There Will Be A Climax at the Old Fitz Theatre, Sydney
"An assorted few are convinced they are stuck on a spinning revolve."
— There Will Be A Climax
So that's pretty much all I knew about There Will Be A Climax, going into the dress rehearsal. There's a revolve - noted. Be ready for movement.
Over the past few months, I've been testing out a new camera, the Fuji X-T2, specifically to see whether I could use it for things like theatre - whether the autofocus would work in low light, whether it would be as good as the Canon gear I've worked with for the past fifteen years.
I'm pretty sure this show proved it is - and then some...!
In some ways, this might be the most challenging production I've photographed in a long time. Sure, there's the revolve - so there's non-stop motion, it's more like a dance work than a play in that sense. But also, because the director Alex Berlage is a lighting designer, there's some intense colour saturation, and some hard, low, angular light as well. Plus, it's only an hour, no intermission.
Each of those is fine, in their own way - but when you start to stack them all on top of each other, it gets interesting...!
Without going too far into the physics of it, if you double the distance a person is standing from a light, the brightness drops off - not by a half, as you might guess, but to a quarter. So, on a revolving stage that's lit from the front, a person on the edge of the revolve closest to the lights is actually four times brighter than someone at the back of the revolve.
So the challenge for the photographer in this situation is not just focussing on them as they move, it's juggling the exposure of the image on the fly, to compensate for the cast moving from full brightness to 1/4 brightness constantly, as well as making sure they're in focus, and that the shutter speed is still high enough to make sure there isn't motion blur from their constant walking - always an issue in comparatively low light, like theatre.
While also, y'know, trying to keep track of the action, find an interesting way of framing the image, deciding how much space to leave around them for social media / reviews / marketing, and all that stuff I'm normally doing on the fly anyway.
So it's safe to say I didn't have a lot of spare brain capacity on this one. Sometimes in theatre, a scene will continue fairly calmly for a few minutes, and I'll have the opportunity to try a few options; or I can try things in act one, and change tactics at intermission...no.
Not today - not on this show.
Long story short, with very few exceptions, the images you're seeing here are nearly all from the Fuji. With one camera on each shoulder, I did switch back & forth between systems a reasonable amount; but from what I found, the images from the Fuji were consistently crisp (where the 5D Mark III struggled to find / keep focus, sometimes even locking onto the gold foil wall rather than the subject).
To be honest, I was a little surprised - I thought it would be the other way around, that this would be the day I found the limits of the X-T2. Instead, I'm happier with it than ever. I've talked before about how changing cameras constantly can actually make you a worse photographer, while you learn the idiosyncrasies of your new gear; but this time, the learning curve is going much faster than expected.
As far as the show is concerned - I loved it at rehearsal, and I loved it even more seeing it again recently. Personally, my take on it is that the characters (trapped as they are) are going through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression - and, ultimately, acceptance of their fate.
Is that enough to save them? (You don't really think I'm going to ruin the ending, do you!?)
That night, after the dress rehearsal, I sent the director a few proof images, and said "if all else fails (and I'm sure it won't), at least we've got a bangin' cast photo...!"
Here's what I got in reply:
(I...think they liked them?)
There Will Be A Climax continues at the Old Fitz Theatre, until Saturday, 3 February 2018.
Created by: Alexander Berlage & The Company
Directed by: Alexander Berlage
Produced by: Red Line Productions in partnership with the National Institute of Dramatic Art
Set & Costume Design: Nicholas Fry
Lighting Design: Alexander Berlage
Choreographer (Dance): Toby Derrick