Memphis Through the Mirror - Images Part 1

Memphis Through the Mirror - Images Part 1

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Bryan Fenkart Through the Mirror


The 40 minutes with Bryan started out with him sharing the realization that I hadn't come to yet, that his character of 'Huey' began as someone else; as Chad, the actor that originated the role of Huey Calhoun in MEMPHIS' Broadway production. Before we embarked on the National Tour, Bryan began his MEMPHIS career on Broadway and first took on the role (as an understudy is supposed to) as a carbon copy of Chad's portrayal of Huey. Bryan told me, "... there were always aspects of him that I related to, and now I actually get to bring those out instead of doing an imitation. I feel like there were parts of him, like his rebellious streak... and his shoot first and ask questions, maybe... that I didn't get to incorporate before and now I get to sort of do that.



 

 

Bryan Fenkart is Huey

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Bryan Fenkart is Huey

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Bryan Fenkart is Huey

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Bryan Fenkart is Huey

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Rhett George Through the Mirror


When I asked Rhett if he knows whom his character, Gator, is as a person, he immediately told me that he knows that Gator is different. That is one trait that he feels that he shares with Gator. Exactly how Rhett is different is something that we didn’t completely get into but the personal connection between his life outside of the theatre and the character on stage is interesting to me. Relatively early on in our session there was a moment when Rhett mentioned that the light bulbs around the mirror were bright, and that if a dressing room felt that way he generally would un-screw some of the lamps until it was more comfortable. About half way through the session we did just that. The inside of Rhett's dressing room each week contains a white sheet (that we didn't use in the photos) that he purchased from a street vendor and these amazing dream catchers that we did hang *from a thin black thread* behind him in the frame of the 'mirror'. He mentioned that he enjoys listening to a variety of music to help prepare for the show. The genre of the music didn't seem to matter, although he did mention a few favorite artists. To me, it seemed that Rhett was concentrating on listening and feeling the music internally as a way to connect with his character. He did mention that he warms up normally, getting his voice prepared for the performance Personally, I feel like that the character of Gator has to be an extremely challenging character to portray; mostly because he doesn’t talk. Early in act 1, we learn why: FELICIA "When he was five, he seen his daddy get strung up right in front of his eyes. Nobody’s heard him talk since." HUEY "He just stopped, huh?" FELICIA " Sometimes, folks don’t think there’s anythin’ left to say. But you don’t seem to have that problem." Rhett told us that he always felt that the character of Gator is about 21 years old and in turn, we estimated that he had been mute for over 15 years. When I asked to get a glimpse of the character that hadn’t spoken to anyone in fifteen years, Rhett’s reply was to ask if I wanted a photo of tears. It was obvious to me after I saw the first rehearsals on stage and the first few performances of our touring production that Gator was an emotionally charged character. I would sit at my console just behind the audience and be equally captivated by Rhett's performance at the end of act one. The character of Gator is so well written and Rhett brings such emotion to the role every night, the audience has no choice but to feel a connection. Rhett’s portrayal of this character is one that takes the audience by surprise at just the right moment every night. Fortunately, just after we turn the houselights up at intermission, the audience walks past me on their way to the lobby for the interval. Listening to their conversations it is clear that the audience feels this same amazing connection with Rhett and his character that I did. Capturing images of what could easily be an intimate moment of Rhett in the mirror channeling this 21 year old young man that has so much hurt and so much pain inside of him was an amazing experience, and one that I believe we were able to capture in a few gorgeous photographs. Dressing Room Stuff: (1) white sheet. -purchased on 47th street and 8th avenue. the print is supposed to instill a sense of calmness and is hung on the wall in every city to help make the dressing room feel calmer. (2) crystals. –one was a gift from a friend on ‘Color Purple’ and the other was purchased in a pavilion in Miami. -one of which is Rhett’s birthstone, amethyst, both impart a sense of comfort. (2) dream catchers… (1) white, (1) blue. I never got the story behind these, but surely it is a good one.



 

 

Rhett George is Gator

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Rhett George is Gator

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Rhett George is Gator

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Rhett George is Gator

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Julie Johnson Through the Mirror


Throughout the day, I wasn’t completely sure that I was going to get to photograph Julie. I had spoken to her a few times about this project in the days leading up to it, and she seemed VERY excited about it. The only issues were going to be ones dealing with scheduling. Julie is from the Dallas area, and as such, her schedule was a bit more complicated. Adding to that complication was the existence of a company notes session on the afternoon that we were shooting. We somehow managed to slip a few minutes of photography in just after the notes session finished and we were able to get exactly what we needed to get done in exactly the amount of time it took to do it. Forty-four photos on the ‘mirror’ set, and thirteen in front of the grey in a total of 40 minutes… Not bad at all. We began with the grey background (which will show up on the MEMPHIS Blog site in a few weeks) and after a few photos there, moved back into the ‘mirror’. We began the mirror photos in true Texas style with a photo using Julie’s can of hairspray. That can quickly turned into a CLOUD of hairspray, and after 4 or 5 photos, I have no idea how Julie got her hair to hide under a wig for that evening’s show. It turned into this amazing photo that we just happened to stumble upon as my backlight caught the hairspray and turned it into this cloud of amazingness. Through the process of photographing Julie, Julie wanted me to try and capture a two-faced photo, of her character, Gladys. (affectionately called Mama by Huey throughout the show) A photo that would show the changes in Mama that take place over the years covered in the show. In the first act Julie’s character is more run down, emphasized by Julie’s darkened shadowy makeup. Later in the show her character is revitalized, more energetic, and more optimistic. A change that is enhanced by the use of some theatrically exaggerated makeup. The grey shadowy makeup is replaced by more of a pastel pallet and Mama is showing less age and more polish as the storyline of the show transforms the character. I feel like our rushed timeline didn’t completely do this image justice, but conceptually it was an interesting image that I am excited to try to play with again later in the tour. It did, however, lead us into more photos of Julie applying the act 2 makeup and showing us the more glamorous side of her character. This led into the ‘beauty’ shot that I was looking for all day; the classic show-person portrait of an actor preparing for her role. While Julie and I were looking at a few of the day’s photos on the computer, she pointed out the vulnerable quality of the ‘mirror’ images that were captured earlier in the day. “… not that there is anything revealing [in the photos] but it’s like, we’re looking into your thoughts.” This was a very interesting perspective that lead to the most interesting experience of the day. When I asked Julie who her character is, her response was very personal. “I had the experience of growing up in a small Texas town with women like her all around me. All sides of her, the good and the bad.” She continued to say “[her] take on Mama is that she wasn’t originally born in Memphis, she was born in a small farming community outside of Memphis. She was 16, maybe 18 when she married and had a baby. She worked hard as a little girl, on a farm that wasn’t even their property, as tenant workers, and as her song says, she’s always worked and always tried to be proper.” Julie went on to tell me that she felt that “the biggest thing in [Mama’s] life was getting to go to church on Sundays because Sundays you didn’t do chores. It’s the Lord’s day.” As Julie was telling her story, it felt like time was standing still. The room was absolutely silent. Todd, Kevin and I were just sitting there listening. No photos were being taken, nothing else was happening, we were sitting there listening to Julie tell us this incredible story. Filling us in on where her character comes from, the history and back-story that she has associated with her character. What followed was the pinnacle moment of this entire project for me. Julie continued: “One of the things that I think is so special for me, as an actor portraying Mama; [is] when Huey says I’m gonna’ buy you a big house some day Mama. I stand there and think about the fact that, oh bless his sweet little heart, he has said that to me since he was four years old… I’m a buy you a big house Mommy… and he just keeps saying it. He keeps telling her that he’s going to make it all better.” It was at that point that the story took an emotional pause and I put on the hat of photographer again, and slowly and almost methodically began snapping photographs again, capturing slivers of time as Julie visited this connection with her character. It was an incredible moment as I was looking through this ‘mirror’ into Julie Johnson’s character, and capturing this emotional connection that she feels with her fictional son, Huey. .

 

 

Julie Johnson is Mama

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



 

Julie went on to say “… she knows that [Huey] has that dream and she never expects it to happen. That’s why that moment of getting those keys is so huge for her. Because she never thought it would happen.” A truly emotional moment where the room was absolutely silent except for the beeping from my flash equipment; emphasizing the moments that were being captured and almost punctuating her statements as I captured the intimate pauses between thoughts. Julie continued to connect her character with her real life, comparing these moments with her real-life son’s childhood. She told us that he would always make comments saying that he would “… want to go sometime and spend a whole week at Six Flags” to which Julie’s response would “Well that’s a lot of time at Six Flags”. Julie told us that after a moment his reply would be “But maybe someday Mommy. That was his little saying, that he’d just always have hope for anything, but maybe someday.” Seeing Julie make the connection from her real life experiences to the role of Mama gave me an incredible understanding of her character, on stage and off, and provided the outcome I was looking for from this project: an almost voyeuristic glimpse of an actor preparing for her role. Thank you Julie for allowing me to capture this vulnerable side of you and for the letting the viewers of these images see it also. —D Dressing Room Stuff: Flowers – a gift from Dallas Summer Musicals Towels – standard MEMPHIS Tour issue Angel Figurine – a gift from MEMPHIS’ own Felicia Boswell Cell Phone- always left behind in the dressing room Water Bottle Makeup .



 

 

Julie Johnson is Mama

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Julie Johnson is Mama

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Julie Johnson is Mama

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Julie Johnson is Mama

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Will Mann Through the Mirror


On one afternoon a few weeks ago in Dallas, I was asking my colleagues, some of the incredible actors that I have the privilege to work with on the First National Tour of the TONY Award Winning Broadway Musical, MEMPHIS, to join me in a photography project that I had conceptualized throughout the past few days. With the MEMPHIS Social Media director on board, my little project got the green light! I was able to spend an afternoon photographing some of the principal actors and actresses that I have the pleasure of working with every day as we bring this amazing story to a new city almost every week. As a part of my vision for these images I had asked everyone to bring a few items they travel with to personalize their dressing room with in each city we travel to. The 45 minutes Will and I spent together began as he was steeping a cup of tea and setting up his world “through the mirror”. I think Will was the most interesting person to watch bring in his ‘props’ (for the purposes of this afternoon) from his dressing room. As the fourth of five scheduled sessions that afternoon, he was the first and would be the only to request power at the ‘mirror’ and went so far as to plug in the iPad charger and his electric shaver. I was really impressed with what seemed at times to be somewhat nonchalant methods of preparing for a performance that Will and I discussed. It made complete sense to me as he was explained about his character, Bobby, and how he laughs his way through life. From what I know of Will outside of the theatre, I feel like that is completely true of him as well. As an actor, that has to be an amazing quality to share with the character that you portray on stage 8 times a week. Will went on to explain that his pre-show routine consists of mainly vocal warm-ups while multitasking by playing video games, or dealing with other things going on in his life. Interestingly enough, Will actually pulled up an instagram photo he had taken of his reflection in his dressing room in Toronto after purchasing his new ‘Gameboy’ phone case. The image looked surprisingly similar to the one we took earlier, of him with his phone (in the same case) pointing it at my ‘mirror’; it’s weird how that works out sometimes. Will mentioned throughout our session that as a bass, his concern before the show is making sure his voice is warmed up. He has hot tea with honey, or sometimes just pure honey itself… as he prepares vitally to navigate another performance of MEMPHIS for audiences across the country. Will later explained that throughout Act 1 when he is not on the stage, he prepares physically for his nightly ‘breakout performance’ at the beginning of act 2. I had a blast photographing Will, and blogging about his time in front of my lens is a great way to kick off MEMPHIS’ Mirror Mondays. Check out the official photos on the MEMPHIS facebook page at facebook.com/memphisthemusical and be sure to tune back in both to MEMPHIS’ facebook page and my blog every Monday for the next month for more photos of more of our touring cast members taken through their dressing room mirror! —D Will’s Dressing Room Stuff: (1) cup of tea. -in a mug that was a Broadway opening night gift from his best friend (1) jar of honey (1) iPad. -a staple for pre-show video-gaming and general overall connectivity (1) pair of speakers. – obvious uses (1) electric clippers (1) vase of flowers -compliments of the local presenter in Dallas, TX (1) cell phone in “Gameboy” case



 

 

Will Mann is Bobby

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



 

 

Will Mann is Bobby

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Will Mann is Bobby

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Will Mann is Bobby

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.

 

Will Mann is Bobby

MEMPHIS through the Mirror.



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