Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Swashbuckling SwordPlay

posted by shawn at 2:02 PM

LIGHT SHIFT. MUSIC. THEN AN ALARM! SPENCER RUNS ON STAGE AND IS CONFRONTED BY GUARDS. MIGHTY STEEL FLASHES AS SWORDS ARE DRAWN – LET THE CARNAGE BEGIN! SPENCER FIGHTS HIS WAY WITH GREAT FLOURISH AND FURIOUS BLOOD THROUGH TWENTY – YES, I SAID TWENTY! – GUARDS. HE BESTS THEM ALL IN WAYS THAT MAKE ERROL FLYNN LOOK LIKE A CHILD. THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING BIT OF SWORDPLAY AND FIGHTING WE HAVE SEEN YET!

Sound exciting? Because to an actor…who will be playing the role of Spencer…I can tell you…this was the most intimidating stage direction I have ever read! This play is the biggest Furious production to date…fist fights, broom fights, rope fights, sword fights, and even ship battles. So…how in the world is a small nonprofit theatre company going to pull this off you ask?

To our surprise, simply by asking Hollywood’s Top Swordmaster Tim Weske to choreograph and train us (Master and Commander, Peter Pan, the History Channel's upcoming: Bible Battles)!

We had heard of Tim and his acclaimed SwordPlay studio in Burbank and knew he was the guy we needed to give the production’s sword fights that Old Hollywood Swashbuckling feel. While doing research, we rented a couple of Errol Flynn films; The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood…low and behold Mr. Weske is interviewed in the bonus features…it was fate that he was to work on our Fair Maid production.

Tim and six of his master instructor’s Brian, Orion, Nate, Kevin, Josh, and David whipped us into shape starting with the ground work of fencing techniques. ”LUNGE” “RETREAT” “ADVANCE” shouts would echo through the halls of the Pasadena Playhouse while the instructors would approach us individually and give adjustments to our form. In unison the cast “all for one and one for all” would go through the motions of this rigorous fight camp. I used leg muscles I never knew I had…and oh…did my legs hurt. All this before we even picked up a sword!

Each fight got its own name…its own music (composed by Emmy award winning Thom Sharp)…and its own choreographer. The fight described in the daunting stage directions above is called “The One on Twenty”. Although twenty men are ‘killed’ in this fight there are actually only 6 men fighting including myself and these five had to learn how to fight and die at least 4 times each. Our master instructor/choreographer for this fight is Brian “Spidey” Danner. He was very patient with us; breaking down the fight into sections or beats just like what we do with a script or a dance. In the beginning we took everything slow; learning how to put the beats together. His excitement was contagious. He made it look so easy and reassured us that we could also make it look easy. Once he was confident the choreography was ingrained in our heads, he added details. Leaping around the stage; jumping off people; and most importantly, humor.

As Spencer I am in 5 out of the 11 fights—and loving it! But I have learned that other fights are even more challenging than fighting my way with great flourish and furious blood through twenty men. The following fight against the great Joffer (Tony Tambi) where dialogue is interspersed between blows and sometimes simultaneous is on a different level. But in this fight I learned something I did not expect to learn: getting the crap beat out of you is just as fun as beating the crap out of someone else.

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