Photographing anything related to “burlesque” is new ground for me. And it really is a gift to be shoved out of one’s comfort zone.
For three nights I had the privilege of photographing some amazing artists at the Alpine Theatre Project. That these people are able to sing like that, while doing a show like this, boggles the mind. They were wonderful. The show was extraordinary, as were the conversations that came out of it.
These images would not have been possible without the work of:
Betsi Morrison, Luke Walrath, and Rachel Burke of the Alpine Theatre Project.
And without the talented artist who came to Montana to create this show:
Glenn Seven Allen of the New York City Opera.
Sharin Apstolou of the New York City Opera.
Melanie Long of the New York City Opera and Hot Box Girls.
Marcy Richardson of Company XIV and a 2018 Dora Award Winner.
Jorell Williams of the Metropolitan Opera and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
And Billy Thompson playing the piano.
A few things I picked up along the way:
Musical accompaniment was provided by Billy Thompson, we had an interesting conversation about the difference between nude vs. lewd.
One friend (actor Mikey Winn) referred to the show as a “celebration of body positivity.”
Night three was the most flamboyant of the shows. I was talking with Glenn afterwards and he said part of the reason is that for the last show there is greater freedom. He told me, physically, vocally, a person can only do so much, so you have to pace yourself so that you can always give your best in all shows. “It wasn’t like I was conserving my voice the first two shows but it’s just nice to know on the last show that you can really let it all go.” The OperaLesque show is just as much singing as he would do in any Opera and the final show is a celebration of all that has been accomplished.
One comment I am still pondering came from Sharin. OperaLesque is outside my normal. I was concerned that maybe I had gone too far with some of the photos. Sharin said, “When you think you’ve gone too far, go farther.” In effect, she gave me permission to really push my own boundaries.
Most of the actors commented on the fact that they appreciate that I came all three nights. But my favorite comment of the night came from Melanie. After the third show she told me that she knew where I was and that she was keeping an awareness of my position as she performed. She was helping me.
When I was young, I used to think that photography was a solo sport, and I loved it for that reason. I hated team sports because if someone else fails to do their job, then I suffer. In a solo endeavor, it all comes down to me, my choices, my actions, my work ethic. This means I shoulder all the blame for failures, but it also means I rise or fall based solely on my own merit. Since I trust myself, I’d rather be judged on my own, then in a group. Over the years I’ve realized, photography isn’t nearly as solitary as I like to imagine. It’s always a partnership. These are my photos. But it’s their performance. It’s Betsi’s vision. It’s Rachel’s lighting. Even the energy of the crowd plays a part. The wild cheers for the performers stir my soul too!
The mental preparation for this project came from a desire to create a collection of images that aren’t just the standard safety shots, to be a little edgy, to take a few risks, and to fail at least a little. This is not only new ground for me, it is a rare opportunity. The goal was to take this opportunity granted to me by ATP to create something unpredictable for myself. These photos are the results of that mindset. I wish I could share the full 600+ photos that came out of these three performances. But I’ll leave the rest of ATP and the actors to pick their favorites and share.