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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

An Afternoon with Stephen Sondheim...

Stephen Sondheim relates his anecdotes to an enthusiastic audience...

Geoffrey Rush joined in the fun...
It was our privilege recently to photograph an event that proved interesting in various ways. With "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" currently running at Her Majesty's Theatre here in Melbourne, the event was held to honour the visit of Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music for this comedy. Stephen Sondheim required no introduction to the thousand thespians and fawning fans who gathered to hang with hands clasped on his every word. And words there were. He delivered some very interesing insights and humourous anecdotes about his work - insights on "West Side Story", "Gypsy", "Sunday in the Park with George", "Into the Woods" and many others. It was an interesting afternoon. Even Geoffrey Rush turned up to join in the fun! 

So here we were, Tash and I, once again roaming the darkness of Her Majesty's Theatre for yet another set of performance shots and some obligatory pre and post-performance group photographs. The difficult thing about that was that Mr Sondheim is not one to have his photograph taken - something we were reminded of by everyone who was involved. But, we have all faced that haven't we? 

Mr Sondheim's averseness to photography was further made very apparent after the first song performance. Naturally, we were doing our best to remain discreet and silent during these songs, but the clunk of a shutter and mirror box assembly is not only ampilified by the silence of the audience, but also the acoustics of the building itself. Perhaps we need to buy some Leica M9's? I hear they are pretty quiet! Anyway....within seconds of the first song being sung and completed, Mr Sondheim requested that photographers respect the performers and not take pictures during their performances.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

That request was met with the thundering applause of the 1000 or so fawning fans. But these were the same people who laughed when he said that one of his friends had been hit by a bus. So, by my guess their applause seemed to be something we perceived to be more of the usual fawning and knee-jerk reactions than a well considered response. Either way...its not easy standing in a building while 1000 or so people clap at the request that you no longer do your job.

But really? How do you respond in a situation like that?

Tash came over to me during the next minute or so and asked pretty much the same question. I suggested that Mr Sondheim could do a few things with his comment that may or may not have been physically possible - even for a younger man. But I explained that while we will do our best - which we had been doing - we don't answer to Mr Sondheim. Our obligation was to our client, and so that meant that we kept shooting. We would simply adapt our approach a little, perhaps grabbing the shot during the louder parts of the song, or that moment at the end when the song is finishing and the audience begins its applause. There is always more than one way to skin a cat. 

But in the end, with all due respect Mr Sondheim, my client dictates what I do, thank you.

The lovely Kellie Dickerson poses excitedly with an unenthusiastic Stephen Sondheim...

2 comments:

Erin King said...

Good on you for continuing to shoot. Mr Sondheim, for all his talents, sounds like a bit of a nuftie. One would have thought your client would have ensured management told him that photos will be taken during the performance. And frankly, when you've got people chewing open-mouthed on Malteasers for much of a performance, the occasional shutter click isn't so bad. LOL

Leonard said...

Hey mate - not sure what you're shooting with, but there is often an option to shoot with a silent or near-silent electronic shutter in Live View mode. I often use this to shoot events when noise is an issue. It helps to have an LCD loupe such as a Hoodman or Zacuto loupe to help stabilise the camera if you're shooting like this.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

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