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Liz Shipe’s Story of ‘Urban Fairy Tales’

Feb. 22, 2011
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A project born out of creativity, boredom and sheer ingenuity, local actress Liz Shipe and photographer Perry Heideman’s Urban Fairy Tales is a series of narrative photographs that cast a stylish new light on old fairy tales. The project’s first gallery showing is on display through March 5 at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center.

Where did the original idea for
Urban Fairy Tales come from?

I saw the Annie Leibovitz photos for Disney. She’d done these really interesting, vibrantly colored photos [inspired by] Disney movies. I really liked those. I always wanted to do something similar, but I have no photography equipment and/or experience. I could go around with my camera phone and get pictures of my friends in costume, but I don’t think it would have the same effect. … I was working as a telemarketer at the time, which is mind-numbing and very boring. And while [I was] calling people, I had nothing to do but sit and think about doing it. It was part creativity and mostly boredom—not having a project and not wanting to produce a play. (I’d produced shows before and those are just very, very stressful.)

You’re doing darker versions of fairy tales—tales that were originally quite menacing, prior to modern sanitization.
Red Riding Hood, for instance, was rather gruesome in its original form.

Exactly. There’s very little black and white. And that’s why I love, love, love Grimm’s fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen, stuff from around the world—Scottish folk tales and Irish folk tales and anything I could get my hands on. I was always such a big fan of it. Anytime anyone let me do anything [as an actress] in that realm, I’d take it. It didn’t matter if it didn’t pay—let me do it!


Some of the decisions you’ve made with respect to location are really interesting.

Without a car, what I do when I scout locations is: I’ll hop on a bus and I’ll do it while I’m running errands. And when I was thinking about the Nutcracker shot, I was in T.J. Maxx (in the Grand Avenue mall) getting props and I noticed the atrium and I was like: We should shoot here! And I asked them and they were OK with it. And that’s the other thing: Any actual location that we went to—any public building—people were really nice about it. Most of the time you just had to ask and they were like, “We don’t care. Do what you want. As long as you don’t bug anybody or leave anything here, go ahead.” We would (also) shoot at the Urban Ecology Center, at the bike trail over by the Klotsche Center at UWM and the ravine trail over by the lakefront. Those were the three main wooded areas—all areas where I go running. And then Perry would get mad at me. He’s like, “You’re making me haul equipment again.” And that’s some insight as to why we got some strapping young boys in the shoot.

Urban Fairy Tales runs through March 5 at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC). Once it closes at MGAC, there are plans to move it to Carte Blanche Studios.



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