Photographing the arts: working with a traverse stage

Charlotte Hazzard as Sophie and James Raggatt as Jonah in Blink at Bakehouse Theatre, Kings Cross

"A fox called Scruffilitis."

I knew there'd be something different about this show, from that description alone.

"This is the tale of Jonah, Sophie, and a fox called Scruffilitis. It’s a true story, and it’s a love story. A quirky, dysfunctional, voyeuristic love story, but a love story all the same."

I don't usually take much convincing to photograph theatre, as it's one of my favourite things to work on - but when I started talking to director Luke Rogers from Stories Like These about working on this production, a couple of things caught my interest. The fox, for one - and the stage itself for another.

I've talked before about the challenge of finding angles for photographing theatre, working with or against light & space; but sometimes an unusual stage arrangement can work well.

In the case of Kings Cross Theatre, which I'm told is Sydney's only dedicated traverse stage, they've done a few things right - the chairs, for example, are black with no reflective chrome; so when they're in the back of an image, they fade away fairly well, which isn't always the case. (Some photographers I know hire large black drapes to cover seating blocks, if necessary; but the budget isn't always available for that!)

The interesting thing about working in a space like this is that the stage has implications for lighting, for the set, and of course for blocking the action - as the actors are constantly playing to an audience on both sides of them, which doesn't always make it simple from a photographic point of view.

In this particular case, they're also frequently on different parts of the stage, isolated from each other by distance, and only crossing each other's path almost by accident. But a series of photos with only one person in them doesn't make terribly compelling viewing, to my mind; so it's a matter of finding ways and moments to link them in a single image - when they both happen to be facing the same way, if possible!

On the plus side, I had a fair bit of freedom to move, at a dress rehearsal with no audience; so I was able in this case to take advantage of roaming across three sides of the stage, to find different angles for each of them individually as well as in different combinations, as the story brought them gradually closer and closer together - while also keeping the set in the frame much of the time, to make sure the designers had portfolio images for later, as well...!

Charlotte Hazzard & James Raggatt in Blink

I remember enjoying the rehearsal, which is always a good sign - if I'm concentrating on exposure, framing, and finding angles, and I'm still enjoying the story, that probably means I'll enjoy it even MORE when I can pay attention to it properly, and watch it with both eyes rather than through a tube. Which, of course, was exactly what happened when I went back last Friday to see it again - I hadn't realised how much I missed that first time, because my mind was on photography rather than the story itself.

So if you want to know more about Scruffilitis, well - you'll just have to see the show, I guess! It's on until 4 March, so get in quick...

Cast & Crew:

Sophie: Charlotte Hazzard
Jonah: James Raggatt
Scruffilitis: Himself

Director: Luke Rogers
Producer: Peter Gahan
Set and Costume Designer: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Designer: Daniel Barber
Sound Designer: Katelyn Shaw
Stage Manager: Julianna Taahi

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