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SPOTLIGHT: Liz Shipe on Reconstructing Grimm

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I'm very happy to welcome Liz Shipe to the blog. Liz has been involved in a fascinating photographic venture called Reconstructing Grimm, in which she and her colleagues recreate key scenes from the Grimm fairy tale canon. Here is Liz's story:


I’ve found that the best stories start with the phrase, “Once upon a time...” so I can’t think of any better way to start my story than with the same phrase that took me into every land that was long ago and far away.

Once upon a time I was a struggling actor.  I had roles in local productions, but none of them really paid anything.  So while I called myself and actor, the truth is I was working as a phone sales representative (... ok... fine telemarketer)  for a prestigious local theater. The hours were long, the pay was bad, and I was bored. Boredom is a powerful thing for me.  If I have more than four hours to myself I will sit for an hour, try to relax, give up, and then go bake a pie or sew a dress.

One spectacularly long shift my mind started to drift and I decided to browse the local audition notices.  One caught my eye; a photographer was looking for an artistic director to put together a narrative photo series.  I had always wanted to try modeling, even though I’m only 5’4” and not remotely a classic model type. I had a pretty good eye for hair, makeup, and costumes; working in small theater companies with no budget had trained me well. I had been enthralled with the idea of doing fairy tale based photo shoots, I just didn’t have access to a proper camera or someone who knew anything about photography, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The work wasn’t paid, but that didn’t bother me. It was a challenge and being twenty-two at the time, the term “artist director” would look impressive on a resume for someone my age. I immediately contacted the photographer to get more information.

Perry Heideman had been doing photography as a hobby and to this point had been working on mainly landscapes. I pitched him my fairytale idea and he loved it.  We decided that we would do a shoot just four days later and the subject would be Snow White.  

While I was excited, I soon realized I had only four days to put this together. I was jumping head first into a completely new medium, and that was terrifying. I decided to just focus on the small things and piece by piece the shoot came together. I sewed my dress out of curtain panels from Goodwill, found an actor friend to play the prince, and raided my apartment for props.

The morning of the shoot came fast and it was a sweltering summer day. We spent about two hours climbing through a scenic bike trail near my place.  When we parted ways that day, I had no idea if the shots were good or if they would do anything for my career. I just knew I had a lot of fun, and no matter what I was bettered for having done it.

In the next few weeks when we posted the pictures online, people went crazy for them. I was getting emails with people volunteering to do shoots, asking when the next one was coming, and so on.  Perry and I talked about it and decided to keep going.  Within the first six months we got a full article in the local paper about our collaboration. Then we started to book gallery shows in the city and soon around the state.  That was when we had to give the project a title so that people would know what to call it, that winter we officially became Reconstructing Grimm: The Urban Fairy Tale Series.

After a year or so of working we got published in Faerie Magazine, a national publication in America. They did an eight page spread on our Wizard of Oz shoot. Things were shifting for me as an actor as well, I was now recognizable. I would do the promotional photos for shows that I was cast in under the Reconstructing Grimm banner. 

After two years we expanded and Reconstructing Grimm did it’s first full scale theatrical production.  An interactive mystery that I wrote based off the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The show, entitled Sherlock Holmes and A Most Irregular Tea Party sold out most of it's first run and due to its popularity two sequels were written and hastened into production: Sherlock Holmes and A Regrettable Engagement which premiered this past spring, and Sherlock Holmes and the Final Vow which will hit the stage this fall.

Finally a few weeks ago I was contacted by one of my favorite authors (that's me!) and given the opportunity to write a piece on my work for her blog.

Reconstructing Grimm has gone from a big gamble to being one of the best things I have ever done. Due to the nature of the photo series I’m frequently asked what my favorite fairy tale is. Truthfully I love them all, but after three years of getting to ride in magic pumpkins, fly away on fairy dust, and climb through many a looking glass, my favorite story has to be my own. 

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