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.

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