A theater lover chronicles actors’ backstage lives.
For her new book, Blake (Captured, 2014) took her camera to six small-town community and professional theaters in New England, Pennsylvania, and Florida. She documented what John Shea, artistic director emeritus of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, describes in the foreword as “the critical and intimate moments of transformation when the actor gives birth to the character.” The author’s fascination with this “metamorphosis” that actors undergo to become a conduit for the stories they will present on stage is clear in her casually evocative color photographs. More than 60 in number, crisply framed by white space, they draw the eye with their slice-of-life scenes of actors—male and female, older and younger—getting into costume, applying a mustache, straightening a wig, brushing on makeup, taking a coffee break, sharing a laugh, or running lines. Accompanying many of the photos are well-curated quotes by actors who speak of their roles and give considered, often ardent thoughts about what being involved with the theater has meant to them. Accessible to a wide range of readers, smartly designed with a deft balance of text and pictures, the volume spotlights each theater with its own section, introduced by Blake’s lively narrative relating the origins of the institution’s founding, a brief history of the productions staged there, and an insider’s anecdote or two. Other photos in the book show theater exteriors and backstage environments (a shelf of jumbled props, utilitarian dressing rooms, makeup tools, costumes) when the players are absent. The author adds further interest and visual appeal with informational tidbits about each theater in framed boxes integrated into the photographic layout. These well-preserved moments are informed not only by Blake’s skill with a camera, but also by her past as part of the theatrical community, a pursuit, she writes in her eloquent preface, kindled by her own early experiences as an audience member.
Authenticity and a passion for the subject remain the hallmarks of this well-designed, intimate look at theaters and performers through a camera lens.