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  • Dan Whitehead

Creating Character Portraits For My Directorial Theatre Debut

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Take a behind the scenes look at how we brought this shoot together

Back in January of this year (2023) I began work on my first play as a director. Rehearsals had started, and we were in full swing on production. Then about a month into it, it became time to start creating materials to best market the show. We were doing Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor at Dover Little Theatre, and I wanted to create something special. Not only was I the director of this show, but I was and currently am the Marketing Chair on the board. This means I had to really think about what to create.

So First Came Research

Portrait of Sid Caesar

1950s Poster of "Your Show of Shows"

Portrait of Neil Simon taken by photographer Irving Penn

I looked into the history of the show. Neil Simon wrote it as a reflection of his time on the 1950s variety show Your Show of Shows starring Sid Caesar, and Imogene Coca, so looking at marketing materials and portraits of them, seemed like a great place to start. Once I found shots I liked, I began to break down the lighting and background of each photo, and figure out how to pull it off.

Next Came Planning

Around this time, I began to sketch out (often very crudely) my ideas for how I wanted to shoot a portrait, including the lighting locations, where the camera will go, and what gear I would need to make it all work. This helped not only me see how I wanted to do something, but anyone who would be assisting me as well.

My first drawing. I used this to create individual portraits of each of the nine characters.

My second drawing. This setup created a bit more drama in the shots.

My third drawing. This setup was used for group shots of different characters together.

An accidental behind the scenes shot from our assistant director Liz Stokes.

And The Results?

In the end it was a crazy whirl wind of a shoot. we had to get through nine people twice (once each on white, and once each on the blue textured background seen above) as well as any group shots we needed. All the while a rehearsal for the one act shows was happening upstairs, and some of my cast was in that.

But in the end I couldn't be happier with the results, and am so thankful for a tremendous cast, and camera assistant Liz, who were all so generous with their time, and willing to play around and have some fun!

I hope you liked this brief breakdown of my process, and the practices that I have been working on to really get the most out of a shoot. Once again thank you to my cast, and all the people who helped this shoot, and our show run so well! Enjoy a sample of the final images!


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