The Life of a Theatre Photographer — Sally Evans speaks…

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I started photographing at the Little Theatre at the start of the 2011/2012 season. I was really lucky in a way. I’d been working in the bar for about 2 months when I heard that the photographer at the time was calling it a day at the end of the 2010/11 season and so I went to speak to Julia Meynell about being a possible replacement. I’d never done theatre photography before but I had done a lot of live music stuff and was pretty confident I could adapt my skills and knowledge to the Little Theatre’s stage.

Anyway, they gave me a shot and since then I have photographed over 50 productions for the LDS both on the main stage and in the studio.

My role as one of the theatre’s photographers has 3 elements to it.

A few weeks into rehearsals I go along to take head shots. These are put on display in the theatre foyer and sometimes also in the programme. This season we have started to include an image of the director too, which I think is a nice touch to add to the display, even if some directors might not agree!

I love taking these pictures. I find people’s faces really interesting and I love how different people react when they are told they are going to have their photo taken. More often than not, its the people who you think would be quite casual about it that make the biggest fuss. Men are definitely more picky than women about the picture they want to be used. That said, most people are happy with the finished product I think.

After head shots are taken care of, I start to think about taking rehearsal pictures. These are usually required for the programme but sometimes its just good for me to go along anyway to get a feel for the play. I like this stage because I get a sneaky peak at the show and can start to imagine how it might look on stage. I often get in the way and the extremely loud motor on my camera has been known to put actors off a bit sometimes, but in my head I’m invisible, just a fly on the wall, observing from a distance! Attending the many rehearsals over the years has given me an insight into theatre life that I find fascinating. I love watching directors at work, and to see the actors developing the often unbreakable bonds that they create while working on a play. These relationships aren’t all that easy to capture on camera but every now and then I’ll snap a moment that for me shows more than just a bunch of people working on a play. It will show friends sharing a joke or a director getting a laugh from his actors as he hilariously plays out part of a scene, trying to get them to relax or to consider delivering a line a different way. Its nice to be part of those moments and to be able to photograph them.

So, head shots up in the foyer and programme gone to print, its time to shoot the dress rehearsal. I go along, usually on the Saturday night to photograph a run through. This is definitely the best bit for me. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of different plays and there are honestly not many I didn’t like. There have been a few I didn’t understand but for me that’s not important. What is important is the way they look through my lens as that’s where I watch it from. If a play has a small cast and is set in 1 room then things can get tricky but that’s when I get  more creative. For those plays I have to find ways of making the same shots look different and that’s good because it keeps me on my toes. Its not always the shows with big casts and bright sets that interest me, images of lots of people standing or sitting in lines aren’t necessarily more interesting to look at anyway. Every now and then I get a shot that I absolutely love and they are often single portraits that just really capture a perfect moment,

After shooting the dress rehearsal I have to go home and edit my 400 or more shots down to just 30. These images go on display in the foyer for the audience to see so its important to choose carefully, I cant go giving away any big plots lines.

I get these pictures ready for opening night so its a pretty tight turn around but that’s fine by me. I’m the kind person who leaves everything to the last minute anyway, so I think that even if I had a week choose and edit my photos, I’d still not get it done until that very last moment, so the short time frame really doesn’t bother me.

Then that’s it. By this time I would have already started on the head shots and rehearsal images for the next show so its pretty constant but I like that. Saying that though, I do look forward to bit of time off in the summer, time to try and get a bit more organised for the next season, which in my case never seems to happen, The start of the season always creeps up on me and it all starts again.

Looking back on that first season I think I have learnt a lot over the years, my style of  photography has changed a great deal and this season I’ve really felt like I actually know what I’m doing now even if I’m still learning something new with every show I photograph and that’s great.

I love working at the Little Theatre, I’m always busy, very often stressed and mostly disorganised but I wouldn’t have any other way.

Sally Evans

Take a look at some of Sally’s work in the photos section of The Little Theatre Facebook page