Back stage: Cabaret, Oxford

Written by Nasir Hamid on February 11th, 2012

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have permission to do some back stage photography of a theatre performance of Cabaret at the O’Reilly Theatre, Oxford which was being put on by Oxford University students. It was the opening night so obviously tension was high. I was trying to be as low key as possible while everyone checked and double checked things and last minute rehearsals took place. I found the lighting in the theatre a bit too low for any decent photography so I I ended up setting up at the bottom of a rear stair well which not only seemed to be the place with the most amount of light but I was also out of the way of the crew that were dashing back and forth.

The problem I found was convincing the actors to spare a few seconds to be photographed. Understandably they had more important things on their minds so I didn’t get as much photography done as I had hoped. After a slow start luck was on my side. Just over an hour before the start it seemed like the entire cast had disappeared to grab a bite to eat and get into costume, all of them apart from Alice, the lead actress who was busy practicing on stage. I asked if she could spare a little time for photography and thankfully she was more than happy to. What struck me was how calm and composed she was considering it was the opening the night and we were so close to curtain up. It was so easy (and a lot of fun) to photograph Alice that I ended up finishing a roll of film in a matter of minutes. A little later I did get some shots of a few of the other cast members but I haven’t processed that film yet.

And now the bad news… As you can see the quality of these images is far from great, that’s because the film I used is a very high speed film for low-light photography and one of the things you should never do with high speed film is pass it through an x-ray scanner (the kinds you find at airports). It just so happens that a good friend of mine brought be back a few rolls of this film a few weeks ago from New York (it’s a lot more expensive if you buy it here) and I didn’t think to warn him about getting the film hand inspected at the airport. Lesson learnt – always test new film batches before using them on a live shoot.

So, apologies for the low quality images, no one is more disappointed than I am but sometimes these things happen. I do still very much like the images especially because of the location they were made in. The roll of film I used for the other shots was a different type so it won’t suffer from any x-ray damage. I just need to develop it properly without any problems.

Back stage photography is something I’m interested in doing more of so if you know of any productions in Oxford that would be interesting to photograph please let me know.

[Tech info:] Mamiya RZ67 with 110mm/f2.8 lens loaded with Ilford Delta 3200 (rated at ISO1600) processed in Ilford DD-X for 9mins, 20c.

Alice, the lead actress in Cabaret.

Shot 2 on the stairs.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Nasir, you might consider doing your photography during dress rehearsal instead of on opening night. You will likely have more opportunities and a more cooperative cast.

    That said, Delta 3200 issues aside, she is gorgeous.

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