Today’s Pic

February 6, 2013

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. diva

This is a re-post from 6/2/08.

 Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

Today’s Pic

January 9, 2013

An actor waiting backstage can appear to be a lonely person, at least this one did to me. Was he feeling sad, I wondered, or just focused on trying to remember his lines?

On February 20, 1982, when I made the image, I was backstage at a community theater pretending to be an actor myself, but I was too busy to be lonely or bored. I had only one line in the play, which came late in the last act, so there was plenty of time to concentrate on what I was really there for — to learn all I could about how a play is staged.  I was doing research for a play I eventually wrote called “Local Talent,” for the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. My play was about a community theater group staging a production in a summer play-writing festival. At the time, I thought that conceit was a clever creative roundabout — and I was taking pictures as well as notes.

The low light backstage required a wide aperture setting, which accounts for the shallow depth of field. Note that the face of the actor is sharp, while his right hand and arm are in softer focus. And the even softer secondary “portrait” — the moody reflection in the mirror — has a “painterly” quality I find very appealing. I was also attracted to the visual contrast of the three vertical capped pipes at the left edge of the frame, and I was careful to include them in the composition.

(This is a re-post from May 19, 2008.)

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

Play Posters

March 4, 2009

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This is one of many designs created by me over the years’ promoting productions at Fells Point Corner Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. (Click the image for a larger view.) If you would like to view more examples, click the “Posters” tab at the top of this page.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


Community Theater

October 22, 2008

November 1, 1977

Many people attracted to community theater—as actors or working backstage—are involved for only a limited time, anything from the run of one production to a year or two. Volunteering to work on a play, in whatever capacity, involves hours and days of hard creative work. It’s a huge commitment, especially if you have a day job or family (or both), and after awhile some folks—even those who love the experience and would like to continue—feel they have to drop out. On the other hand, there’s the long-term involvement of people like Sharon Weaver. (She’s pictured above as a young woman, rehearsing her solo in the Baltimore Spotlighter’s Theater 1977 musical production of Zorba The Greek.) After more than thirty years, Sharon is still at it. These days, though, she’s usually running the show. At a recent gathering of local theater people, we had a chat about the Harold Pinter play “Old Times,” which Sharon is directing for the Vagabond Players’ 93rd season (the play opens February 27, 2009). The theater bills itself as “America’s Oldest Continuous Little Theatre,” and Sharon has been active with it, or with other local stages, a full third of that time. Now that’s a commitment to community theater. Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Audrey’s House

June 16, 2008

Audrey Herman 1920—1999

When my friend Jacquie Roland read a recent “Today’s Pic” caption which mentioned the death of Audrey Herman, founder of Baltimore’s Spotlighter’s Theater (see May 26 post), she was inspired to write another of her epic comments. Of course I recognized Jacquie’s piece for what it was, a neat personal essay about her experiences as a community theater actress which—in addition to cartoonist, clown, painter, writer, etc.,—is another of Jacquie’s creative incarnations. Her memoir appears below, illustrated with several of my “Zorba” rehearsal images. In the photograph above, also taken at that production, I simply asked Audrey to “play to the light,” resulting in a wonderful “drama queen” pose. Behind her hand is a fragment of one of the wallpapered corner “poles” mentioned by Jacquie in her essay.

Having moved away from Baltimore a long time ago, I was unaware of Audrey Herman’s passing. People like Audrey, and John Waters’ “Edie the Egg Lady” and “Divine,” still represent Baltimore for me. Audrey kept her theater going through thick and thin, and sometimes—the thin times—there would be more actors on stage than out front. Once, we went on for an audience of three, but I also remember people doing the damnedest things to get in to see a show. During the “Zorba” production, for instance, an older Greek gentleman came to see the play who didn’t speak much English. Tom Karras, our director, and Greek himself, went out front to explain—in Greek—that we had no seats left. “Ahh,” the old fellow said, and nodded. He went away and in a few minutes he was back, all smiles, carrying one of those plastic and chrome kitchen chairs from the fifties. Tom placed the chair as close as he could to the stage without it being in the actors way, but for the rest of that performance we all had to “cheat”—that is, fudge our moves—around it.

Audrey was phenomenal as the older woman in “Zorba.” I remember another thing about her—the PERFUME. In the small Spotlighter’s theater we didn’t need to see her coming—her scent preceded her. One evening, when told that a newspaper reporter wanted a backstage interview with photos, Audrey said “sure Hon.” Without checking her hair, or adding more lipstick, she just splashed on more perfume.

The Spotlighter’s was a real theater with real actors who gave their all—and without pay. We had our stars, and some were as accomplished as any you’d find on Broadway, and sometimes as temperamental. Sharon Weaver rehearsing a song for the Spotlighter\'s production of \But if you had one of them in your show you knew you’d draw an audience for every performance. Joe Ciminio in “Zorba” or the “The Night of the Iguana,” his wife Audrey Ciminio in “The King and I,” Sharon Auerbach Weaver (pictured at right and below, rehearsing her featured song from Zorba) in any damned thing. More than a few went to bigger things in theater and film. Just three examples: Bess Armstrong worked in movies with actors like Alan Alda and Tom Selleck. Howard E. Rollins, Jr., starred in the films “Ragtime” and “A Soldier’s Story.” Josh Charles was in “Hair Spray,” “Dead Poets Society” and is currently working in a hit television show with Gabe Byrne. We always had two shows at a time at “Spots,” one in rehearsal and one running. The rehearsing show had the theater during the week and the latest production owned the weekend. Also on the weekend were auditions for upcoming shows (early afternoons only). Once or twice I was in a show, rehearsing for a show, and auditioning for another show—all in the same week. I also had a day job and worked as a freelance cartoonist on the side. For ten years I barely went home. When not rehearsing or performing, we all hung out in the local watering holes. A favorite spot in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon area was called “The Great American Melting Pot,” or “Gampy’s,” and we’d often share that space with local TV people. Like Oprah, for instance. During her years in Baltimore Oprah was a regular at Gampy’s after her evening TV weather spot. The casts of other shows would sometimes meet at the “Hippo,” a gay bar in Mount Vernon, or at a disco called “Girard’s,” which some claimed looked just like “Studio 54.” Once at Girard’s Oprah was a judge and I was her pick for the final costume parade. I was dressed as a naked transvestite dwarf wizard. (Don’t ask. Anyhow, I came in second.) Oprah even picked my music—”Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” by Rod Stewart. Add to all that activity the cast parties, birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween parties, and dining in the Inner Harbor area of South Baltimore, it’s no wonder I got the idea the term “party animals” was coined for us.

When we weren’t hanging out, or visiting each others shows, we were cementing our relationships by attending everything theatrical that came to Baltimore (we had season tickets). Trips to New York to see the “pros” act, were somehow sandwiched in. When a Spotlighter’s show closed you felt as if some part of you was lost forever. And sometimes it was. We all performed at other theaters, but the “Spot’s” was home. We were like each others family. (Wait, a minute—did that make Audrey the MOM?!! That sexy lady of a certain age would have hated to think so.)

We say that Spotlighter’s is a theater “in the round.” That’s a misnomer. The stage is actually square, with square, weight-bearing pillars—we called them “poles”—at each corner. Those poles were an integral part of the theater not just because they held up the roof. We walked around them, stood beside them, made them part of the decor. They were wallpapered, sanded, painted and tiled. They were stained from years of actors grabbing them to keep from falling off the stage, and blood stained at times from actors tearing into them at full force during dark entrances and exits. In one play Joe Cimino ran into a pole during a fast exit but no one in the audience knew because the lights were out. When Joe burst through the curtains backstage, however, his face was covered in blood. He had a cut over his eyebrow, and it bled like a—well, let’s just say it bled a lot. But, as some dingbat once said, “the show must go on,” and it did.

Accidents happen, problems occur, but for whatever reason theater people seem more adaptable than most. They can also be more volatile. Joe Cimino, for instance. In “Zorba” he was one intense, focused actor—he WAS Zorba. For one scene in that production Tom Karras hired, out of his own pocket, a real belly dancer to tempt Joe’s character. She performed barefoot, and in the preceding scene, Zorba smashes an old style vinyl record. The prop record had been preset—carefully broken into three pieces—then glued back together. At the scene change I was one of two women singing to, and taunting Zorba. Part of our job was remove the three pieces of vinyl from the stage floor so the belly dancer could come on and safely do her moves. No problem, until one night Joe—so into the moment—smashes the record into not three but what seemed like a thousand pieces. We were in big trouble, with no way to clear the shards before the barefoot belly dancer’s cue. I turned to the other Zorba “taunter” and said, “whatever I do, go with it.” When our song began I twirled straight to Joe, grabbed him and suggestively slid down his front. I spent the rest of my impromptu and self-assigned, “star turn” singing and “tempting” and at the same time sweeping the entire stage with my glittery net gown. I rocked, rolled and writhed, and swept the shards off the apron. Tom didn’t know WHAT it was all about until he got backstage and the crew told him. (Until that point, he thought I had lost my mind.)

Once I saw a Broadway play starring Carol Channing and Christopher Reeve. Carol’s part made her out to be meticulous in her person and fanatically clean in her home. At some point, a piece of crumpled paper not in the script had fallen on the stage. Channing and Reeve spent the entire scene kicking it out of their way and walking around it, which only pulled focus and made the audience stare at it. Neither of them would “break character” long enough to get rid of the damned thing. They were too “professional.” Well, that ruined the play for me. At the Audery Herman’s Spotlighter’s, we’d have picked it up with our teeth, if need be. We’d have made Audrey “Mom” Herman proud.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Family, Friends, and Neighbors

June 9, 2008

Jacquie&?September 16, 1982

This is a picture of my friend Jacquie Roland, on the right, in a scene from one of her many community theater acting gigs. (In this case the play was a Baltimore Playwright’s production of “The Gathered Rose,” by Kathleen Barber, another friend.) When I composed the image I was interested in the relationship between the two characters at this particular moment in the play when Nora Meyer, on the left, was dominate—if memory serves she was delivering a monologue—so I went for an angle that would visually represent the fact by foregrounding her in the frame. (Sometimes photos do lie—Jacquie was the star of the show and the two women were actually very nearly the same height.)  Nora Roberts was once a co-worker of mine at the Social Security Administration. Baltimore, it turns out, is a very small town . . .

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore

Today’s Pic

June 2, 2008

January 30, 1977

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 the play “Zorba.” On top is Joe Cimino, playing the title character. They’re rehearsing for a community theater production of the Broadway musical. Tom is choreographing a fight scene, demonstrating how he wants part of 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 that 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. This is 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. Below is another “pool of light” shot, this one of Audrey Herman, theater founder and actress, script in hand, awaiting her cue. (Click on the image for a larger view. Product placement alert: The can of Coke.) 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 one theater season and it never ends.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.