Why I do what I do: Writing edition

Obviously writing blog posts is not something I do on the most regular basis… but it’s also not the only thing I write. My most recent publication was the cover story in the Fall 2015 issue of The Fight Master, a little piece I’d been meaning to do for years, on a topic that grew out of my work on my 2012 MFA thesis: Sentiment du fer, proprioception, and using a prop as an extension of the self instead of just a dead thing in your hand.


Academia is infamous for a sort of “publish or perish” environment, but since my position is more practice than theory or research based, I’m actually not supposed to get any credit towards my tenure/performance reviews for publication (not that it hurts, especially with reviewers from other fields of academia in the chain of authority). But I do enjoy working things out on the page sometimes, sharing what I do and having something to show for it (a quality shared with screen work but often not with live theatre). And here’s the other thing: my “family” of peers, collaborators, co-conspirators, mentors, and friends, is scattered around the globe, while I’m in a relatively small, isolated community now. Writing is also a sort of letter to my friends in my field… because it gets lonely.

And sometimes they even write back, and it becomes a chance to catch up and feel close again. Take, for example, this lovely text I got from an SAFD Certified Teacher I knew from our Seattle days (neither of us have lived there now for years).

I just read your article in the FM. Fantastic! From the first sentence to the last I was transfixed and educated. I am seriously going to memorize every word and put it in my classes. So well put. Great insight. Accessible. Man, you just killed it. Thank you. Wyoming is very lucky.

…Well, any acting teacher or student would be ridiculous not to read this article, as it will truly enlighten both sides. It was just wonderful. Things over here are going well…   (etc.)

Or this lovely email from someone currently in London who I’d kill to get the chance to work with professionally (but only know in person through workshops) and have stolen several acting/stage combat exercises and ideas from:

So I am sitting in a coffee shop having done the fight call on a Les Liasons I’m working on and I’m reading the FM magazine on my iPad and enjoying chilling. In particular I am reading your article and half laughing and sighing as I have two actors that are having a hard transition from prop holders to swordsman.
I hope all is well with you and that you are thriving out West. Hope we get the chance to cross swords again before too much time passes. Meantime I shall have a refill, a cookie and a re-read in hope of inspiration.
Best wishes

The workshop thing is real; it’s not at all uncommon for us to have friends we feel close to, but actually only see every couple years (or less) at regional, national, or international workshops. While I started taking stage combat classes in DC, my first real exposure was through the Paddy Crean workshops, which have settled into an every-other-year pattern now, and I haven’t quite been able to find a way to all of them… missed one during grad school when I was working on my National Michael Chekhov Association teacher certification (which is currently pending review, after a return visit this past January to their Gainesville FL workshop), too expensive to go to the one in Australia, but I’ve done every Banff-based workshop since 1998/1999 except one, and made it to one in Scotland as well. I’ve been student, been staff, been scholarship recipient, and while I don’t yet feel qualified to be full faculty at that international level (these are still my mentors we’re talking about), I have gotten to teach a few evening classes there. I’m excited to return this coming year for the 25th anniversary – again, there are people there who I’ve spent probably a total of just a month or two around, but spread out so we’ve known each other almost two decades.
So I do what I can by way of workshops. For a couple years I was able to assistant-coordinate the VA Beach Bash, but being so far geographically removed now that wasn’t really sustainable. Regional workshops have gotten more regional it seems, making those gigs harder to get for those of us who have to fly (generally on multiple airplanes, or else drive a few hours then fly from Denver) to get there. I’ve started a workshop here in Wyoming, but it’s small; last year it just meant bringing out one of my former teachers, Fight Master Geof Alm from Seattle. This year it’s grown a bit thanks to a grant, but that may be just a one-time thing if I can’t get more people coming in from out of town, and again, there’s that location issue.
Which leaves the fleeting and shallow chats of Facebook, an occasional email, or more formal and open venues like writing.
The Theatrical Firearms Handbook is my best-known and most widely available work by far, as well as the one I put the most work into. Originally published through Focal Press, the parent company Taylor & Francis is shuffling around which imprint handles what, so the next printing will appear with a Routledge label. Last heard we were at about 200 copies remaining – of an original 3000 or so copy run, so with e-book sales too, that’s not too bad. Means some time this Summer I’ll also probably have a chance to make another round of minor revisions/updates before the next printing happens (and they did seem to think there would be one, although perhaps not instantly), so if anyone has more feedback that’s useful. I’ll add it to my approximately 2-page list thus far. Feedback by way of reviews is also welcome – it’s been reviewed in the Fight Master and in Theatre Topics, but not elsewhere that I’m aware of, and it’s only got four reviews on Amazon, three on Goodreads, and I’d love to see it get out a bit more. While it hasn’t spawned any workshops, etc. as yet, which had been one of my hopes for it, I’m sure it didn’t hurt my employability when applying for faculty jobs like the one I now have in Wyoming… and it has also resulted in a few old stage combat friends dropping me a line, which is always nice.
Here’s to my fight family, be they SAFD, IOSP, Martial Artists, or other. I’ve heard it (mostly the SAFD) sometimes derogatorily called an old-boy’s-club, and I imagine when you’re just coming into it and many of the teachers seem to have these long-standing odd friendships, that might be how it comes across. But trust me, we don’t bite (most of us anyway), we’re open and friendly (for the most part, as with any demographic), and most of us are almost as happy to find new friends to play with as we are to meet our old ones. Older by the day, all of us. But that’s perhaps something I can talk about later here… maybe some time after next week, when I’m 40-something. So come to a workshop, look one of us up and get together over coffee or something stronger when you can, or start to get to know us through our writing. We’ll be around.



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