Between the two of them, Hettie Barnhill and Robert Gertler cover quite the range of creative services. She is an accomplished performer who brings a lifetime of experience and professional expertise to her dance, voice and acting workshops and one-on-one coaching. He is a photographer and videographer — specializing in unique wedding videos and real estate videography — who also does web and graphic design and brand-building. “When we talk about all the things we do, it does seem like a lot,” says Barnhill. “But in this world, it all goes hand-in-hand.”
The world she’s referring to is the sphere of performing artists, who need what she does in terms of training and coaching and what Gertler offers by way of the head shots, websites and other promotional materials performers require to be productive. But even outside of that realm, tech-savvy “regular people” are taking a multi-media approach these days to document their special occasions, build their businesses and sell their real estate, utilizing visuals and skills that traditionally have been the province of entertainers.
The couple work out of a second floor studio at 71 Main Street in New Paltz. Large windows nearly floor to ceiling on two walls provide plenty of natural light and the high ceiling and exposed brick walls add to the creative vibe. “I’ve always been intrigued and inspired by space,” says Barnhill, “and something about this place, from the first time we walked in here, makes me want to stay true to what I want to do.”
While the two share the space, their businesses are separate. Except, that is, when they overlap. The couple maintains a fluid approach to their projects, working on their own as appropriate and together when possible. Her workshops and theatrical training are accessed through her “Movement and Characters” website. His business is called MOKM Creative Services, derived from a play-on-words of “creative mock-ups,” he says, which are something a designer does a lot of in the design process.
They met in New York City through a performance group for which he was producing the music and she was involved with through dance. The two began dating, and on the rare day off they’d come up to New Paltz, where Gertler hails from. “He would bring me here for dates, and I just fell in love with the place,” Barnhill says. “I kept on saying to him, ‘Can we go back?’”
Now married five years, they’ve lived in New Paltz for the past two. “It was a big decision for me to move up here,” she says. “But this is home base now; this is where our future is. And I love the healthiness that I feel up here.” Originally from St. Louis, Barnhill moved to New York City after graduation in 2006 to pursue her dreams of a performance career. And like others who have made their way north from the city, Barnhill says she’s encouraged by all the artistic talent in the area. “New York is way bigger than just Manhattan!”
For Gertler, New Paltz is coming home. He first left the region he was raised in to pursue a career in music production. “I acquired a lot of the skills I use now through trying to get into the music industry,” he says, “needing websites, photography and videography.” Eventually Gertler began working for Beats by Dr. Dre and left the production work aside to hone in on photography and videography.
These days a lot of his work is focused on real estate and wedding videography. Gertler’s cinéma vérité approach to shooting weddings utilizes voiceover and on-camera interviews to tell the back-story of the couple and capture the details of their wedding in a personal way that unfolds like a mini-movie. Looking for “the moments that people miss or don’t usually pay attention to,” Gertler later edits the videos to a watchable length a bit longer than a music video.
His goals for his business include expanding upon the videography as well as focusing on brand-building in town with local businesses and artists, working with them to create a fresh look in their websites and graphic materials.
Barnhill says her niche is in being able to use her experience as an actor, dancer and singer to train students in a variety of skills — “because the more you can do, the more doors will open” — and in bringing the professional insight into what’s needed to succeed in an industry in which she’s still actively involved as a performer. “Things change so quickly in the entertainment field, so it’s good to have a teacher who is still actively performing who not only has the teaching qualifications but knows all the avenues in that world.”
Barnhill made her Broadway debut in 2009 and will appear in the upcoming Metropolitan Opera production of Elektra beginning April 14. She has appeared in Broadway runs of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Tony Award-winning Fela!(based on the life story of singer Fela Kuti) and Tony-nominated Leap Of Faith. Her improv skills were sharpened with the “Second City” troupe when she was a dance major at Columbia College Chicago, and Barnhill has taught through numerous studios that include the Mark Morris Dance Center in the city.
Her workshops in the New Paltz studio will be small, concentrated efforts for all age groups with a maximum of eight students per class to allow for personal attention. “I want to do something here where students don’t have to go to one location for dance, another for acting, another for singing,” she says. “My whole thing is collaboration with all these arts. And it’s not going to be about recitals or competitions; it’s really about process. It’s for the beginner student to find a fun way to get inside the art, and for an advanced student to continue to train and try to make a career out of it.” Classes will be held in spring, summer and fall sessions with private coaching year-round.
Barnhill will perform locally at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge on Friday, April 15 at 4 p.m., bringing a select group of students to perform a jazz movement presentation in the Quimby Theater. She has partnered with SUNY New Paltz in the past and plans to continue collaborating with local colleges. Her goals include growing the workshops offered through Movement and Characters as well as bringing movement into the daily lives of non-performers. “From a health and mental standpoint, you might be surprised how an improv class can be a different type of “medicine” that people won’t realize is making them feel good until they try it,” she says. “And that’s for everyone; the moms out there, and the people with nine-to-five jobs.”
Barnhill also has a background in movement therapy. She says that working with survivors taught her that a lot of healing happens in taking ownership of one’s body again through movement. “You get lost in the rhythms of the music and the process of being in the moment. And all while getting your heart rate up and stretching your imagination.”