Had my first fight rehearsal on Saturday for Wreck the Airline Barrier– the link there’s from the last time this went up in Seattle, but with the same director.  This time it’s coming to Balagan, but with a different stage/audience setup than I’ve seen anyone use in that space before.  Always interesting to see people mix up how things are done, and the end result this time actually makes my job easier, in that the audience is all on one side.  Generally at Balagan it’s audience on two sides, which makes masking hits much more challenging.

Unusually for me I didn’t get to read the script ahead of time on this one, and still haven’t read the whole thing, so I can’t say much about the show as a whole, but it has some interesting things going for it from my perspective.  Training two casts at once, which is something new for me; they want to do a longer run, possibly have the option of traveling maybe, so they’re training two sets of cast.  Usually I make my choreography out of working with the specific actors who will be doing it- I’m glad both sets were there, so I can help show how things might need to be altered and coach both sets.  For example, one guy’s got a bad knee, so the fall has to be a bit different when he does it, with adjustments later for the fact that he doesn’t travel back as far on the fall.  It’s a good reminder for me though, not to get too set on my typical way of doing things; there’s plenty of situations in the professional world where cast will rotate through over time, and the people who originally developed the choreography for a play, musical, or stunt show may be several generations removed from the people who are now performing it.  As with any game of ‘telephone’, one has to wonder how much is lost each time, if they don’t bother to bring in the fight choreographer again, or just re-do some of the fights, to help them make sense to the new cast members.  Things really do work better when the actors have a specific idea of why the moves are there- knowing that a grab, brush off, and grab again isn’t just a gratuitous bit of filler but is both setting up a flinch reaction that hides a knap, as well as giving one character the frustration build that explains a subsequent hit… that understanding shows in the final product, and it makes it easier for them to remember the moves as well.

This production’s also a good reminder of what a small community it is here in Seattle; while I haven’t met the director before, the stage manager and fight choreographer from the previous run is someone I met in Banff at the Paddy Crean, who’s gone through the local Stunt School, is in my Single Sword class with Geof Alm now, and is one of the directors I think of the little webisode pilot pitch I’m in.  One half of one of the casts I was working with in the fight appeared in Romeo & Juliet at Balagan when I was doing the fights for it, although she didn’t have a fighting role.  I think she’s happy to get to play this time.  The whole two-degrees-of-separation-at-most phenomenon helps me out, I think, since word of mouth and referrals are my main source of gigs, and it also gives me a vested interest in helping the people I work with improve their knowledge and ability with each collaboration.  I’m kinda excited about the networking and future collaboration that should come out of things like my upcoming workshops.

At any rate, my work there was very well received, which is always nice, and we got to get into the good stuff; not just the techniques, but at least touching on principles that make things work, and the acting elements that make them look good.  Especially when dealing with sexual violence, which this scene starts out as, what makes it dramatically powerful and effective really isn’t the technical blocking of the moves- if you do it right, that won’t even really be noticed.  It’s the intensity, the conflict, the story being told, and that can make some hard demands on actors.  It exposes generally the actresses to some stuff that, were they to find themselves taking it personally or getting too lost in the scene, can be humiliating, demeaning, and traumatic.  It requires generally the actors to do stuff that makes them look like complete jerks- this is not your ‘cool’ badguy anymore, this is much smarmier, and requires some risk-taking from your average sensitive new-age seattle guy.  You never know walking into a rehearsal which of these are going to be issues with whom, but it’s decent odds you’ll be dealing with some of it.

These are issues I’ve really only seen addressed at workshop classes on domestic and sexual violence, and even those are only occasionally offered.  On the one hand, that’s surprising, given how frequently it seems to come up in my work.  On the other hand, it’s much less ‘fun’ than playing at swashbuckling or martial arts, much less ‘cool’ than learning a new way to pretend to take out sentries or disarm attackers.

I’ve also known a number of people who felt this was a non-issue, didn’t see any problem, and probably think those last couple paragraphs are a waste of everyone’s time… but the fact is, even if you aren’t affected yourself, if you’re going to be an effective choreographer, fight partner, etc, you need to have at least some awareness of what can come up.

Something I want to do more thinking about, anyway- how to tap into things usually buried pretty deep, how to look after yourself and your partner and transition safely in and out of those dark places, how to build comfort with your ensemble in working on sexual violence, and perhaps how to approach all those issues from a pedagogical (teaching) perspective.

I’ll be back in rehearsal with them on Wednesday, but then I think that’s it for this show.


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