The Mind of an Actor (2/3)

This is part two; read the first post here.

There are layers of complexity in “Measure for Measure” that require an incredible amount of effort. For instance, because there are only five AFTLS members, each is required to play three-to-four characters. Gerrard plays Duke Vincentio, Froth, Barnadine and a friar. “It’s really fun,” Gerrard said. “You have your major roles- mine is the Duke. We discovered that 30 percent of the play is the Duke talking.”

Sometimes these characters overlap in a scene. The actors are, in effect, talking to themselves. And yet, the audience is entirely convinced there is more than one person on stage. This happy trick is played on the mind throughout the whole of “Measure for Measure.”

But the overlapping roles are not a handicap. In fact, it is a welcome reprieve and challenge. “I swap from the Duke to the friar and Froth,” Gerrard explained. This style of acting is difficult but satisfying: He gets to play more than one character. “But it’s the audience that makes it work,” Gerrard added. “The Duke and the friar are the same person, and you want the audience to know that.” When these characters overlap within a scene, the audience must imagine that they are, in fact, different people; otherwise, the scene falls flat.

Gerrard paused in his explanation to smile and wave cheerfully at someone over my shoulder. “It’s Peter,” he said. “Here he comes! You can interview both of us.”

Peter Bray is tall and broad-shouldered. His smooth, chiseled face, wiry hair and dark eyes are a striking combination. He also wears a polo, though his is dark grey. Like Gerrard, Bray’s eyes communicate an abiding, although more reserved, passion for theatre. I ask him the question I had posed to Gerrard: What is it like to play more than one character, especially when they overlap in a scene?

“It’s really exciting,” Bray said, animation in his deep voice. “There’s extreme demand. At the drop of a hat — literally — you have to have rapid access to a different character; you have to step into a mask.”

Before “Measure for Measure,” neither Bray nor Gerrard had assumed several characters within the same scene. Drama school prepared them to access the level of required ability, but it was never directly addressed. Both agreed that there is a level of mystery involved. They get to “let the audience in” on the secret. The audience feels as though they understand something about the characters and the actors themselves; that is what makes “Measure for Measure” so compelling.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Gerrard continued. He leaned forward, eager for me to understand. “We’re still getting better. You never really finish it, and nothing really prepares you.”

“It takes more than time,” Bray nodded. “It takes extreme attention and brain fuel.” After even an hour of practice, Bray said, the team is exhausted.

But what role is the audience play in a performance? Much more than you might assume; it goes beyond laughter and facial expressions. The third and final installment will be this Friday!

Mikel Family | The Steadiest Love

“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened, and maintained.” – Winston Churchill

I’ve known Betsy for years. She was my first friend in college and remains one of my closest. Today, I got to photograph her beautiful family.

The Mikel family is steady and calm. They’re gentle with each other, and deeply loving. (The littlest one is especially treasured.) And yet, there’s an undercurrent of humor: Mr. Mikel jogging to stay warm, Mrs. Mikel playing peek-a-boo with the baby, Nate and Abe sandwiching Betsy in a hug and making faces.

Family is such a gift!

Stillman Family | A Foray into Photographing Huskies

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” – Jane Eyre

Dylan and Megan arrived for our session in full autumn garb, and they’re as sweetly genuine as they look! They share deep admiration and love; neither would be quite right without the other.

I quickly discovered that photographing huskies is no mean feat… but oh, just gaze into those mismatched eyes! No wonder Megan and Dylan chose to adopt both pups.

Taking Stock and Looking Forward

Today, I get to share the first of a long-anticipated series. It’s been days in the making. (What better way to launch back into a season of blogging!) But before I do, let me explain something…

For those who don’t know, photography is only part of what I do. The majority of my life is bound up in words: reading and writing them.

The thing is, I’m surrounded by people who have incredible stories. So, during the next few weeks, the face of this blog will change. Fewer images; more words. Powerful words. Hopeful words. Words that will inspire and challenge you.

In the meantime, here is the first of three exciting posts. No other introduction is needed; grab a cup of coffee (or Earl Grey tea) and enjoy the read.

The Mind of an Actor (1/3)

It was a lovely Saturday morning. I slammed my car door and walked across the parking lot, double-checking to make sure I had a pen; two pens, actually. Just in case.

The hotel lobby, modestly sized, was busy. I blinked as my eyes adjusted, noting breakfast foods on the sidebar and hotel guests with rumpled hair and sleepy eyes. I was immediately greeted by an unassuming gentleman with a familiar face. “I’m Dom,” he said, and held out his hand for a perfunctory handshake before leading me across the lobby. “Is this table okay?”

Dominic Gerrard stands maybe five-foot-eight, round-shouldered, wearing a maroon polo with the collar flipped up. His ernest hazel gaze betrays a lifetime of professional theatre. I am the most recent of countless interviews he has given; yet he speaks with such giddy enthusiasm, it is as though he has never talked about his profession before.

We dive into my questions after a brief introduction. He uses words like “term” instead of “semester,” “whiz around” instead of “travel.” His vocabulary is much wider than the average person’s, and my shorthand grows progressively messier as I race to record every English-accented syllable. Around us, conversation ebbs; everyone there has chosen the right hour to eat breakfast.

Gerrard started acting early in life. As a pre-teen, he auditioned for a role in “Les Miserables” in London’s West End. He got the part and was immediately hooked. “Acting was all I wanted to do,” Gerrard said. In the following years, he continued a normal education until he was old enough “to attend university,” at which point he applied to many prestigious drama schools. Ultimately, he decided to attend the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

But what brought this talented Londoner to the heart of Hooiser country? Gerrard, and four other professionals, are a part of Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS). This is Gerrard’s first time touring with world-renowned troupe. “It’s really fun to whiz around,” Gerrard said. The unique format used by AFTLS appeals to him. “It’s our job to try and hook the audience into the play,” he explained. “Americans seem to really like Shakespeare. There’s a lot of positive energy when we perform.” He also enjoys visiting college campuses and “crashing classrooms” with workshops.

Every year, AFTLS travels the United States to visit colleges. With each new location, the troupe must reorient themselves with the play they are scheduled to perform. Sometimes, there is a four-day gap between performances. “Upon arrival,” Gerrard said, “We usually practice for about four hours.” They bring only what can be easily transported by plane: a single suitcase of simple props. Beyond that, the team requires only five chairs. “We turn that into an advantage,” Gerrard said.  “We ask the audience to imagine, and fill in the gaps. It’s abnormal.” Especially when Gerrard must play two characters within the same scene…

There’s much more to this story! The next installment will be posted on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

Thompson Family | Sunny Summer Portraits

“Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearl. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies. But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.” — Shauna Niequist

Worshiping the Real Thing

While in France, we visited several historic cathedrals. Most were built over decades, progressively expanded as finances and resources permitted. As a result, some of these cathedrals look a bit mismatched.

For example, this image shows the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Paray-le-Monial. The right tower was built long before the left; even the stonework is different!

The history behind this Basilique is especially important in Catholic tradition. In 1673, Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a Roman-Catholic nun, had a revelation about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She believed it represented his love for all humanity. Since then, Jesus’ heart has become an object of special devotion.

“A true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence… His glory is defiled, His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in visible form.” John Calvin

I read Calvin’s quote yesterday. Our human hearts are hungry to worship something or someone. We were made to worship God. But even if our trajectory is accurate, we easily worship a mere shadow of the real thing. For example, meditating on the “sacred heart” of Jesus rather than the King Himself. Or focusing on making our lives so easy, we worship comfort rather than the Comforter.

After a vivid description of the Lord, scripture asks, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Isaiah 40:18) The question is unanswerable. “It’s purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modeled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator (Packer, 46).

Just another reason I’m glad to have visited France: A bigger perspective on God and how I should worship Him.

To learn more: Knowing God by J.I. Packer; The Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Eiffel Tower, Pt. 2

Read part one first!

My team’s entire time in Paris was riddled with moments of awe. It’s one thing to see the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre in a book; it’s an entirely different experience to stand inches from them and look up. History becomes tangible in aged cities like Paris. Every cobblestone, cafe and curving alleyway tells a story.

When I stood beneath the Eiffel Tower on that warm Wednesday afternoon, I was overwhelmed by its stark beauty. Mr. Eiffel managed to capture the stately beauty of Paris in a single, upright, towering piece of metal. No wonder it was the crown jewel of the World’s Fair; no wonder Chicago felt the need to build the world’s first Ferris wheel. (For all you history lovers, read this to learn more!)

I immediately started snapping pictures. Just a few images in, a young man approached me with a cautious, “Bonjour!” I was taken aback; in France, it’s uncommon to be approached by a stranger. But I smiled and nodded like a polite American. He rattled off a string of French words, miming taking a photograph with his phone. I understood: He wanted me to take a picture of him in front of the tower.

When I returned the phone, I tried to explain that the tower was too big, I couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame. He nodded vaguely, grasping only part of what I was saying. Then, clearly on sudden inspiration, he rattled off another string of words. I understood only one: selfie. After an embarrassed pause, I agreed.

So, on some Frenchman’s phone, there is a picture of me with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. As if being at one of the most well-known structures in the world wasn’t enough, I also got to have a sweet interaction with the country it symbolizes.

That wasn’t end of the adventure, though. Check the blog for more stories this week!

The Eiffel Tower, Pt. 1

We left the metro in a rush of cold air, greeted immediately by the noisy chaos of a typical Parisian intersection. Taxi drivers leaning on their horns; cyclists weaving through traffic; well-dressed pedestrians marching quickly toward their destinations; scents of street food, rotting trash and the river, enhanced by springtime showers. And all of this hemmed in by stately buildings with shuttered windows and established trees.

Sensory overload; but what writer ever complained of too much to observe?

As we rounded a street corner, I caught my first glimpse of the historical monument. It peeked from between the branches of a few trees, climbing vertically, glinting dully in the post-rainstorm sunlight. The engineering marvel, first erected in 1889 for the World’s Fair, is the touchstone of the Paris skyline. And there I was, standing beneath it: the Eiffel Tower.

Visit the blog tomorrow for part two!

Why I Provide a Portrait

The most basic photography pose is a portrait: a head-and-shoulders, close-up look at the model that capitalizes on their smile. It’s my most-requested image, something all mothers and grandmothers mention. And with good reason! The basic portrait is made for the fridge or a gallery of photos on the mantel. It showcases their child or grandchild and is something they can refer guests to.

Since portraits are so often requested, it’s my policy to capture at least two per session. Artistic shots are important, but not like traditional portraits.

4 Helpful Tips for Senior Sessions

If you’ve never done a photo shoot, your senior session may seem intimidating. But don’t worry! There are several steps you can take to ensure your photos look their best…

  1. Choose outfits that are comfortable… but dressy!  Ultimately, the outfit should fit your style. Choose clothing that you’re comfortable in. (But avoid graphic tees– those just look sloppy.)
  2. Bring props! Items include: an instrument, old journals, basketball or bat, jacket or hat… anything that symbolizes your hobbies or other interests. You’ll like looking back on those later in life!
  3. The camera doesn’t bite! The best photos are the ones you’re laughing in– so be yourself! I will probably ask you to tell me a story or joke to help you relax.
  4. I’m your friend! I’m holding the camera but that doesn’t make me the unapproachable. I can’t wait to get to know you! 🙂