(This was originally posted to Facebook in 2017 and finally made it here in 2021. It’s long but if you want to see the backstory to Red Vixen Studios…this is your post!)
It’s funny how all this started with a seemingly innocuous question from out of the blue from my sister…”you like playing around with your camera, right?”
She had started working at this theatre in downtown Fayetteville near the Market House that I had honestly never heard of…and no, it wasn’t the one I remembered up the hill in Haymount!
Anyway, they were really in need of someone to take pictures during the dress rehearsal that they could use for promotions and as a record of the set design should they need it in the future.
Mind you, the only professional credit I had to my name was a photo of Cinderella’s Castle that was licenced for the intro of the Disney episode of “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and other than the odd school performance for the kids, I had never really done much work in low-light or with stage lighting. Honestly, I didn’t have the faintest clue about shooting a real honest-to-goodness dress rehearsal nor did I know why I was being asked to do this other than a vague sense that they weren’t terribly thrilled with a professional photographer they had used previously.
I figured that the worst thing that could happen was that they would hate my pictures but I’d still get a chance to visit with my family and that’s how I found myself walking up the stairs for the first time at the Gilbert Theatre.
So there’s my sister and her boss Michelle who was stage managing the show and various people setting up the stage for opening places. I remember asking Mr Jeremy Fiebig who was directing if there was anything in particular he wanted me to capture and the answer was along the lines of “whatever looks good to you”. Ah, OK…I guess I’ll be winging it for this one… 🙂
And suddenly there was this impossibly tall and beautiful red-headed woman standing in the aisle who dominated the room through sheer force of personality. She walks over and gives me this big smile and hug and tells me how much she appreciates that I’ve come all the way from Raleigh to do the shoot and the best way to describe the feeling was that she has this way of making you feel like the star of the show.
That performance was a blur for me…800 or so pictures later, we’re at intermission and I’m offloading those pictures onto their computer in the green room. When I ask if there’s anything they’d like me to fix, she tells me that the actors and actresses love the pictures and to just keep doing what I was doing…which was another 400 shots for the second half of the show.
That was “Life as We Know It” on 27 Dec 2012 and I’ve had the privilege and the honour of shooting every production for the Gilbert ever since.
At the time, I didn’t really think of myself as an artist and certainly didn’t know much about what went on behind the scenes to make the magic on the stage…I was an IT geek by trade who happened to like photography.
But Robyne has this way of seeing aspects of people that they themselves don’t even know is there and trusting that they will overcome any challenge to get to where she needs them to be.
Like trusting me to take the photographs at her wedding to one of the actors I had come to know during a few of the shoots…the superbly talented (and irrepressible!) Matt Lamb. I had never done a wedding shoot like this and certainly had never been in charge of anything this big…but there she is reassuring me that I’ll do just fine.
Of course, I’m nervous as hell after scouting the Botanical Gardens the week before and don’t get much sleep the night before the wedding. OK, none at all, actually! And as I’m driving down from Raleigh early in the morning, I’m reciting Alan Shepard’s prayer as fervently and often as I can! I can laugh about this now because the weather was glorious, the light was fantastic and I shouldn’t have been nervous because I had TWO PROFESSIONAL ACTORS to play with…weddings don’t get easier than when you have professionals who are willing to have fun with the photos after the vows! Over 1,800 pictures later and it still amazes me that she trusted me with one of the most important days of her life that you don’t get any do-overs!
But that’s what I love about Robyne…she genuinely loves and trusts the people she works with and I will never forget this as long as I shall live.
We did a promo shoot for an upcoming season where she and Ja’Maul were making like they were ballroom dancing (he was playing Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein”) and it totally worked…I love the one where he’s holding her as she’s leaning way back and that’s the one that ended up on the poster. I pitched shooting “It’s a Wonderful Life” in black and white (at this point, I am feeling a lot more like a real artist!) and she let me roll with it and those are some of my favourite shots in my tenure at the Gilbert. And along the way, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what she wants to see when she’s perusing the galleries of the photos from the latest production.
So here we are…she’s got her PCS orders to her new home in Pittsburgh. And anyone who has been in the military family will tell you that when our friends and family get their PCS orders, it is a bittersweet thing knowing we’re going to be missing our friends but somehow it usually works out that we catch up to them a few moves later.
So whilst she may be “easing out of Fayetteville”, I can assure you that no one ever lives there without being forever changed. And for those of us who have been fortunate to share the theatre with Robyne, we have been forever changed by our boss and mentor…and most importantly friend!
For me personally, I will never see the world in quite the same way again…you’ve helped awaken the spirit of the artist in me that I didn’t even know was there and there’s no way in hell that genie is ever going back into that bottle.
Last Saturday, I was driving down to Fuquay to shoot some tutorial videos for how to do hair and makeup for the troupes at my daughter’s dance studio and all along the way on US-401 I’m thinking of how to arrange the scenes and having A and B camera footage and how I would package the final video with an intro I designed in After Effects.
Thank you Robyne…now you’ve got me thinking like a stage manager and a director as well as an artist! And it showed in the final product…
So this isn’t goodbye by any means…I hate goodbyes and always have and always will. May you find peace and happiness in the Burgh and come back to visit us from time to time, willya? And who knows, you just might need a camera and a monkey to push the shutter release in the future…