Running The Fairy Tales With Liz Shipe

A local actress chases fairy tales with a photographer

Jan. 28, 2011
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The remarkable thing about actress Elizabeth Shipe and photographer Perry Heideman’s 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 tales—if 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:





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. They’re there. They exist already. And I think updating them—especially with the popularity of things like Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and the upcoming re-telling of Red Riding Hood—they’re 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.




Me: Some of the decisions with the photos were interesting. You’re thinking, “We’ve got access to a forest. A lot of fairy tales happen there.”

Liz: They were all different forests. It makes sense if you’re me. Without a car, what I do when I scout locations is like—I’ll hop on a bus and I’ll do it while I’m running errands.

Me: You’re doing laundry, for instance.

Liz: Yeah, well, then you’re In the basement and you’re thinking about other things. You’re 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 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.”

Me: It’s one thing to jog through the area . . .

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

Me: They were carrying, weren’t they?

Liz: They were carrying. And they weren’t always happy with me, ‘cause I’d make them do it early, too. The best time to shoot is 9am. So they’d have to be at my apartment by 7:45am for final hair and make-up and final costume choices or whatever. They’d be like, “you could at least feed us.” And I’m like, “I could, I really could. I just didn’t 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 have—length and stuff like that.

Me: If you’d only had another week…

Liz: It would have been so much better, but if I don’t set a deadline for myself, it’ll never get done. I’ll call-up Perry for a shoot and he’ll say, “don’t you need more time?” Probably, but . . .




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 don’t know where the location for that is going to be at all. The one’s 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.) It’s very cold. Somebody said that “You should do that now.” No! That’s be awful! “How’d you get frostbite?” Well . . .  interesting story . . .

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

Liz: Well, after the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center exhibit closes, I’ve been in talks with Carte Blanche. We’re 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, there’s 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 me—I’d met him very briefly and he said, “you’re from the play!” And I said, “Yeah. Which one?” He asked me what I’m working on right now and I told him. So I think [the photo exhibit] is going to tour here until summer and then it’ll move to Fond du Lac for a while and then well shop it around. We’ll do the opening gala night for wherever it’s moved to. And we’re 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 doesn’t look like it takes a lot of work, but it does. I can’t afford to just throw people in there.

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

Liz: Yes. I’d approached a different photographer about it. He was like, “Yes. Awesome. Let’s do it.” And then … nothing happened.  

Me: Funny how that works.

Liz: I know. So I really hadn’t anticipated it ever getting beyond the initial email. It hadn’t happened yet. I didn’t assume it would. And so when he not only emailed, but called back within four hours of me sending a response saying, “Do you want to go next week?” . . . I guess so! I hadn’t really thought about it. I suppose we are now, aren’t 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. They’re all awesome (the guys we’ve used.) You can’t ask for anything more than a group of guys who are willing to give their time. They’ve 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 couldn’t 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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