October 19, 2010

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hamlet

I have been blessed with the good fortune to be given random assignments around the theatre directly corresponding to my random array of talents.  This month’s random assignment was as fight director for our first show of the year, Magic Time, which opens tomorrow and runs through the weekend.

The show is about a summer stock company doing a production of Hamlet.  The actors are undergrads with no previous fight or martial arts experience.  They barely knew what a sword was before being handed over to my loving claws.  Over the course of a month, I managed to teach them enough about stage combat to get through my choreographed fight safely.

I don’t have a lot to say about the experience other than I love the theatre, I love swords, and I love when those two loves intersect.  Acting as a mentor for young actors is always a privilege and an honor.  I’ve been where they are.  They come to rehearsal with problems and I know exactly what they’re talking about.  They’re struggling with big life things; why couldn’t I be happy with a normal job, what am I going to do when I graduate college, what the hell is Hamlet trying to say?  There is nothing more satisfying than having answers to (or at least thoughts about) these questions.

I love teaching theatre and I hope I get to do it for the rest of my life. 

With that in mind, here’s a look at how the fight progressed.  I didn’t start videoing them until there was really something to tape, so the initial blunders and foibles have gone unrecorded.  Trust me, that’s likely for the best.

You can hear the pneumatic stapler going in the background as well as my commentary.  At this point, the boys were still working on remembering their moves more than anything.  There is little to no acting involved and everything you see is pure mechanics.  As a point of reference, I would say that such level of performance is typical for a week out from the show.

It did panic the director though.  After a series of frantic text messages, I convinced him that muscle memory would kick in if the boys put some serious effort into rehearsal.

Not to say “I told him so”, but here they are at their first dress (Monday night).

The fight is about ten times more polished, though the speed is a little fast.  You can barely see the swords so, while it feels like it flows, the audience is left wondering “what the heck just happened?”  As an actor unschooled in the art of stabbing things, this speed feels AWESOME.  It feels real, visceral, adrenaline-filled.  However, it’s very difficult for an outside observer to follow.  Unfortunately, going much slower than this could put them back to half speed (as above).  The trick is to slow things down enough that the audience can follow the fight, but keep them fast enough that it doesn’t look halting.  It is a tough balance to achieve, though it does get easier with experience.  Unfortunately, that was exactly what my boys lacked.

You can see that they have slown it down a bit which really works in their favor.  They’ve hit prime “fight time” in this one.  Also note how well they’re taking my notes and, when they do take them how much better they look.  Little tweaks, things like getting the stance right, breathing, dropping your center, make all the difference in a fight.  They make the fight safer, and make it look more polished and professional.  Note especially the head butt sequence.  This will come into play in a moment.

Here they are doing it again tonight after my having given them notes and with some dramatic music which does not really belong there but the sound guy was having fun.

The speed is good, their stances are good, they are remembering to breathe (which I know because they are making vocalizations).  You can tell where they are really concentrating because they go silent, but if they remember to breathe that issue will be alleviated.  The head butt sequence, even though they only adjusted it by about three inches, looks worlds better.  You can hear me note it on the video. 

They’re going to look great when the show opens tomorrow.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.

….and nobody’s gotten stabbed yet!

1 comment:

Rob Archer said...

Great to see the work that goes into making a stage fight work, and awesome to know someone who does it. It looks amazing. Break a limb opening night! (You choose whose)