Shadows and silhouettes: backstage at the Boris Godunov dress rehearsal

November 11, 2008

Charlotte van Berckel from ENO’s Technical Director’s Office shares her experiences and her photographs from behind the scenes at the Boris Godunov dress rehearsal

It’s cold in the lighting box today and the auditorium lights are not on.  The teams are still working on the Show and I’ve developed a panic-induced mini cold sweat.  ‘But its 0945?! How I am supposed to see what I am doing and be ready in time for curtain up’ I ask myself loudly.  I love these little conundrums – so different from my desk job.

Peter Rose crosses the stage as Boris Godunov

Peter Rose crosses the stage as Boris Godunov

 

 

I am taking photos of Boris Godunov today for the Technical and Production Department; the show starts at 1030am so I don’t have long to set up the camera – the one thing that the success of my day depends on.     

Charlotte’s photos of the performance on Flickr

Unlike the press photographers who bring vast quantities of equipment and set up in the stalls using tripods, we (the Technical Department) have a small digital Canon G9 which I attach to a bracket and fix to the lighting bar on the front of the dress circle just above the stalls.  A long USB cable connects the camera to the laptop that I’ve set up in the lighting box underneath.  The software allows me to operate the camera – aperture, shutter speed – remotely and I can see the photos as I am taking them, and of course compare and improve.  It’s the same as taking a picture from an actual camera; instead of staring through a view finder I am staring at a screen. 

Success depends on making sure everything is functioning successfully.  Today I can’t log on to the laptop, which happens to be new and so learning skills are required; the USB cable isn’t in its normal place so I need an extra pair of hands which are hard to find as everyone is busy; and it’s dark (did I mention that) so I have to wait to position the camera correctly.  I am probably over-worrying a touch as this is actually the first of two dress rehearsals and therefore closed to the public; meaning that I don’t need co-ordinate the complex timing of the camera instalment with the entrance of ENO’s faithful public.  That always adds an edge to the procedure.

I get it done and sit in the lighting box testing it.  ENO staff and the creative team trickle in to the stalls just before curtain up.  There’s always a bit of buzz at this time; moments of chatting before the darkness and the orchestra. I make sure I have the sound turned up in my little tardis so I get the full experience.

 

Boris is not an easy show to take photos of.  The lighting is subtle and low (and people keep moving.  Don’t they know I am trying to take a photo of them?  Low light + people moving = blurry blurs) with lots of strong visual contrasts.  As I am primarily here to take reference photos of the set (for when we put the show on again or for companies who might rent it from us) I need to make sure I record all the elements and in all the different configurations; today that means overexposure.  These don’t make for pretty pictures so I also take a set of more visually balanced photos.  It’s a good learning curve and a challenge for me – the quest for perfect exposure is eternal it seems – but it’s also useful to have these photos for directors, agents, or our production department: anyone who might need copies.

 

I go backstage the following day; to observe the other side and to see how the magic is made.  There’s a lot of waiting.  Talking.  Movement.  People whisper, others don’t.  I feel a bit nervous.  Don’t want to get in the way of activity or interfere with any zone that the performers may be in, waiting.  It’s all a bit dark.  How does everyone else see where they are going?  Best if I just keep still for a while and watch.  Got my camera with me after all and do not want to make a fool of myself.  Lots of activity going on but not sure what it means.  Seems that everyone plays a key role.  Activity begins and ends out of nowhere.   The back stage show seems to consist of sequences of moments.

 

There are no scene changes in Boris; only opening and closing of doors and things.  Staff and performers stand together; performers waiting to cross the threshold, staff ready to assist and facilitate. This makes for wonderful shadows and silhouettes and glimpses of the stage and audience beyond.  And standing in the background I get to see this show within a show.

 

Backstage at Boris on Flickr

 

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