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For the millionth time, HIRE A FIGHT DIRECTOR

June 8, 2017

I’ve written about why you should hire a fight director even if it’s “just a slap“; I’ve written about the potential benefits of hiring a fight director, even an inexperienced one, instead of hiring nobody. Now I’m going to write about some goddamn common sense.

Last April, though I only saw the article recently, two New Zealand high school students sustained serious injuries during a production of Sweeney Todd, when unsafe props were brought in and then improperly rehearsed and deployed. I’m talking, of course, about the straight razor the Demon Barber uses to dispatch his victims.

Feel that little chill go up your spine at the thought of children slitting each other’s throats? Okay, good. Now, why did the adults in charge of this production not have the same aversion to that scenario?

CNN reported,

In comments broadcast on TVNZ, school head Stephen Cole told reporters Thursday that the students were wounded by a prop razor “covered in all sorts of duct tape and foam and paper.”
“It’s a razor, but it’s been filed down and bound with various things,” he said, adding that the prop did not have a sharp edge and had been used during rehearsals without any problem.
“It was deemed important to make it as realistic as possible,” he told reporters.

Cole sounds like he works for the Trump administration: it was filed down, but also covered, and there was tape and foam and paper, and somehow it still looked more “realistic” than a prop razor?

Right. Okay.

Taping sharp edges works when you’re trying to prevent accidental grazes — not onstage, but in the knife bin at a thrift store or when throwing away X-acto blades. In these scenarios, no one is applying force against the tape with the sharp edge of the knife; when you tape a knife and then use it on someone, you’re doing exactly what the knife needs in order to cut through your “protective” layer. That is how knives work. (Obviously, or so I thought, fight directors are are not the only keepers of this particular piece of knowledge.)

Asked by a reporter whether a plastic prop blade should have been used instead, [Cole] replied, “In hindsight that may be a reasonable point.”

Hindsight, hell; according to the Theatre People article, the school was warned beforehand by a local prop supplier.

Guys, please, I am begging you, listen to experts.

Say you go to see a doctor because your knee hurts and she asks if you’ve had any blurry vision lately. You have, so you’re like MY KNEE IS NOT EVEN CONNECTED TO MY EYE HOW DID YOU READ MY MIND!?!?! She didn’t. She had special knowledge of what to look for. Any idiot can read the Wikipedia article on reactive arthritis and think, “duh, it’s part of the classic triad of symptoms!”, but the hard part is acquiring and applying a body of knowledge in real time. When you say your knee hurts, a doctor doesn’t look only at your knee; similarly, a fight director isn’t just there for the big set-piece sword fights. When I’m working on a show, I notice every time someone drops or throws a prop, discards a piece of clothing onstage, or stands on a table. If you’re looking at a taped-up razor thinking, “duh, just don’t press too hard,” a fight director will look at the same thing and think of how everyone speeds up and hits harder once there’s an audience. A fight director will think to ask if we’re rehearsing with the actual props. Our body of knowledge allows us to see problems before anyone gets hurt.

A fight director is only a luxury if safety is a luxury.

The Late Late Show needs a fight director

March 26, 2017

Med school leaves me with very little free time, but I’ve gotten into the habit of watching clips from late-night television — they’re just the right length to accompany a study break and a snack. When I saw this one just now…

 

 

…I yelled at my computer screen, “WHAT THE HELL JAMES YOU ARE A THEATER PERSON YOU ONLY HAVE TO TURN IT LIKE 15 DEGREES!”

Unlike most other late shows, this one tapes in L.A. Hit me up next time, guys. 🙂

And I thought I could not love Tim Gunn any more

November 26, 2016

Fighters young and old

August 19, 2016

This little guy had me crying with laughter:

And this fierce lady is my newest role model:

Surprise Retroactive Encounters With Famous People

July 17, 2016

A college friend’s Facebook status just alerted me to the fact that I did college theater with Kate McKinnon — as in, SNL’s Hillary Clinton and Ghostbuster Kate McKinnon. (Her name was different, which is why I’m not quite as oblivious as I sound!) And not just, like, there-when-she-was-there: I fight directed The Skriker, with her in the title role (in this scene, in fact); I have really fond memories of that show and now that I compare them to the face in the Ghostbusters trailers… yup.

I made a fight for Kate McKinnon. I SAT ON HER. My eyebrows are up to my hairline and planning to stay for a while.

theskriker

The cast of 2004’s The Skriker at Columbia University, directed by Elissa Goetschius, also starring Sarah Lord and Erin Walters — and look who’s in front!

 

 

A Tale of Three Macbeths

June 14, 2016

Over the past few nights I’ve been working on some props for Those Women’s upcoming show Margaret of Anjou. I like to have TV on in the background while I art-n’-craft, so I decided to finally check out the Michael Fassbender Macbeth. And then the next night, the Great Performances film of Patrick Stewart’s. And, of course, the recent production at the Berkeley Rep was on my mind. Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine…

macfassbenderThe Fassbender movie was… fine. It didn’t add much to my experience of the play, or the oevre of Shakespeare on film, but I also can’t point to anything in particular as “bad.” Ho hum, Scottish accents. The one interesting idea was that Malcolm actually catches Macbeth killing Duncan; they moved “the fountain of your blood is stopped” to this moment, and even if Fassbender didn’t own the role overall, he sure as hell can radiate menace. Malcolm, of course, high-tails it. So that was fun. I also really wanted to see The Borgias‘ Sean Harris as Macduff, since Harris is usually the one playing the murdering psychopath in any given… anything. He was serviceable, as well, but I find Macduff much less interesting than Micheletto, so.

sirpatstewmacbethOkay, I’m’a be a total spoiled Macbeth hipster for a minute here, but I saw Patrick Stewart live at BAM, and it was amaaaaaazing. There were changes for the filmed version, of course, and I missed some of the things you can only do onstage, like repeating the dinner party scene so we see it both with and without Banquo’s bloody ghost. The overall Cold-War-ish Soviet look was the same, love it, and most of the moments mapped onto what I remember, with one slightly disappointing exception: onstage, the most striking thing about Patrick Stewart as Macbeth is that he never yelled. Never. Did not shout defiance to Banquo’s ghost, did not roar at the oncoming Macduff, nothing. Threats and orders were delivered quietly, in a voice that scraped the bass end of his register. There was some shouting added in the movie version — but still about 95% less than your average Macbeth. Every performance in this one blows the Fassbender movie out of the water. Great knife fight at the end, too. (Terry King, you are the man!)

And then, swimming up in my memory, come Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand as the royal couple. Reviews were mixed, praising the show’s visuals and some performances while calling it unfocused and lamenting the chemistry between the leads. I actually loved these two as Mr and Mrs, and the show’s focus on Mackers as essentially a weak character. We hear that he’s a boss on the battlefield, but what we see onstage is a man so ill-suited to leadership that this can only end badly. He gets promoted above his actual skill set and finds himself making stupid, short-sighted choices in a desperate scramble to rescue himself from previous stupid, short-sighted choices. Tragic flaw, hell — he’s just kind of a schlemiel, and I love to see that exemplified in the same character as martial prowess, which we usually (and toxically) lionize as the crowning (GET IT?!) achievement of masculinity.

Whoops, seem to have fallen down a textual rabbit hole. Ah, well. In for a penny…

My favorite thing about Frances McDormand’s Lady M was that she took the time to be happy. It seems to me that a lot of Ladies go straight from “Wow, my husband will be king” to “Okay, you lily-livered dipshit, we’re going to do this or else,” and then keep their teeth bared until the sleepwalking scene. But McDormand tried to find whatever moments were going well for Lady Macbeth, the handful of times in the play where she feels good, and highlight those… which makes it worse, in the end.

And together? They sought comfort from each other consistently throughout the play. And while the emphasis is usually placed on “I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” here the line flowed by, and the ‘stop’ came when Macbeth jokes, with admiration, “Bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males.” The words are just out of his mouth when he realizes what he’s said. He takes her hand. They are sad together for a moment. He wants to go back to the conversation that was making her happy, thus the huuuuge redirect into “Will it not be received, when we have marked with blood those sleepy two…” I’m sure this isn’t the first time I’ve seen that beat played up, but it — obviously — stuck out for me here as something that really worked.

Although I (obviously) love Macbeth, it also has my least favorite scene in Shakespeare: Macduff goes to England to give Malcolm a pep talk, Malcolm pretends to be a terrible person who shouldn’t be king, and as soon as Macduff is well and truly pissed off, Malcolm takes it all back and says it was just a test. The scene feels like it’s nine years long, and I dread it every time I see the show. Adam Macgill and Korey Jackson made it work for me, though, largely because Adam’s Malcolm seemed aware of the hyperbole of his terrible-person claims and wasn’t successfully inhabiting them for Macduff’s benefit; same thing later, when he tells Macduff to “man up,” he seems to realize how inappropriate it is that he’s saying that to a stone-cold badass like Macduff, who then schools him in true manliness in like six words. To put it another way, Adam is a better actor than Malcolm, who is just as honest and boyish as he says. Gold star for everyone!

I think my props are done setting; peace, the charm’s wound up…

 

Macbeth! On a big stage! Exciting!

March 6, 2016
MB3_lr

Press photo courtesy of kevinburne.com.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Macbeth — can I say that yet? hang on, I’ll spin around three times — who made it through a busy preview week and on to the run. The show is playing at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater through April 10, and a little bird told me that you might have to murder your liege lord to get tickets. Frances McDormand (Fargo, eh?) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) star and Daniel Sullivan directs; New Yorkers, remember the Merchant of Venice in the Park with Al Pacino? Or the Twelfth Night that was impossible to get into? That director.

And of course, Macbeth has a pretty high body count, especially if you stage a big battle at the end. Enter — who else? — Bay Area fight director Dave Maier. And, just a little bit, me. 🙂

Dave invited me to join him for some choreography jam sessions and a few rehearsals, for which he super-awesomely entered me into the rolls as “assistant fight director.” No lie, you guys, I’m’a make a collage out of the program and hang it up next to my weapons. It all started as something that’s pretty normal to me — three people in a big room, swinging swords — and it was amazing to see that work become part of such an epic production. It was also great to watch Dave at work. Mostly I see him in class or workshop-teaching mode, or we’re just fighting each other, but teching a battle like this one is a different game entirely. It. Looks. Awesome. Lights, sound, projections, the set, the costumes and armor — and that’s before anyone even speaks.

I actually haven’t seen most of the play, so I look forward to learning what choices inform the parts I have seen, and hearing some of my favorite text aloud. Lay on!