“The Circle of Life” begins in one of the great openings in Broadway history (photo by Joan Marcus).
With the proliferation of cameras on cellphones, taking a photograph these days seems about the easiest thing in the world to do. Point and shoot, right? But even with how sophisticated things have gotten, does anyone recall how hard it was to get a decent shot for a family holiday card? Or attempting to photograph your kid in a school play? How often did it result in the shot you intended? Wasn’t there always a blurred arm or one actor in a quartet whose eyes are shut? Okay, you’re an amateur and the people I cite in this column are professionals, but it’s so much more than that. Have you ever thought of how difficult it would be to take photos when the light is forever shifting? More importantly, focusing in a split-second in near darkness to encapsulate what a particular actor is discovering in that moment onstage and in front of a live audience. And most of the photos showcased here were shot on film, not digitally, which is the standard today (and preferred by most theatre photographers now as digital is better suited to addressing the difficulties just mentioned). Well, that is the genius of these theatre artists. Take, as but one example, Joan Marcus’s portrait of Bernadette Peters as Rose in Gypsy (2003).
Bernadette Peters as Rose in Gypsy (2003). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Not only does Marcus's capturing of Bernadette Peters in this moment provoke a startling image, but it aids in the story telling of what is going on inside Rose at the apex of this great musical: the vying for centerstage in her imagination and relishing the brief time in the spotlight.
Joan Marcus (with her iconic Lion King photograph behind her on her computer screen).
Joan Marcus has been photographing theatre for more than thirty years. As she mentioned in the speech she gave in 2014 when she received a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement “Prior to theatre, I was printing photos at GW Medical School — before and after pictures of plastic surgery.” It was while on a job working backstage at the Kennedy Center that her passion for the arts was ignited, providing inspiration to figure out a way to make the theatre a working home for her. All she had to do was find how to make a vital contribution to it. Which is similar to how things came to fellow photographer, Carol Rosegg.
I’ve personally known Carol since I was seventeen years old (which means forty-six years, folks). She was the assistant stage manager when I did summer stock in Plymouth, Massachusetts and our paths have consistently and delightfully crossed over these many decades. As an apprentice to one of the legendary theatre photographers, Martha Swope (1928–2017), Carol came to realize that the work not only presented challenges which interested her, but that she was damn good at it, too. After taking off on her own the results have been extremely rewarding for both her and for those who love the theatre. Here she captures a glorious moment of revelry that comes at the end of 2005’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:
Norbert Leo Butz, John Lithgow and Sherie Rene Scott in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005).
Photo by Carol Rosegg.