Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

Running The Fairy Tales With Liz Shipe

A local actress chases fairy tales with a photographer

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The remarkable thing about actress Elizabeth Shipe and photographer Perry Heidemanís Urban Fairy Tales†project is just how completely un-commercial the idea was at the outset. She wanted to do a series of photos dressed as characters from fairy talesóif for no other reason than to entertain herself and have some really cool-looking profile pics for Facebook. The project quickly became quite complicated as such things usually do. Soon Shipe was working away in her tiny apartment on costumes on a huge, ancient tank of a Singer sewing machine (one of those old models that could likely survive a direct hit from a nuclear warhead.) She was scouting locations by bus. And she was having a really good time with a group of friends. Shipe spoke with me over coffee about the project:

STORIES, PHOTOS AND FAIRY TALES

Me: When developing the project, what made you think of Fairy tales?

Liz: It was a project I wanted to do for a while. [Perry Heideman] wanted to do a story. I was like: then do a story. Theyíre there. They exist already. And I think updating themóespecially with the popularity of things like Tim Burtonís Alice In Wonderland and the upcoming re-telling of Red Riding Hoodótheyíre becoming much more into the public zeitgeist as opposed to what they were a few years ago. And during the red-hot Disney years, too. And I was such a Disney kid.

SCOUTING LOCATIONS AND GETTING SHOT WITH FRIENDS

Me: Some of the decisions with the photos were interesting. Youíre thinking, ďWeíve got access to a forest. A lot of fairy tales happen there.Ē

Liz: They were all different forests. It makes sense if youíre me. Without a car, what I do when I scout locations is likeóIíll hop on a bus and Iíll do it while Iím running errands.

Me: Youíre doing laundry, for instance.

Liz: Yeah, well, then youíre In the basement and youíre thinking about other things. Youíre storyboarding and taking care of that. We would shoot at the Urban Ecology Center, at the bike trail over by the Klotsche Center at UWM and the ravine trail over by the lake front. Those were the three main wooded areasóall areas where I go running. And then Perry would get mad at me heís like, ďyouíre making me haul equipment again.Ē

Me: Itís one thing to jog through the area . . .

Liz: I know. And thatís some insight as to why we got some strapping, young boys in the shoot.

Me: They were carrying, werenít they?

Liz: They were carrying. And they werenít always happy with me, Ďcause Iíd make them do it early, too. The best time to shoot is 9am. So theyíd have to be at my apartment by 7:45am for final hair and make-up and final costume choices or whatever. Theyíd be like, ďyou could at least feed us.Ē And Iím like, ďI could, I really could. I just didnít get that far.

Me: Because you were sewing whatever until late the previous night.

Liz: Yeah. Some of the outfits are really dictated by how much time I haveólength and stuff like that.

Me: If youíd only had another weekÖ

Liz: It would have been so much better, but if I donít set a deadline for myself, itíll never get done. Iíll call-up Perry for a shoot and heíll say, ďdonít you need more time?Ē Probably, but . . .

FUTURE PROJECTS: EVERYBODYíS GOT AN IDEA

Me: With the project reaching a gallery, are you finished with it?

Liz: No. We have another one planned already. We intend on doing the Steadfast Tin Soldier next. And I donít know where the location for that is going to be at all. The oneís definitely next. Once you get two or three of these finished, everyone has an idea that they want to share with you . . . [1001] Arabian Nights has been thrown-out there. Beauty and The Beast is another. And I know that we want to do The Little Mermaid on Lake Michigan in summer. (Not now.) Itís very cold. Somebody said that ďYou should do that now.Ē No! Thatís be awful! ďHowíd you get frostbite?Ē Well . . .† interesting story . . .

Me: And these [subsequent shootings] are just going to be online?

Liz: Well, after the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center exhibit closes, Iíve been in talks with Carte Blanche. Weíre going to be picking-up the show and moving it to Carte Blanche and premiering the new photos there as well. And in my hometown of Fond du Lac, thereís an art gallery up there. One of the men who runs it had seen The Art of Murder here [a show that Shipe had been in with In Tandem Theatre.] And so I was home . . . my dad and brother play in a swing band up there and this guy comes up to meóIíd met him very briefly and he said, ďyouíre from the play!Ē And I said, ďYeah. Which one?Ē He asked me what Iím working on right now and I told him. So I think [the photo exhibit] is going to tour here until summer and then itíll move to Fond du Lac for a while and then well shop it around. Weíll do the opening gala night for wherever itís moved to. And weíre raffling off a spot in the next shoot as well. (Everyone wants to be in one, too. The pictures go-up [on Facebook] and I get my Inbox flooded.) I know it doesnít look like it takes a lot of work, but it does. I canít afford to just throw people in there.

Me: So even before meeting the photographer, youíd wanted to do something like this?

Liz: Yes. Iíd approached a different photographer about it. He was like, ďYes. Awesome. Letís do it.Ē And then Ö nothing happened.††

Me: Funny how that works.

Liz: I know. So I really hadnít anticipated it ever getting beyond the initial email. It hadnít happened yet. I didnít assume it would. And so when he not only emailed, but called back within four hours of me sending a response saying, ďDo you want to go next week?Ē . . . I guess so! I hadnít really thought about it. I suppose we are now, arenít we? And since there was no reference point, when I was trying to cast the prince for the shoot, it was impossible. Nobody wanted to do it. I called a lot of people. Chris was great. Theyíre all awesome (the guys weíve used.) You canít ask for anything more than a group of guys who are willing to give their time. Theyíve been known to carry me. We were doing the Wizard of Oz shoot and there was a tough shot we were trying to get to. And I had on the heels and it had just rained the night before. And I was trying to crawl back to it and couldnít get there so the three guys formed a line . . . carried me over their shoulders. We got the shot and they carried me out.

Urban Fairy Tales is continues at the MGAC†through March 5th. Shipe and friends appear at the MGAC tonight for a special Costume Gala from 7:30 pm-10 pm.

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