It’s not what you think. The guy flat on his back on the small stage of Baltimore’s Spotlighter’s Theater, is Tom Karras, director of “Zorba.” On top is Joe Cimino, playing the title character. I made the picture on January 30, 1977. Tom and Joe are rehearsing a local production of the Broadway musical. Tom is choreographing a fight scene, demonstrating how he wants it done. They’re working in the tiny space the director and actors call their “postage-stamp playpen.”
To avoid injury, theatrical action that requires violent movement must be carefully planned in the best of circumstances, but it’s even more important when the stage is “in the round.” In this situation, the audience is seated on all sides and within in easy reach of a thrown punch or a sword thrust. There’s no sword play in “Zorba,” but in the background here you see the waiting actors observing from front row seats. During the performance, that’s how close some of the paying customers will be to the action. (Although it’s discouraged, at Spotlighter’s it’s not unusual to see audience members with their feet resting on the apron of the stage.)
On the other hand, the limited space makes the job of the production photographer somewhat easier, with great opportunities for closeup shooting from more angles. When covering action scenes like this one, I discovered that the trick was to wait until there is a pause in the movement at the apex of the action, the moment that suggests what went on before, and what might happen next. I composed this image so that the drama takes place in a pool of light off to one side of the frame, with less important elements fading into darkness at the edges. The light — or lack thereof — becomes the device that frames — spotlight’s — the action.
The “pool of light” shot below is of Audrey Herman, Spotlighter’s Theater founder and actress, script in hand, awaiting her cue. Until her death in 1999, Audrey was the driving force that kept one of Baltimore’s oldest community theaters alive and producing interesting plays twelve months a year, year after year. And even today at Audrey Herman’s “Spot’s,” everybody knows there is only one theater season — and it never ends.
This is a re-post from 6/2/08.