The Art Inventory

Seattle Theatre As Seen By LaRae Lobdell

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 12 June 2013


Photo of the Rhonda Soikowski Ensemble - part of the Artists Of Theater series. Photo by LaRae Lobdell

Photographer LaRae Lobdell wants to show you the people that create Seattle theatre.  Her photos don’t showcase the variety of characters the actors portray (the dysfunctional, heroic, creepy, or comedic,) or the professional roles the crew fulfill (as director, designer or head of marketing.)  Instead, Lobdell shows who these artists are as people.

On her photo blog site, PhotoSister, Lobdell, a Fremont resident, has spent the last 16 months sharing photos, and information, about the people who work at the theaters, in the productions – some critically acclaimed, and others little seen (but more intriguing for it?)  On June 20th, an exhibition of Lobdell’s photos opens on the walls of the three stories of the historic ACT: A Contemporary Theatre, in Downtown Seattle.

LaRae Lobdell standing in front of a display of her 'Artists Of Theater' photo series. Photo provided by LaRae Lobdell

To Engage A Broader Audience

“I’m a total social media girl,” Lobdell acknowledged.  Professionally, she provides expertise in using social media to promote and publicize businesses, including her own.  A year and a half ago, “it was a labor of love,” she said about her decision to promote Seattle theater.  “I wanted people – outside people – to be engaged and interested in them,” she said about our rich local theater community.

She started with the production of ‘White Hot’ at West of Lenin, doing ‘lifestyle’ photo shoots with actors in a setting and outfits that gave glimpses into them as people rather than as characters in a play.  “I was getting to know them as a person,” she said about her interviews and shoots.  She deliberately set up shoots that showed viewers, “why I liked them, and why I was drawn to them.”

Director and theater founder A.J. Epstein. Photo by LaRae Lobdell

Lobdell then posted the photos, and excerpts from the brief interviews, on PhotoSister.  “It’s a beautiful thing to bring the world of photography and theater together,” she explained about her results.  As a professional photographer, Lobdell has done production stills – photos of a theatrical performance intended to give potential audiences a glimpse of the work.  With the series on PhotoSister, Lobdell wants viewers to better understand who the people are that bring these productions to life.

Actress Hannah Victoria Franklin. Photo by LaRae Lobdell

As she immersed herself in the Seattle theater scene, she found a lot of theater marketing is done by theater people to theater people.  With the PhotoSister entries, the social media support she gave them, and this exhibition, she has been able to engage a broader audience.  This audience might not be excited by Shakespeare, but they grew curious after seeing the contemplative photos Lobdell shot of Pilar O’Connell.  The Washington Ensemble Theatre production of ‘Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys’ is much more interesting after seeing the revealing and strangely comic photos Lobdell shot of cast member Hannah Victoria Franklin.

‘It’s A Whole Community’

The photo shoots gave the actors, ordinarily presented as characters written and directed by others, a chance to reveal more of themselves.  Yet, Lobdell also captured the oft-overlooked backstage folk – directors, acting interns, lighting designers, technicians, development directors, costume designers, an office manager, an Executive Director, a head of marketing, an Artistic Director, and Dan Savage.  “I wanted people to see it’s not just the actors,” that bring these works to life, she explained, “but it’s a whole community.”

A photo of the cast from the Pinter Festival at ACT staged and shot by photographer LaRae Lobdell

Most of the photo shoots Lobdell did for free, based on her own interests, although not all.  She chose, “individuals in theaters I wanted to elevate,” and bring to the attention of her audiences – on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, Instagram, Vimeo, etc.  Some photo shoots, like one she did with Lewis Black for ‘One Slight Hitch’ at ACT, produced images reproduced multiple times in print.  Her photo of Black and Kimberly Sustad became a cover of the Seattle Times weekend magazine.

Eventually, she staged large concept shoots involving multiple members of a cast, or theater.  She did one for the Pinter Festival at ACT to give, “my take on the characters in the play,” she explained.  For these shoots, the actors remain in character, but “they are never 100% in my shoots,” Lobdell explained, “I want to show who they are as people.”  She set up scenes and directed the shoots to create an intriguing image that challenged viewers.  As she observed, “you want to know the people, and what is going on.”

Choreographer Hillary Gault, during a Marxiano Production of 'Modern Luv' Photo by LaRae Lobdell

Art On Display At ACT

The exhibition at ACT displays 200+ framed enlargements.  “Everyone will be represented,” Lobdell reported, “There are photos from every shoot I’ve done.”  They come from the detailed entries she’s posted on PhotoSister, which include images (an average of 8 – 15,) text about the subject and the production they are associated with, and (of course,) detailed photography information for Lobdell’s professional audience.

“It has definitely turned into something more than I expected,” Lobdell admitted about what started as a personal project.  She wanted to elevate ticket sales, and the artists ticket buyers could see, and has elevated the entire theater community in the process.

Burton Curtis, as 'Crystal Pain', appearing in 'Queens of Miracle' at Intiman Theatre. Photo by LaRae Lobdell

Visit PhotoSister, or Lobdell’s other social media sites, to view all the images, and visit ACT between June 20th – October 17th to see these works of art displayed as art.  A special, public, open house will take place opening night, from 6p – 10p, with Lobdell on-hand for questions and information.  She will also be on-hand for four other opportunities – July 11th, August 2nd, September 12th and October 3rd.

Libby Barnard, an actress appearing in 'The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls' at Washington Ensemble Theatre Photo by LaRae Lobdell

Of course, anyone can visit ACT – particularly to taking in one of their summer season shows – and view the images throughout the season.  See what one seasoned photographer saw when immersed in the Seattle theatre scene!

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©2013 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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