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  • Scott Carter Cooper

Eclipse Theatre Company

Sometimes it feels like I’ve lived many lives. Between 2007 and 2012, I was more or less at loose ends. I’d just finished my masters degree, and left a miserable job when the company was sold and I elected not to follow that basket of snakes into hell. I had a healthy savings, so I took about a year off, playing with several different possible identities while I waited to be rejected from several Ph.D. programs. Wanting something new, I picked up a camera.

I shot a couple of weddings. A nightmare. I did a few actors’ headshots. Painful. (Ladies – pick a shade of lipstick you like.) And I decided to try my hand at theatre production photos. I reached out to a couple and developed relationships. The longest lasting, the most fun, and the most challenging was working with Eclipse Theatre.

The first shoot was for their production of Candles to the Sun. I could barely work my camera, and only because I had been an actor did I have any idea of what to do. I asked to attend a rehearsal to get an idea of where the shots might be, and then for an hour to set them up. Almost all of my favorite pieces were by accident.

This was the last shot of the evening. In the foreground is Bubba Weiler, whose gone on to Broadway in a few shows. I had no idea who anyone was, and I’m terrible about remembering character’s names. I brought the place to a standstill when I called one character “Grandma.” And then they all laughed. But I don’t think I stopped shaking the entire time.

When they did Plaza Suite, we got to shoot in a suite at The Drake Hotel for an afternoon. Back in the mists of time I was once the overnight bellman at The Drake and it felt strange to be in the hotel and in a room, but not in uniform.

A couple of years later, a cropping of this shot was used for a full page in the Chicago Sun-Times, and no one could speak to me for a week, I was so proud.

Pearl Cleage’s A Song for Coretta, required a sketch of the characters to be used as a prop. I shot the photo and then sweated bullets in Photoshop turning it into this sketch. Hours and hours.

For the Eugene O’Neill season, the first show was Beyond the Horizon. A very challenging script, but a glowing production. This was a preproduction shot that we did at the lakefront. It was a cold day, and the photo is cropped like this because the young lady had to wear pants.

(It, however, wasn’t the coldest shoot. For one show we shot in an alley in super-subzero temperatures. So cold my camera would not work.)

Another shoot that made me nervous was for Trestle at Pope Creek. But this turned out to be one of my favorite pre-production shots. I made these poor kids run and run and run, and I made Nat Swift keep looking in the other direction because trains terrify me. But this was one of my favorite shots.

And finally. Speaking of Nat Swift, the poor man damn near needed back surgery when I was finished with this shoot. He had to stand perfectly still for each of the three women, with Maggie (Nora Pfiffer) making the most dramatic pose. That was the hardest part of the shoot because neither she nor Nat could stand still enough to get the base shot. There is obviously a lot of Photoshop in this picture, but most of it is in Nora’s face. I had to piece it together out of three different frames and manipulate angles. This is not a reflection of Nat or Nora and every bit because I never really knew what I was doing.

This week Eclipse announced that they were disbanding. While it’s been at least ten years since I did a shoot for them, I have to say the news hit me a little hard. They did superlative work and are a great bunch of people. It’s not possible for Chicago to see finer, and they will certainly be missed.

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