Aug 7 2011

Smallsword/Time

Matt and I have been working the smallsword fight that I used in Estonia to see what we can discover. Like the Longsword fight, we’re finding many nuances in the kinds of attacks and responses we’re making, not to mention how important it is to be specific in the time of your actions. In addition, because the time in smallsword is so short, it’s of the utmost importance to be completely focussed on your partner, actions and intents. As soon as we do a run “just to go fast”, the whole thing falls apart, and with a quick weapon like smallsword, there’s no saving it. It’s like doing dialogue comprised of one word responses. Stop listening, and it’s so obvious that nothing is really happening.

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May 25 2011

The Hobbit is closing

Tomorrow, Thursday May 25, 2011, is closing night for The Hobbit in London, Ontario. I had the distinct privilege and pleasure to be fight director on this show. Director Susan Ferley brought together a fantastic group of people, and made my job much easier (and I daresay, more exciting) for it!

Part of my excitement, though, was being able to use my studies from the past year and half in a professional environment. Now, it’s not difficult to get a room of 13 men to play-fight, but play-fighting with connection and intent, that’s the next step. The exercises we did in our first hour together were instrumental at establishing that process. One of the cast members specifically noted that the first day’s work made the rest of the time so much easier: “since we’d been in that personal space already, learning the fight choreography was not a big deal.” By establishing both a method of working and physical familiarity, we could get past those introductory stages get right to the intensity and intricacy of the fight scenes.

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Jun 9 2010

3 fights in 12 hours

This actually took place two months ago, but it was a fantastic learning opportunity that I want to share.

Matt and I performed in “An Evening with Bill Shakespeare” at the Vaughan City Playhouse. This show was a collection of Shakespearean monologues performed by us, the six-person company, plus three fight scenes provided by me and Matt. Because I had been in Sweden, we had a very limited amount of time to prepare these fights: three days. We enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to test some of the theories and concepts that I have been developing in conjunction with my Chalmers Arts Fellowship. Three days, three fights. Three days of physical and mental exercise as we built new fights, learned them, rehearsed them into well-acted and physically polished scenes.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but here are the lessons we learned on this one:

1 – Stop when you’ve had enough
This one was reinforced, and it’s most obvious when we’re doing this kind mentally and physically intensive work. Grab some water ad let your brain rest. Also, recognize when you’ve reached your saturation point and stop working for a while. Perhaps you’re done for the day, perhaps you’ll get back to it in a few hours. However, there isn’t much point in pushing beyond that limit. You use your time less efficiently, and by training choreography in a state of exhaustion, you may find that you learn it with all sorts of little errors. Take a break and you can come back to it. On this project, we found that our time was most efficiently used when we worked 4 to 6 hour blocks with a mid-way break.

2 – Remember ALL the elements of your choreography.
For a long time, it’s been sufficient to focus on blade work alone. However, in this case and in many others, specific footwork is necessary as affects other elements of the fight, like rhythm and character expression. Without marking all of these elements the fight just didn’t work properly. One of our rehearsals, we set the choreography for the backsword and buckler vs. rapier and dagger fight. We were nearing the end of our ropes, so we worked a section and recorded it on video, and then left it for the day. When we revisited the fight the next morning, we had all the blade work right away, but it didn’t flow as smoothly as it did the day before until we re-discovered the other elements like intent. Just like working with text, it’s easier to remember when you’ve worked on the whole story.

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Mar 24 2010

Sweden Summary

I’m on the train to the airport now. Just passed Norrköping. There’s been a lot of activity since my last post, so I’ll start with a brief summary.

We finished up with group two in a similar fashion to the first group: blade actions and scenework. On that Thursday and Friday, Brad, Peppe and I (sometimes with Maria) went through the Durer counters. Yeup, all 120 of them. We tried to watch a movie on Friday night but we were all too tired and went to bed around 9:30, if I remember correctly. Saturday and Sunday we did a workshop with (my apologies if my spelling is wrong!) Per, Anders, Simon, Hilde, Ulf, Ida and Maria. We covered much of the same material, though in not as much detail because we had 2 days not 3. Brad left on Monday, and I took a day of rest. I was suffering from what Peppe calls “Workshop Hangover”! I was in bed most of the morning, not sleeping, but curled up in a ball while my body rested. The afternoon and evening I watched “Vanity Fair”, and chatted with Peppe and Maria. Finally, on Tuesday (yesterday) there was more discussion (mostly ironing out details for my visit in the fall), a Feldenkrais session with Maria, packed my bags, and watched more “Vanity Fair” with pizza, beer and cheese.

Themes that keep popping up in this work is that listening is of the utmost importance. Even more than that is how you respond to what you’re hearing. There’s a podcast that has a take on what I’m point at. Here’s the link: http://www.zenmartialarts.com/wordpress/2007/01/05/stimulus-vs-response/ So by “living in the space between the inhale and exhale” we can redirect ourselves from the knee-jerk reactions, and truly respond to the information we’re receiving. The first step, though, is still listening. I’m happy that now I can often catch myself when I’m not listening, and get myself back on track.

This state of always listening is, to me, a key to better fight scenes and actor safety. Hilde remarked that she has never felt so safe and so comfortable in a scene. That kind of attention on what is happening goes a long way to keeping you in the moment. And as actors learn to go with their instincts, actions, both physical and emotional, follow easily.

The two days of working on Durer helped to highlight the importance of looking at something with fresh eyes. While I’ve worked on many of those prints before through the Shenandoah Project, I was finding deeper layers in this most recent look at them because I didn’t look a them with the thought of “oh, I know what this one is” but instead applied the new knowledge from the previous work. With this sprit of “fresh eyes” and listening, I began to see more and more of my habitual patterns. It’s useful and incredibly important to be aware of those. You can choose to make use of habitual patterns, but I have experienced over the last two weeks that true growth happens and flexibility emerges when you become aware of the invisible framework that holds you in one place.

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