A Theater Photographer Senses a Broadway Bloom

This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater

Written by: Colin Moynihan

For Sara Krulwich, who has shot productions for The New York Times for more than two decades, a series of recent assignments hinted at an industry revival.

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On the first evening in April, Sara Krulwich, a New York Times photographer, visited the Kraine Theater in the East Village, where Mike Daisey, an actor and monologuist, was rehearsing a show for which the seating capacity would be limited to 22. The restriction, Mr. Daisey said, reminded him of his earliest days as a performer, when he was thrilled if even a handful of people were in the audience.

For about 20 minutes, Ms. Krulwich photographed Mr. Daisey, adjusting her shutter, she later said, to ensure that “the theater lights and my camera were going to talk to each other in a kindly way.”

The next day, Ms. Krulwich photographed part of a performance at the Daryl Roth Theater at Union Square. And on Saturday, she shot a 36-minute performance at the historic St. James Theater in Midtown. Those assignments added up to her busiest stretch of theater work in more than a year.

Theatrical productions, dormant since last spring, are resuming in New York City, the first tentative steps toward what actors, directors and others hope will be a strong comeback by the fall. And many in the theater world may see Ms. Krulwich’s presence as a reassuring sign.

For more than two decades, she has been a Broadway and Off Broadway fixture, photographing about 100 shows a year, a body of work that led to her receiving a Tony Honor in 2018.

After a yearlong absence, Ms. Krulwich began photographing performances and rehearsals, feeling her way back into familiar tasks and reflecting on early traces of a theatrical revival, which, she said, mirrored the stirrings of spring.

“The blooms are beginning,” she said by phone. “Even if we’re not seeing the full flowering just yet.”

Ms. Krulwich joined The Times as a staff photographer in 1979, working for the Metro, National and Sports desks before becoming the paper’s first culture photographer in 1994.

At that time, she said, it was common for news organizations to run theater photographs handed out by producers that tended to present reality in the light most favorable to them. Ms. Krulwich, however, wanted to cover theater with the same journalistic approach that the paper employed while reporting on other events.

Ms. Krulwich said that her approach was direct, telling producers that theater was looked upon as news inside The Times and should be documented that way. Eventually, she obtained access to almost every production in the city.

Over the years, Ms. Krulwich has captured moments that have become a part of theater lore. She photographed developmental work on the Broadway production of Tony Kushner’s masterwork, “Angels in America.” In 1996, she took what is believed to be the last picture of Jonathan Larson, the writer and composer of “Rent,” hours before his death the night before the show’s first Off Broadway preview.

Her Tony, in 2018, made her the first journalist recognized for excellence in the theater, an honor given to people, organizations and institutions that have contributed to the industry but are not eligible to win in other Tony categories.

Returning to work inside venues she’s accustomed to, Ms. Krulwich said she took delight in seeing people she has known for many years and looked forward to a time when everyone connected to productions will, once again, be able to make a living.

“It’s a small group of people,” she said. “Almost an extended family.”

The day after photographing Mr. Daisey, Ms. Krulwich wore an N-95 mask and climbed a ladder at the Daryl Roth while shooting about 20 minutes of a performance of “Blindness,” an audio adaptation of the dystopian novel of the same name by the Portuguese writer José Saramago.

And then, the following day, at the St. James, she photographed the dancer Savion Glover and the actor Nathan Lane at the 36-minute event they performed in front of a masked audience of 150.

It was, noted Michael Paulson, a Times theater reporter, the first time in 387 days that there was activity inside a Broadway house.

Ms. Krulwich said the performance was not the same as one that would have taken place before the coronavirus pandemic, but she added that she felt at home back inside the St. James and appreciated the hints of what is to come.

“I must say, it felt familiar to me,” she said. “It’s just a little bit. It’s a tiptoe. It’s the doors opening a crack.”

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