

Still, it’s definitely not ideal – the lighting is sparse and the walls are bare and inconsistently colored. I made it work, though – look at this spread from The Berkshire Eagle on Thursday! 

Later this week, I’ll be back to another old stomping ground, Boston, to do a few more publicity shoots on Earth Day for a new volunteer arts client, and I’ll be doing a few photo shoots with old friends as well. Watch this space for new work!

March 16: Hockey Goals and Professional Goals

When I moved up to Hardwick in the fall of 2017, the town‘s extreme isolation and population demographics (a.k.a. pretty much everyone else that I worked with left two hours before I did, was married with children, did not live in the village itself, etc.) led me to go out of town – and occasionally out of state – for enrichment after work and on the weekends. It was arguably the driving-est semester I’ve ever had, which is ironic, because, for the first few weeks of it, I didn’t even have my car with me.

But, over the course of those 15 weeks, my wanderlust took me to countless cities, towns, and tourist attractions all the way from rural Vermont to Broadway to coastal beaches. My motto was the same as it had been at Idyllwild the semester before — always try new things — except that, this time, I couldn’t do so with anyone else. It was an easy rationale: if my situation in Hardwick wasn’t going to inherently enable new adventures in the way that previous jobs had, then I’d make it so myself.

Some things stuck. Going to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy multiple times to pray and meditate helped my sense of spirituality deepen and mature. I ended up volunteering there the following semester, too, and my well-worn, broken rosary stands as a testament to my persistent faith.

…er, well, actually, it’s because I kept it in the center console of my car for a while and I guess it must have separated there. But still.

Going to Broadway shows certainly stuck. I’ve been to New York City now at least 15 times since 2013, and I’ve made a new tradition of seeing a show with my study abroad friend Valerie whenever we hang out in the city.

But going to a Springfield Thunderbirds hockey game ended up sticking — or should I say, high-sticking? — more so than I would have expected.

Turns out, I love hockey. As someone who was vehemently anti-athletics as a child, an attitude I now regret, going to my first ever professional hockey game — not even to photograph it, just as a fan — was an adrenaline-filled experience that drew me in from the first view of the arena to the heart-stopping seconds in overtime when my favorite player, #28 Alex Grenier, defeated the Providence Bruins by one point.

I decided to spring for glass seats that day in order to fully immerse myself as much as possible. Although those were obviously the most expensive seats in the arena, it was completely, 100% a worthwhile purchase. My heart leapt every time players crashed against the glass near me, and I felt elated when a fight broke out and I joined the other fans in cheering it on.

You have to understand — I used to be very, very proper, fastidious, and rigid in my sense of morals, worldview, and personality. Think Angela from The Office. There was a time in my life when I never would have dreamed of allowing myself to participate in something that was so loud, chaotic, spontaneous, and fueled by testosterone.

But at that game, I found that I loved every second of it.

Although weather impeded my gameday travel on a few occasions, I ended up getting more tickets to other hockey games after that, not just the Thunderbirds, but the (Boston, not Providence) Bruins as well. Every single time, I felt that same elation, community, and sense of belonging, one period at a time.

So, once I moved up to my current place in Massachusetts, one of the first things I made sure to do was to get tickets to as many upcoming nearby hockey games as possible. I had only been here for about 72 hours when I had already booked tickets to two upcoming games.

One of them was last night, at UMass Amherst against UNH. As a Smithie, I am obviously no stranger to UMass; I’ve taken classes there before, including my first ever photojournalism class.

But I have another connection there as well: in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016, I worked in a relatively junior photography position for their theater department; I just did the promotional shots for their shows but didn’t do any actual performance photography. However, last year, I was hired to shoot the production photos for their fall 2018 shows.

This in itself was part of one of my biggest long-term personal goals: to photograph as many performances as I can, especially in theater, especially-especially in Massachusetts. Not only that, but I was told that they had kept up with my new work that I had produced since leaving Smith, and I was even able to negotiate a higher rate than I had gotten previously.

But going into the game last night didn’t exactly have that same sense of relax-and-enjoy-everything that my first Thunderbirds game had. It was the quarterfinals, so obviously the stakes were pretty high. Not only that, but no team scored any points in the first period at all, and the first two points scored were not by our team. Moreover, I was also sitting with two wisecracking students who, although their jokes on occasion were very funny (a UMass player body-checked a UNH player into the glass so hard that there was a collective OOH! around the stadium; one of the guys yelled out, “That’s what sales tax feels like!”), did also have a proclivity for a loooot of profanity and meanness towards the other team, with some occasional implied homophobia as well.

Not to mention, I felt a little bit like an interloper for being there. There were people in maroon clothing of all shapes and sizes, none of which I had; there were people who had obviously been supporting the team very closely for decades, which I hadn’t, and I didn’t know any of the fight songs, gestures, chants, etc. that were specific to UMass or UMass hockey itself. Still, I grabbed a free pom-pom on the way in and diligently shook it whenever I felt that I might be able to offer a little support – if for nothing else, sometimes, than to counteract my neighbors’ negativity.

But the action and our collective drive certainly picked up: by the end of the game, we were tied 4-4. We went into another 20-minute overtime period.

And then… no one scored, again.

We then had to go into another overtime, of which the first 10 minutes also went by with a palpable sense of frustration, anxiety, and “just get it over with already” in the crowd. After all, it was at least 10:45 PM by that time, nearly four hours after the game started, and we were all quite tired. I was very strongly considering going home, and I started putting my jacket on before convincing myself to just try two more minutes.

But then — as I was fighting the blurriness in my eyes — I saw a maroon cluster near the goal, then heard the crowd explode in celebration. Before I knew what was happening, we all leapt to our feet, and then I understood.

That’s the thing about goals, and, apparently, for me, goals won at UMass specifically: the most rewarding ones are those that come from working and waiting.

January 28

Earlier this week, I photographed one of my longtime favorite opera-musicals. From these photos, can you guess what it was?

Yup, you guessed it!

Still… it was the weirdest production of Bye Bye Birdie I’ve ever seen.

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