Ramp It Up (and Down)

Link and Video-heavy. Scroll down if you want to skip the exposition/explanation of terms.

Filmmaking blog site Story & Heart had a little piece on Speed-Ramping that reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now. It’s a popular gimmick in screen action these days – a rebirth of the early kung-fu cinema fascination with slo-mo, kickstarted by the Matrix’s “Bullet Time”, now with the added flow of speed ramping (perhaps first seen by most Americans in 300, but now near ubiquitous) and enhanced by modern computer graphics.

Skip to about 3:45 to see the speed ramping really start.

My first time doing choreography or performance specifically for slo-mo was probably this trailer Marty Martin did for the TV reality show On The Lot a while back, where I was a ninja and the ninja wrangler (yes, I claimed that title).

He was the first one to point out to me personally that if it was being cranked down in post, we didn’t necessarily have to shoot at full speed either. That allows for near-misses and safe fights even with less rehearsal time (as he had on this shoot), but as the ninja lowering himself into frame, I discovered that doing a bunch of takes of that is a lot harder on your abs done slowly than it would have been if we’d been going full speed.

Obviously you have to match speeds when there’s more than one of you on screen, and there are some things that just don’t work that way, such as anything involving gravity, since you can’t slow that down (without wires or other cheats). I’ve had the pleasure of assisting and playing with (i.e. workshop, not paid professional gigs) SAFD Fight Master and professional fight coordinator Richard Ryan a few times now, including once between his work on Sherlock and his starting Vikings, and he pulled me aside to test a few things with speed ramping – which meant I got a few tips as well. For example, walking, at least in a wide shot, tends to look a little Keystone Cops; again with the gravity problem… you can still shoot slow-mo, but at that point you need to be performing it full speed.

Skip to 1:40 for the excellent use of speed-ramping:

I guarantee you if this had been common practice when Richard did Troy, Achilles’ trademark leaping thrust (Brad/Buster – not sure if that was star or stuntman half the time) would have been done that way.

All of this has been facilitated by both newer ultra-high speed cameras like the Phantom line (which can shoot in the tens of thousands of frames per second, or over a million if you drop resolution) and even amateur consumer options like that built into the new iPhones.

I think it’s worth clarifying a bit a distinction between shooting for slo-mo just to visually accent a moment and those shots actually performed at a different speed, and then either sped up or slowed down further in post. The former needn’t matter to the performer except to really give it your all in that moment… but might to the choreographer it should (for pacing/rhythm, aesthetic style, and more) and definitely does to the cinematographer, as it needs to be shot at a high frame rate. The art department people (including props and costumes) also need to know, as there are things you can get away with at speed that you can’t in slo-mo, like stunt doubles’ faces, sloppy cast rubber prop doubles, the green scored plastic or crimps on blank rounds being ejected, or pads ‘printing’ through your costume a bit. It’s another example of the higher standards demanded by ultra-HD and high frame rate in general, as written up well in a recent post about props on Bloomberg.

For the former, just know it can make things more epic, and the more you have things flying through the air usually the better (not just the performer(s), but also atmospherics like water or fire or birds flying or wood shattering, etc.).

I had a broadsword class practice session last semester where none of my actors showed up, not too long after I’d upgraded to the iPhone 6, so I decided while waiting around bored to play with the slo-mo function on my phone. This is just an out-of-shape old guy dicking around; most of what I do in it would look distinctly unimpressive at full speed, but crank it down enough, add some color correction and music and other effects (just free stuff I have on my phone – this was all shot and processed on my phone in a half hour or so), and it begins to look more epic:

What I didn’t do, as it can only be done for one part per original video on the iPhone, is much actual speed-ramping; the slo-mo feature lets you pick a start and stop point for slo-mo, but only one per video, so this is just consistently slo-mo.

Obviously when you’re not performing full speed, you have a couple valid options: Either speed it up or slow it down. If you try to speed it up to normal speed, you do need to be careful – if it’s not supposed to look distorted, the human eye spots things that don’t fit… you get into a sort of Uncanny Valley of time. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Temporally-distorted footage (either sped up or slowed down) is easier to sell even if it’s a tad off.

Safety-wise, shooting slower lets you do two things different in a fight scene; contact hits and near-misses. Obviously a near-miss with a sword or something is much easier to do safety in slow-motion than at full speed. You just need to really sell both the effort of the attacker and the reaction of the avoider, because feeling easy and safe can sometimes read on the performer’s face and body, and that’s probably not the story we’re trying to tell.

Contact hits are a bit trickier. What we, the audience, want to see is displacement of flesh. We want to see one thing press into another, maybe produce some ripples even. The Sherlock Holmes example above is great for that.

There are two parts to a contact hit; the speed of initial impact, and the follow-through displacement, where you punch into or even through the target. Either one of these by itself won’t do much damage – one will make a sound but little effect, while the other will move you but not really hurt. When trying to do damage, you put them together… you don’t punch someone’s skin, you punch their internal organs, and you do it at speed.

Yes, as a stunt performer or stage combatant you can do contact hits at speed if you’re really good at managing penetration without looking like you’re pulling your hits (so it’s a shallow slapping impact more than a jarring displacement of internal organs and bone). Any follow-through has to be either not done or separated, so it’s a fast shallow hit followed by a push, rather than a fast hit that pushes through. It’s tricky to do both convincingly and safely.

Stuntman and SAFD CT Mike Yahn probably holds the prize for person who’s hit me the hardest without hurting, sadly not on set but just following a smart-ass comment I made outside a movie theatre where we’d seen something he worked on. It got the automatic “OW” reaction and a great sympathetic flinch from the others with us, but followed immediately by a realization of “Actually, that doesn’t hurt. Well done!” Then again, this is the friend who taught me the adage that in movie stunts, you need to hate your partner just 25% – enough you are willing to cause a little pain, but not so much you actually want to damage them. It’s a harder-edged version of Richard Ryan’s “be a good partner, not a nice partner”, which in generalized form I take into all my acting classes as well.

Slow down your performance and it becomes a bit easier to do (and take) contact hits, but different; You can’t put that pause between the two parts of the punch or it’ll show – instead, you just have to make sure you have a consistent speed, one that’s slow enough that it won’t really hurt, but no slower… and you really have to act it all. The ‘victim’ should be as relaxed as possible; as with all acting, we want to see you be effected by the actions of the other. Here’s a clip from when this topic came up during a film-fighting class at the UWYO Stage Combat Workshop last Spring – and no, the volunteer punching me wasn’t really acting it, but that wasn’t really the point. Again, this was a quickie iPhone video, both the shooting and the editing.

As you can see, he’s punching just hard enough to make a little ripple in the opposite cheek on impact, but slow enough it doesn’t actually hurt me at all. That’s what we want – although for a SAG stunt shoot, I’d probably tell him to go ahead and hit a bit faster and harder than I did for this volunteer workshop gig. I hadn’t realized before doing this that my habitual go-to reaction to a cross punch in stage combat would look like a strange duck-face in slo-mo. Might need to work on that.

Really, this post ought to exist in pure video podcast form I suppose. Some day, when I have more free time… I’d love to hear any of your experiences with slo-mo or speed ramping, or your questions.

Madness all around

First things first: A big shout-out of congratulations to the new SAFD Certified Teachers (so new I think they aren’t on the website yet), who completed and passed the TCW last week:

  • Aaron Preusse
  • Adam Miller-Batteau
  • Amie Root
  • Caitlyn Herzlinger
  • Christopher Elst
  • Collin Bressie
  • Danette Baker
  • Jake Guinn
  • Mike Lubke
  • Mitchell McCoy
  • Nicolas Santana
  • Samantha J McDonald
  • Travis Simms
  • Zev Steinberg

Almost all of these fine folks I’ve had at least some interactions with in my 17 or so years with the SAFD, and I’m glad to see them stepping up.

Just wrapped Mad Gravity last night, a Bill ‘Missouri’ Downs farce that’s going to be in print later this year. It was the last of three shows in the Snowy Range Summer Theatre season. As both actor and fight choreographer it was a hoot – whether in spite of or thanks to the accelerated 8 day rehearsal period, I’m not sure, but it’s been great to be trusted with a big role again, and to have a collaborative relationship with cast, designers, director, and playwright (the latter also being the director). The whole team was a pleasure to work with. Being a performer in the venue where you also teach both acting and stage combat definitely adds a bit of pressure to do well, but mostly it’s self-imposed. The cast included a current adjunct, a professor from the English department, a current student, and a recent graduate, all of whom did swimmingly. Really, I think the only things that suffered from the shorter rehearsal period were the opening night comic timing (since we had no real preview audience to dial it in with) and my body, since the lack of rehearsal time with the fall through the breakaway table (my own idea – nobody to blame but myself) meant it took me a couple nights to set the fall just right. Kept instinctively trying to make a roll/tumble, something I’ve favored over breakfalls since my Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu days in the 90s… but the need to hit the low table (a short end-table, really) with sufficient force, as well as the wrap-around semi-thrust audience pretty close to our working area, and working with my partner (who did fine, but has never really done any stage combat or movement work before) on the setup, meant that I kept being just a bit off on my timing or angle. I’d either tuck a bit too close to the ground post-table-impact, and nail my shoulder (I think that was Wednesday), or force a change from a straight impact into a side/barrel roll mid-fall to avoid ending up in the feet of the front row of audience (Opening night – left an impressive bruise on my hip somehow). Figured out Thursday at fight call that I needed to just make it a damn flail and splat; do it as a straight-up front fall, with a scramble afterwards instead of a roll into position. Worked perfectly after that, and no more bruises or bumps. The table itself was a mix of my suggestions to the designer (wood dowel peg attachments) and their ideas (hinges and hot glue), in an attempt to make it easily resettable, able to be picked up and moved prior to the break, etc. Granted, I still ripped out the hinges at least two nights… but darned if it didn’t look pretty and get a great reaction when I did.

You can see the remains of the table on the left.

You can see the remains of the table on the left.

None of the rest of the cast had any stage combat experience to speak of, and it’s no coincidence that a cushion ended up exactly where Peter had to kneel for a page of negotiations in the above position. Everyone was game though, and in the end the only casualty was a glass martini pitcher that we really knew shouldn’t have been used in the first place. First dress rehearsal I forgot to shift it to the front of the coffee table in the scene before the second fight, where I did a backroll over Peter’s lap, followed by getting punched in the face, on the couch about a foot away from the coffee table… we all kinda saw that coming, but I did make it a good week of rehearsal before realizing the inevitable.

So yes, choreography challenges for the gig included the usual (not enough rehearsal time, inexperienced cast) and some less usual (small house & set, semi-thrust stage, some hits being done very close to the audience, some scripted absurdity involving what amounted to combat twister), but I ended up really happy with the way it all fit in the character and story arcs of the piece, and we got some great audience response to the fights (and other aspects, but this is, after all, a themed blog). I’ve always been a bit hesitant to choreograph contact slaps, for example, but since the situation worked best with contact hits, and I was the one doing them, I decided it was time to get over that, and that slap always got at least as good a response as the more ‘serious’ hits.

I’ll end with a video share previously posted to the Fight Designer Facebook page, done while hurriedly getting some props ready for both a showcase for the successful High School Institute class and a rental gig (that completely fell through, as they could never really decide what they wanted). Hoping to have time to do some less-rushed video podcasts this Summer, but we’ll see how it goes – Summer is rapidly rushing by, and while the gigs are I think done for the season, there’s family and course prep and other demands on my time.

Off Golden Pond

Wrapped my first full stage acting gig in ages just last night. I did a staged reading a couple months ago, and had a brief walk-on role in Richmond a few years back, plus a couple other events (like a stadium demo in DC with Robb Hunter), but really I haven’t done much by way of stage acting in the better part of a decade now. I was recruited into the Snowy Range Summer Theatre for two of the three shows they have this year, On Golden Pond, which just wrapped, and Mad Gravity, the third show that will close the season. It’s a semi-pro setup (a few equity contracts available) with a very accelerated rehearsal schedule – I think we had a week and a day to put up On Golden Pond, although the stars, Pete and Lynn Simpson, started earlier. They’re akin to Wyoming royalty, and it’s rare to find anyone who’s been doing theatre in Wyoming who doesn’t know them and/or their family. It was great working with them both, as well as getting to meet some of their clan who came to support them. They’re both past the age of their characters, in a play about getting old, and their ability to tackle those roles was impressive. The local public radio station did a nice piece on it a couple weeks ago, as we were rehearsing. We did get one review, in the student paper – actually a rarity in these parts, due largely I think to the typical one-week runs of shows – but frankly I think the writer (a student of mine and actor in my show last Fall) missed the point about a few things, including Norman’s character (who’s supposed to be a morbid, grumpy old man who’s hard to get along with – that’s the whole point), the what might be politely called ‘simple’ character of Charlie (who’s laugh, even at his own jokes, is also a plot point in the script), the pace of life of an older couple in their summer home, and the logistics of scene-change costume changes for someone born in 1930. There may also have been some bias in his comparisons, since his younger brother played the child (another role whose execution he objected to) in the Cheyenne production he mentions (which must have been cut, to be 90 minutes). To be fair though, we did have some technical issues the night he came. Regardless, I had fun losing the verbal sparring match every night with Pete as the curmudgeonly Norman, and also getting to know some of my peers in a different capacity; the cast also included one of our regular affiliate faculty and the music professor who directed Candide this Spring (for which I came in briefly to choreograph the fights), and the director was our regular costume designer. The crew for the season is a mix of students and recent graduates and a few outside hires, as well as our regular shop foreman and others.

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A couple shots from backstage, while waiting to use my cellphone to call the cabin in the last scene.

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The High School Institute also started up last week, so I’ve been giving a dozen rising Juniors a crash course in stage combat and to some degree acting. Turns out Pete Simpson Sr. was involved in the creation of that program, and his son (Pete Simpson Jr., a UWYO graduate and professional actor) was in the first class. I’ll have them for the next two weeks, about eight hours a week. Then as soon as that’s done we dive into Mad Gravity rehearsals, where I’ve got a larger role and will also be choreographing a few fights.

Actually had a nice burst of rental business this month, which puts me back in the black despite picking up a few new toys for the inventory. Somewhere in here I’m hoping to sneak in some re-organizing of the props storage space, as well as some other projects around the house. We’ll see how it goes, but if anyone is interested in converting old university surplus file cabinets into blank gun storage, I can probably share what I end up doing. The university props storage will be changing locations this summer or fall as well, so maybe I can try out a few ideas for them.

As a final shout-out; 21 hours to go on a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for a blu-ray release of one of the first features I ever worked on, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. After their struggles with the initial distributor, I’m glad the good folks at Dead Gentlemen were able to get the rights back and start recouping some of their investment. I’m equally glad that their struggles with it didn’t prevent them from doing a number of awesome projects in the meantime, including the GAM3RS: Hands of Fate, JourneyQuest, and a number of other projects that were equally good but where I didn’t get to come and play with them. ;)

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Year One Done

Grades are in, the school year’s over, and the first hopefully-annual UWYO Stage Combat Workshop is in the bag.

The last week before the workshop, a university photographer came and snapped some shots of the broadsword class practicing for their Skills Proficiency Test. I’m hoping to work with our graphics person to make some stage-combat themed recruiting material for next Fall’s annual recruiting blitz.

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Everyone who tested in Broadsword passed, with two recommended passes and a recommended renewal, and those who didn’t have to duck out to set up the Dram Prom awards event for the Associated Student of the Performing Arts were able to get a great little master-class in broadsword from Maestro Alm as a part of the SPT.

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Maestro Alm in Laramie

 

Sadly Geoff “Jefe” Kent had to back out last-minute when a LORT theatre made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (can’t begrudge him – besides, they’re renting my props), but Alm and I had it covered. Classes included:

  • Swashbuckling Single Sword
  • Intro to Knife
  • Acting the Injury
  • Fighting for Camera
  • Western Bar Fight Gone Ugly: Bottle vs. Knife
  • Cowboy vs. Indian; Sabre vs. Tomahawk & Knife

The real drawback from the smaller teaching staff was that students just didn’t have choices in which classes they attended, something I hope to remedy next year.

We also didn’t get to do the cowboy gun-spinning class that’s become one of Jefe’s specialties. Hopefully that too will come in next year. It’s a bit of a Wyoming thing, both the cowboy (our mascot) and the guns. One thing I didn’t mention from the year’s highlights in the last post was a state tour I did with other new faculty in the Fall, which included the museum center in Cody. The Buffalo Bill museum area is of great interest to those in stage combat, showmanship, outdoor theatre, recreation, etc. but perhaps most obviously relevant to readers of this blog would be the Cody Firearms Museum. Took a number of pictures there, some of which ended up on the Facebook page I created for the Theatrical Firearms Handbook.

I’ve got a number of big ideas for where I’d love to see this workshop go if we can grow it enough, but first I need to see how many people will be willing to travel here and pay for something like that – we only had a couple people from out of town this time around, both from Cheyenne (an hour’s drive), and both took off mid-day Saturday when it started snowing. There’s an awesome off-campus location that would give us multiple stages and sets for different action-related themes, if I could ever get something like that established here.

Other plans for the future include finding ways to work with aluminum training blade makers Keen Edge Knives (semi-local; CO based), building up my gear and skills and experience with moviemaking (which could be a good pretense for some more video podcasts as I try things out), and more work on the house, which could include getting to finish setting up the props storage room and shop areas I hope. I’m also acting in two shows in the coming months and teaching a stage combat class for a high school institute run through the UW. Should be plenty to keep me just the right amount of busy – never bored, but still able to take a gig here or there if something comes up.

WYO Catch-up… and Workshop!

Obviously I’ve been neglecting my industry blog. It’s been an exciting academic year, one that draws to a close in just a few weeks. To allow for a few highlights:

  1. Directing The Liar
  2. Participating in the recruiting process, including TX Thespians, CO Thespians, and other events. I look forward to seeing some of those students starting in the Fall.
  3. My first ACTF festival (Region VII), including teaching several successful workshops, and watching our students win several awards. One went on to nationals and won an award there as well.
  4. Teaching classes both new and old to me and to the University, including Beginning Acting, Intermediate Acting, Acting Styles, Acting for the Camera, and Stage Combat: Broadsword. Acting for the Camera has also given me the pretense to learn more about not just the acting side but also practice shooting & editing scenes.
  5. Taking a group of our students on tour with a Shakespeare show around various cities in Wyoming… and some locations in-between.
  6. The continuing process of discovering our local resources: Community Theatre organizations, Filmmaker groups, locations, etc. and I’m still just getting started. If the last move (from Seattle to Richmond) is any indication it probably will take about two years. Then again, it may be a smaller community to meet out here.
  7. Getting the props space set up finally. It’s still a work in progress, but they finally have their own room again, and with a garage as well, I’ll have some shop space too.
  8. Being elected SAFD Regional Representative for the Rocky Mountain Region.
  9. Getting to return to the Paddy Crean Workshop as a student, thanks to the Eagle Scholarship. I did teach one evening class while there, but it was great just to get to study again, and to revisit the international workshop series I’ve been involved in almost every time (it’s typically biannual, and I’ve only missed one) since 1998/99.
  10. Returning to the VA Beach Bash as Assistant Coordinator again (second year doing that). I got to co-teach some classes as well for the first time there, including a gun disarm/retention class with former SWAT officer Dave White and one on acting injuries and deaths with SAFD President David Brimmer. Plus got to have some good silly fun. Between these two events, the Paddy and the Bash, I’ve been fortunate to get time to reconnect with the peers, mentors, and students who’ve helped me get where I am, and who I miss now that I’m there. Or here.
  11. And the big upcoming item… Starting the inaugural University of Wyoming Stage Combat Workshop!

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This year’s a pilot project really, bringing in Fight Master Geof Alm from Seattle for the weekend (he’ll be adjudicating our Broadsword class as a part of this) and Fight Director Geoff “Jefe” Kent from Denver on Sunday… but if it proves to be something there’s interest for, and/or if the grant application goes through for next year, I’ve got some grand plans for where I’d like to see this become as an annual regional workshop event.

Otherwise life continues; I just performed in a staged reading of a newish Bill Downs play tonight (and then caught up on Vikings so I can follow what Richard Ryan’s been up to), and will be acting in two of the three Snowy Range Summer Theatre shows and teaching for the High School Institute this Summer. Did a few brief fight moments for our production of Candide that opens next week. Shipping occasional rentals around the country, but still no local business, and the University isn’t allowed to rent from me due to conflict of interest rules. Proposing a class on filming action scenes for Summer 2016. Finding ways to stay professionally engaged as best I can.

Hoping to have time to do another little video podcast after classes end, now that I’ve been playing with my video setup more. Any requests for topics? Thinking I might do something about airsofts as props, especially the shell ejecting versions.

Cowboy Country.

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So it’s been a while. For anyone not following me or Fight Designer, LLC on Facebook or otherwise in contact… I’ve moved. I’m now pretty well established in Laramie, WY; been in the new job at the University of Wyoming almost a month, ditto with the new house, and it’s about a month and a half in Laramie now. Need to figure out how to change all the little sub-menus on all my web accounts to reflect that, including the little info bar to the right. Soon.

The props inventory is still in boxes in the garage, with the exception of some odds & ends I’ve already pulled for classes. It’ll likely remain that way until I get the unfinished basement finished, something I’ve put most of my free time into, but that still just means most of one main room with drywall hung and not taped – it’ll be a while. Something about full teaching load, directing a show, raising a family and then both my wife and I also getting sick for a few weeks… it slows you down.

That said, I’m loving the new job, will love the house once I can get more of the downstairs done, and there’s plenty to like about the town already. Amazing stars at night, on the way home from rehearsals. Bunnies and antelope everywhere. Anywhere in town is just a short drive, or slightly longer bike, away. Sunset over mountains. Plenty of places to get coffee if you have the time.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this all takes me, and hopefully to maintaining an active professional career on the side, including travel to… wherever there’s professional work. Would love to do more freelance directing, fight direction, workshop teaching, stunt work, etc. and my position should let me do that if I can land the jobs long-distance. All of you please keep in touch.

Props rentals will continue, mostly via internet & mail, given the scarcity of local projects. I’ve actually got some great new toys to play with, when I have the time to dig them out and get things up & running again. Hoping to get connected with the University groups that are doing short videos as well.

Got my first book statement as well (payment to follow next month I think) for The Theatrical Firearms Handbook; sounds like about 1,000 copies out there now, although I’m not sure how it breaks down in terms of paper vs. e-books. First print run was about 3,000, so if this rate keeps up we should get a second printing soon, which might also let me sneak in a few more minor corrections or updates. It’s now been reviewed by The Fight Master (journal of the Society of American Fight Masters) and Theatre Topics, as well as the smattering of consumer reviews on Amazon, B&N.com, Goodreads, etc.

Those of you who participate in theatre conferences, I hope to see you this year; I’ll be doing lots of thespian festivals around CO, TX, and WY, as well as SETC and wherever else we might be able to recruit good students. It’s an interesting program we’ve got going here, and I’ll be doing what I can to help spread the word.

Front Fire Fracas

My handful of posts on this blog about front-fire blank guns have been consistently some of the most popular entries, according to my WordPress stats. Those of you who have read them know that the biggest importer, if not sole importer, of front-venting blank props is Maxsell.

 

It’s a small business based in Florida, which was at the center of the big Glock lawsuit over the vaguely-Glock-like Zoraki blank guns that I wish I’d gotten ahold of before they were Glock-blocked (and summarily destroyed). And now it sounds like he’s in trouble again, and I’m worried that it might end up being bigger bad news for all the theatres and indie-filmmakers who have benefited from the brief window of opportunity for US purchases of the front-venting versions of blank guns Europe has enjoyed for decades. Stock is already way down at all the online vendors I know, and if Maxsell goes under there may not be anyone brave enough to tackle the bureaucracy and fill the void.

However, rather than do my own full write-up, I’m going to direct you over to the blog of my friend Jay, who runs Jay the Barbarian, and has already done as good a job of writing this up as I could. Readers of the Theatrical Firearms Handbook may well recognize Jay’s name, as he’s cited in it several times.

Suffice to say, anyone who knows people to call, email, petition, or otherwise lean on should do so, and help guide the rest of us; these props help our industry, and keep a lot of people from doing riskier things with real guns when they want that muzzle flash. I just ordered a couple more, despite the bad timing for Fight Designer, both to show my support and to make sure I don’t lose out like I did with the other Zoraki model. I encourage all of you who can to buy his stuff that IS in stock now, both while the company is in business (worst case scenario) and to help them with legal fees, etc. (best case scenario) HERE. (full disclosure – that’s my FighDesigner referral link, so I get a kickback there too. You can order directly as well.)

 

So here, without further ado, is the BARBARIAN LABS WRITEUP OF THE ISSUE.

 

 

 

 

Richard III

Richard III is now officially opened at Agecroft Hall. While it brings with it all the challenges of outdoor theatre (rain, insects, the occasional airplane or loud bar mitsva party down the block), it’d be hard to find a more appropriate venue for summer Shakespeare outside of one of the handfuls of period theatre recreations. Opening last night was sold out, and included a state Senator in the crowd as well as the usual healthy representation of RVA theatre professionals. EDITED TO ADD: We got a great review from Richmond Family magazine that specifically dubbed the final battle “Awesome”, so I’ll take that.

I’ll be the first to admit this show’s had some challenges, between budget for props, rehearsal schedule snafus, and weather interruptions during rehearsal, but I think they’ve pulled together a great production.

Here’s a few shots from dress rehearsal earlier this week. I need to get better with low-light action photography, and figuring out how to get the most out of my DSLR under those conditions, but at least some of these turned out well. You can see the sword I discussed previously – I had to do some repairs/improvements on the scabbard so it could hold up to Richard’s angry pacing, falls, and physical acting, but it’s working well now. I like that he’s the only one who’s sword isn’t cruciform.

Richmond Shakespeare, now merged with Henley Street and jointly putting on the Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft, was my first independently-gotten (not arranged through my grad program) fight direction client in Richmond, under then-visiting-director and now Artistic Director Jan Powell. Now they’re also my last. They’ve been great to work with over the years, and I think we’ll miss each other.

 

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Chekhov, Love, and Trust

On my way back now from an excellent, rejuvenating week with the National Michael Chekhov Association (NMCA), my second time attending their Teacher Intensive. The last one I went to was in Florida, and this was my first time up in Maine, where it’s hosted by the USM Gorham campus. Lovely area up here, plus a great group to play with. Not sure when I’ll make it back to finish my certification (I still need to do a capstone project) but I hope to see more of the same faces when I do, unlikely though that may be (we came from all over, including Canada and India). I had a blast doing a scene from a farcical comedy of [bad] manners (Blithe Spirit – still don’t really like the play but it did give us some fun scene work) with someone who’s done a ton of Commedia and physical theatre, and reminding myself what it’s like to perform live theatre (it’s been about a year), as well as the student and teacher aspects of the workshop.

With the imminent move to Wyoming, I was more than happy to join several of them after the closing dinner last night in an expedition to dip our feet in the Ocean. While I hope to get back up to the family (in-laws) place in Montauk some time in the coming year or two, it’ll be a challenge getting the family there from Wyoming, so this might be the last Atlantic dip for a while, and it just felt right.

So walking near the boardwalk in Portland, ME with good (if mostly new) friends, I spotted a man and a woman wrestling on the grass of a park in a way that made it not immediately clear if it was playful or serious. Not wanting to judge prematurely (I certainly played that way when younger and with the right friends – anyone remember the game “Wink”?) the other SAFD CT and I still instinctively veered across the street to keep an eye on things for a moment, determining it was playful just around the time the bicycle police rolled up. It brought up in subsequent conversation though the Mattis quote, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Here, put more eloquently (if less succinctly) is an elegant counterpoint to that paradigm.

The real question for those of us who regularly cross between the lands of theatre, stage combat, and martial arts, is if we can have it both ways. I want there to be a “Yes And” for this, as we like in improvisational theatre (which life basically is), but I know you can’t really live with one foot on each side of that fence, and sometimes you have to pay a toll when you cross the border.

This week I’ve got an editorial in the current issue of Friends Journal as well, the journal of the pacifist Quaker “Religious Society of Friends” I was raised in. It’s an edited (by them) version of a comment I left online a few months ago, but again reflects that boundary I regularly visit, a dual citizenship that has I think partly come to define who I am.

 

Wishing you all Beauty, Ease, Entirety, and Form, my friends.

Many 48hrs ago

With the local 48hr film fest rapidly approaching again (and no, I’m not planning on working any projects this year) I found that last year’s entry is now online, after being held back from public view post-contest while they used it to promote other projects. It was a pretty miserable, long, day of shooting, but I’ve gotta say the footage looks gorgeous, and it was the most ambitious 48hr film fest project I’ve ever seen attempted, let alone successfully accomplished. It won an audience award last year, but nothing from the judges.

Readers of The Theatrical Firearms Handbook may recognize a few things – I included one still, and the many of the props I used in the book were also supplied for the film. The practical SIG ARs in the book were the ones rented for this gig – wish we’d gotten to play more with them actually, but the only shot that ended up appearing on film is the one in the hallway, despite them renting two of the rifles and buying a box or two of .223 blanks.

For the two-shot kill (seeing both characters in frame) I supplied a shell-ejecting airsoft, a prop I was pretty happy with but haven’t gotten to use much yet. Hoping I’ll be able to find more armourer & gun wrangler gigs even while in Laramie next year, but we’ll see how that goes.

 

In other news, choreo continues on Richard III with Richmond Shakespeare/Henley St Theatre. Getting to use a rarely-used prop there too, although I ended up doing some customization for it; I bought a pair of Maciejowski Bible style falchions ages ago, and so far they’d only been used as Goblin weapons in Dorkness Rising. They were originally two-handed though, and our Richard III, like many, has a crutch, so I needed a single-hand sword for him.

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Before

To make it a managable weight & balance I had to not only grind down the edges a bit more, but add a proper pommel for counter-balancing it. I had some scrap brass chunks left over from previous projects, so that seemed doable. Saw the forward falcata-like sweep of some of the historical examples, and to get at least a vague reference to that shape, decided to run with Richard III’s Boar heraldry as a motif.

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During

 

The actor then requested a thicker grip, so I did a leather wrap job on it, and it seemed to be working well enough for him this week. The show opens in a couple weeks, with most of the cast & director on break this week so they can open The Complete Works (Abridged) this weekend.

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After

 

Did a brief armored combat demo for a boy scout gathering this last week, as a very last-minute thing I got talked into to bail other folks out who had agreed to do a fight show but had no partner, plan, props, costumes, or experience. I’d already turned down the job a week prior because I didn’t think I could do a job I’d be proud of, but in the end it worked out fine… despite the fight partner who’d been the one who agreed to the gig wandering in a few minutes after the job was supposed to start, and doing it in his shorts & t-shirt (no time to change into the costume stuff I’d brought for him). Professionalism, folks; allow extra time to get somewhere you’ve never been before, and arrive early – especially when you’re going to have to do an otherwise unrehearsed job!

 

I’m sure there’s pictures floating around from that somewhere online, but haven’t seen any yet. Didn’t have time to get my later-era harness up and fight-worthy (it needs a few fixes) so went with the maille hauberk plus pauldrons and gauntlets and helm, which was enough to make them happy, and for many of them to want a chance to get a picture of themselves wearing it (they did)… and for them to be amazed at how heavy it is (to them). The good thing about it being an 8am gig was that it wasn’t too hot yet, at least. I remember some very hot summers in Camlann Medieval Faire’s one-size-fits-none armor a decade or so ago…

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