Shakespeare in Detroit

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

William Shakespeare -Julius Caesar

Throughout the years the theatre has been a place of social gathering. As early as 6th century B.C. Ancient Greeks would line the rows of the outdoor amphitheater to be entertained by talented thespians. To this day we still seek amusement through the emotional gauntlet of humanity.  As the lights slowly dim around us we sit in our seat with the anticipation of the pending performance. We wait for an experience that will change us.

There is one man who compiled a series of words to express who we are like no other. His timeless work portrays humanity that still exists today. William Shakespeare, through prose and verse, has been entertaining the masses since the 1590s. His work allows a younger generation to make it their own. That is exactly what Sam White, founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Detroit, is doing.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Detroit is a city that has seen some very hard times. Jobs have moved and with them, the spark of the motor city has been dimmed. With a thick cloud looming over the place Sam White calls home, she and her diverse troupe take to the streets to raise the spirits.

Armed with the eloquent lines of  Shakespeare they perform in unique places all around the city, such as an unheated recycling warehouse, historical homes and public spaces throughout Detroit. There they brought the great and inspiring works of a 16th century poet to a new audience and to inspire a younger generation

It‘s a commitment to my city and using what I have to help grow the city. I’m using what I have, and what I have is Shakespeare.

Sam White, founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Detroit

Shakespeare in Detroit creates dynamic performances with a diverse cast and audience. They strive to be approachable and accessible. That can be hard to accomplish but with Sam’s vast knowledge she is able to make the classics relatable, new, and exciting.

I live for the days the audience shows up and they see the show we have been working on for months or a year and they laugh or cry or shout or complain or rejoice.

Sam White

Shakespeare in Detroit continues to grow and a new building to house the troupe is in the works. The former Stone Soap Building on the Detroit Riverfront is the location of their new home. The grand opening is planned for 2020. So in the meantime, Sam will be planning, figuring out the right shows and people to bring it to life.  She hopes to create a place that will continue to be inclusive and allow the whole city of Detroit to fall in love with Shakespeare.

How the Gang started 2019

The Crisman team assembled at the Philadelphia International airport only 16 hours after the ball dropped.

The team was off to their first string of shoots for 2019.  Noel, our production coordinator, arranged 7 shoots in 3 cities within 11 days, no big deal.  The team consisted of Chris, Robert, Mike, Noel, and a former team member Jared Castaldi. They were ready to take on the challenge.


This trip to the West Coast was dedicated to our ongoing project, Women’s Work


Their first stop was Las Vegas to meet and photograph four very different women. They had the privilege to meet Desiree Reed-Francois – Athletic Director of University of Nevada – Las Vegas

Abingdon Welch – Pilot
Meena Vohra – Medical Director of Children’s Hospital of Nevada

and Tonya Rhodes – Casino Shift Manager at Mandalay Bay. Each experience was unique and worthy of its own story for another time.


At the end of their time in the city that never sleeps the team partially disbanded. Jared headed back to the East Coast; Mike threw a camera and a fishing pole into his car and hit the road; and Chris, Robert, and Noel drove west kicking dust behind their gear packed Suburban. They were driving to Los Angeles to meet Heidi and Renae Moneymaker – Stuntwomen, 

and Danielle Perez – Standup Comedian.

These two shoots allowed Robert to flex his photo assistant skills. As a producer, he rarely has the opportunity to build a light while on set. Typically he is juggling dozens of tasks and it was nice to be Chris’s photo assistant once again.

“It was like riding a bike.” 

-Robert Luessen

On January 8th Chris and Noel left Robert to fly back to the office. After two full days in LA, they packed their bags once again and were ready to head north to Palo Alto. There they would finally meet up with Mike for the final shoot with the Vice President of Google, Yoky Matsuoka.  They hit the winding roads north of LA and for the first time in days, it didn’t rain. Supposedly it only rains in LA in January… Who knew?

The team’s shoot with Yoky wasn’t scheduled until January 10th. With this bit of downtime, Mike could hunt down more beautiful landscapes. When the team was finally reunited in Palo Alto they were full of stories to share and tales to tell.

Their time at Google was a wonderful opportunity to work with Yoky and see their stunning campus.  Once wrapped the only thing left for them to do was to get on a plane on the 11th at 6:02 AM. This, of course, is a lot easier said than done. Especially when traveling with 7 checked bags filled with gear. They always give themselves enough time for the process. There was the talk of not even sleeping, but in the end, they all caught a couple Z’s. 6:02 AM came quickly and the team was happy to watch the San Francisco skyline drift into the distance as the traveled into the sunrise. They had done it. 7 shoots in 3 cities in 11 days. A great way to start 2019!

 

Gratitude

As we spend the last few days of 2018 in reflection, we view our recent past with great fondness. 2018 has been a year of continued change and growth defined by new challenges. 


All along the path, we have created many memories.

We have traveled all over the land and worked with so many wonderful people. Some long time conspirators and other new faces that we will welcome back to our team when the right time comes.

 No matter where a project took us, each one allowed us to dive further into the depths of creativity and to make each opportunity count.

As we look forward to even greater challenges, our team continues to grow.  This year called for expansion and we were fortunate to have Noel Pattani hop on board.

Noel is currently our production coordinator and we are excited to see how her strengths continue to develop as a part of our team.

 With her help, we have expanded Chris’s personal project, Women’s Work. Her creativity, spirit, and strong values have brought a new sense of life to who we are.

Mike Ryan will be entering his first year as a full-time member in 2019.

It seems like it’s been years, but his commitment and dedication restored a balance to our team as well as helped shape how we get it all done.

To be part of so many projects that pushed our creative limits has been a thrill and a pleasure. As a team of creative people, we require challenges and 2018 has been full of them. From creating a lush garden in studio during December, to traveling to Cape May, NJ to capture an oyster farmer and her crew at sunrise, to working 18 hour days in the scorching summer sun, we will continue to raise the bar on creative productions that bring out the best in everyone who is part of our what we do.  We are grateful for the opportunity to do what we love and to share our passions and strengths with you.

One to 2019 – Our next call time hits in just over 72 hours.

When a Fire Starts to Burn

As the California wildfire season comes to the end we look back at one of the most damaging to date. The devastation that ripped through the state did the same to so many of our friends and family and at this point, the destruction from the fires can be seen from space. When thinking about our defense against the out of control havoc most only know of firefighters, but these selfless heroes arrive when damage has already begun. Now with flash floods rampaging through the fire-scarred earth, many are left to wonder what can be done to prevent such massive ruin?

A controlled burn 

It seems like a delicate match and Mary Lata has made a career striking that balance. As a Fire Ecologist Mary’s job is to observe and monitor the Tonto National Forest to decide when a fire should burn or be put out. At times she prescribes controlled burns as a  necessary strategy for the health of the area. 

Yes, sometimes fires are set for the betterment of the environment. Like most of us, Mary too didn’t realize that this was a job she could have until she was working at Badlands National Park as an Interpretive Ranger. It immediately became obvious to her that fire ecology was what she should do. She finds it hard to imagine a life that doesn’t involve working outside with fire and natural lands.

To understand how fires become out of control you must first understand the natural impact they have on the ecosystem. Fires are a necessary part of nature. It’s a disturbance just like flooding, wind-storms, and landslides. Many environments like savannahs and prairies require regular burning to allow many native plant species to germinate, establish, or to reproduce. Wildfire suppression not only limits these plants to thrive but could potentially eliminate them all together. Wildfire prevention also exacerbated the lack of control we have once a fire takes hold.

A natural wildfire will create gaps in the vegetation, which help to contain and not allow them to become massive fires.  So, when we prevent mother nature’s failsafe and allow plant life to grow uncontrolled we give a flame the fuel to thrive. Through controlled burns, we create the ability to limit the damage of fire can do. Mary, like a master chess player, watches over our terrain as if a well played board. Observing and planning her next move.


Personal Work – A cure for what ails you

By Chris Crisman

Did anyone play the lottery this week? Our team certainly did and a $10 ticket turned out to be less about the chance of winning a gazillion decimal points. It became a time to share the possibilities of a future. Some of us would shut it down and coast, some of us would devise a plan to share the wealth and give back to everyone that could use it, some of us simply dreamt of just taking a break. It’s a tantalizing exercise to contemplate the opportunities you could have, the challenges that would arise, and just how you would find ways to balance it all.

We are approached to work on so many jobs and it is hard to deny the randomness to how each year shakes out for us. We try to move forward on as many opportunities as possible and they need to have the right values to do so. When looking back on a year we seem to strike the right balance of projects. To be able to find creative fulfillment and financial stability with our work. Sometimes we are presented with a special Unicorn project that we dream of working on but no matter how much we fight for the job it still gets away. Even though you think you have dominance of the situation, there will always be a number of variables that are out of your control. Embracing this reality has really kept me from going insane.

Another aspect of our work that helps balance the inevitable presence of impending insanity – personal work. It is as easy as putting a pin on a map. Just you and your camera traveling to beautiful locations can be unpredictable magic waiting to happen. 

 Alternatively, you can dedicate your time and other resources to hone in on exactly what it is you want to express; this is my preferred method. With these projects – or singular images – you can easily give you and your team back the control, vision, taste, and your calendar that often seems out of your hands.

It all sounds simple, but I still struggle. I struggle with the where, the when, and the how. I struggle with whether I am choosing the right concept or idea to focus on. Will the small detail of a coat on the guy actually ruin an otherwise perfect image? Above all else, I struggle with the why. If I make this picture, will anyone care? Will it inspire someone who sees it? Anyone? Beyond all else, is there a chance that this work could possibly change the way people see the world? I think about all of this with every project that I undertake – especially the ones where I am able to have complete control of the end result.

I’ve already mentioned embracing randomness- this idea goes both for things you can and can’t control. Alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson who was right when he said, “Some days you kill it, some days you just choke”. The reality in this sentiment rings clear for me. I won’t always be a winner, but If I keep my head down and focus clear, I will continue to find a balance throughout my career. One last thing, don’t spend more than $10 playing the lottery, even if I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

Liberating the Lands

Anna Valer Clark

When Anna Valer Clark first arrived at South East Arizona, a place she would call home, her first question was “What do the cows eat, rocks?” The land she stood on was exhausted and the only thing thriving in the unfortunate barren landscape was the tiny rocks scattered across the view. She had left her life as a New York City socialite to become a Permaculturalist. She wanted to stimulate or directly utilize the patterns and features observed in the natural ecosystem to revive the terrain.  She saw the potential of the land and dreamt of restoring it back to its original grandeur. Many years of poor management, over-grazing, and logging in the hills had left the earth unable to hold the rainfall causing monsoons like floods and severe erosion.

Valer believes where there is water there is life and with barely any life remaining on her land the key was to avoid further damage. She realized she could hinder the erosion and capture water in the hills by putting rock dams across the places that been affected in hopes to return this area to its former glory.

 As she suspected the areas where the dams were established prevented further devastation. The soil did not wash away and that gave the native plants an opportunity to grow roots and thrive.

With each year the natural vegetation grew and established itself with vigor. To see the lands today one could not conceive that this was once a place of dust and sun-soaked earth. Anna Valer Clark has brought back balance to her lands and the harmony is magnificent.

My life has been a continuation of applying these same principles of harvesting water, revegetation of the land, and the restoration of water to dry areas. My mission has been to take severely degraded land and restore it. If one can accomplish this under the seemingly impossible conditions, then one can do it anywhere.

Anna Valer Clark

THAT ONE TIME WE WENT TO PRISON

A long narrow hallway lined with tiny barred cells enclosing angry men flinging obscenities is what we expected to find at a maximum security male prison. The entertainment industry depicts the American correctional system as a scary place. So, when we were given the opportunity to enter Oregon State Penitentiary we were filled with excitement and a bit of concern.

As you might have guessed, entering a prison is no easy task. There are several obstacles to navigate in order to be approved for entry. First off, background check for all members of the entire crew. Second, a thoroughly vetted equipment list. This list was scrutinized and whittled down three times. Each list included visuals of what was included. A location like this is only possible with the use of battery powered lights. Without them, it would be difficult to get down to three bags. 

The third obstacle was squeezing two portrait subjects into a tight schedule during the facility lockdown. We reviewed the Tour Guidelines for visitors which informed us of their hostage policy that states there are inherent risks in visiting a correctional facility. After several weeks of back and forth with Oregon State Penitentiary, everything was set and ready to go.

Oregon State Penitentiary is nestled in the sleepy town of Salem. Driving through the town you wouldn’t expect a maximum security prison would live just up the road. If there was a maximum security prison, you wouldn’t expect it to be lined with large, lush trees and meticulously maintained landscaping. The stark difference from the picturesque greenery and the castle-like exterior of the prison is striking. We stood on the steps of the Oregon State Penitentiary with nothing but our gear, our IDs and just a little bit of nerves.

Once inside we went through a series security checkpoints. Every step of the process was efficient. The staff was friendly and helpful through it all. We quickly moved to our first location and set up to shoot in cell block D. Once we were in the heart of the facility, it was evident how calm and quiet space it was. Unlike our chaotic expectations, we felt comfortable in the space. Of course, there was a bit of excitement buzzing around, we were a photo crew, something completely out of the ordinary. Even with our unusual presence the men lounged in their brightly colored cells patiently waiting for the lockdown to end.

Our first subject was Megan Lowe, a Corporal Correction Officer at OSP. She began her career at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in 2014. She was inspired by her father to follow a career in correction. Megan’s petite frame was weighed down by the required gear but her presence was enormous. Watching her walk down the block you saw her confident control in the space. She was one of the reasons we felt so safe there. She provides the order needed for peace.

We spent a few short but fulfilling moments with Megan. She allowed us to collaborate in her domain and we could not have asked for a smoother experience. Wrapping up in the housing block it was time to pack up and move on to our next location to meet Patrice, another staff member of OSP.  She is also doing amazing things but that is another story for another time.

To Be Continued…