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Summer Sling 2010: Friday

September 12, 2010

The Summer Sling has come and gone once again; over the past few weeks I’ve been in too much of a mental fog to do more than play endless rounds of “where did that bruise come from?” and eBay Belgian military capes, but I think I’m finally recovered enough to blog about it. I think.

Before I talk about what classes I took, I just want to say that I love the Sling — and would probably enjoy other regional workshops — because of the chance to step outside the eight SAFD disciplines and explore the kooky weapons, tips and tricks, and assorted soapboxes that the teachers are passionate about. To wit, day one:

– You’ve Been Hit (A Lot) with Robert Westley

Robert’s question is, why do fights always go fight-fight-fight-wound-DEATH? Why can’t we play with more wounds in the course of a fight? We picked up rapiers and daggers and Robert gave us four short in-and-out phrases, each ending in a wound; given the weapons we were using and that, after the first three phrases, the fight continued, it was up to us how severe each wound was, and we had to continue playing it throughout the fight. A lot of my concentration went into managing the two weapons — I can count my r&d sessions on one hand — and concentrating on my breath, the usual. Like last year, Robert had some interesting asides on movement, this time about moving from our toes, quick and light, rather than planting our heels and giving all of our attention to our stability. So it felt like a fun r&d session more than anything, and it dovetailed well with Tink’s class later that day.

– No, The Other Left (Hamlet/Laertes) with Denise Hurd

A class in what to do when you’re choreographing for, um, problem actors, using the Hamlet/Laertes fight as the frame, because it’s such a specific fight that you can’t just blow it off, choreography-wise. I hadn’t met Denise before, but when I came in, she and intern Alec were debating their favorite versions of the Hamlet fight. Instant awesome. Instructor Ian Rose dropped in to round out our numbers.

This was largely a role-playing exercise: each of us acted as the choreographer for a pair, and, in turn, was an actor in two other pairs. As choreographers, we had to come up with a fight on the fly that jives with the Hamlet script, and then teach it to our shy, reluctant, over-enthusiastic, over-confident, patronizing, ADD, and willfully ignorant colleagues. Five minutes to get your actors through a phrase, to the appropriate touch or nothing-neither-way.  And you haven’t seen problem actors until you’ve seen a bunch of choreographers exorcising the ghosts of productions past.

It was a little weird at first, and my discomfort with the roleplay came across as sarcasm; Denise noted that I’d been condescending with my actors in phrase one. Ouch. Okay. Then Alec and I had fun misbehaving for Ian; I was the blade-shy actor terrified my partner was going to stab me, Alec the forgetful ball of nerves — although, since Ian had been teaching for a while, it was occasionally difficult to find ways to misconstrue his instructions. By far my favorite moment was during my second phrase as choreographer, when Ian the prima dona, as Laertes, objected that my extremely simple choreography was making him look like a wuss. “Give me some balls, man!” he cried, throwing his weapons down and making for the door.

I deadpanned, “But I think that this is a real moment of conflict for you! You’re not being a wuss by letting Hamlet get the touch, it’s a way of showing that you’re no longer sure about the plan. You say to Claudius, ‘And yet ’tis almost against my nature.'”

Ian crossed his arms and gave a one-shouldered shrug. “Well, we haven’t done this scene yet.”

“I talked to the director about it a little, and she said you guys were going to do a lot of work on this moment, so I wanted to let it show in the choreography.”

He chose to stay; rehearsal continued. At least until Denise called time.  😛

This was the first class of the weekend that dealt with workshop attendees as choreographers, a track I loved and desperately want more of.

– Rapier and Cloak with Ian Rose

So. Much. Fun. How can you not feel badass beating someone up with fabric?! Well… when the fabric beats you up first. We started with getting a feel for the cloaks, putting them over our shoulders, whipping them off and into a figure-eight, switching hands, going behind the back, settling them on our shoulders again. At least half the time, these sexy maneuvers ended up in accidental fabricface. And controlling that cloak is a serious workout. The trick, Ian told us, is to keep your fingers spread out to help keep the fabric unfurled, and to remember to invert your hand: with the cloak over your shoulders, grab the lapel about eight inches down from the right side of the collar with your left hand, thumb outside the fabric, fingers inside, pinky side of your hand towards the ceiling. This is open style, and through historically it would be more accurate to hold it in the middle of the collar, Ian’s right that it twirls better like this. Parries of 2 (that’s rapier 2, not, um, cloak 2) look particularly dashing. There’s also closed style, with the cloak wrapped around your left arm, and club, where you grab it by the collar and whack people.

And then we added rapiers, and a few more wise sayings from Ian: always know where the end of your fabric is (so that you’re sure it’s not under your feet) and be mindful of flipping dust in your partner’s face as the cloaks swirl around. I worked with José, whom I remembered from the NYU test, and we really hit it off; it’s possible we speak similar dialects of Stagecombatese because we both learned from Brimmer, and good communication between partners makes working less like work and more like the bad-ass variety of playing around that it should be. The fight had really fun moments: José caught me around the ankle with the cloak, so I fell and then rolled out of the way just in time for him to whap his cloak where my head had been. The fight ended with me parrying 3 and flipping the cloak up around José’s blade so I could grab it, force his hilt up, and drop my point to his chest. As I said, so. Much. Fun.

– Full Contact Swetnam Rapier and Dagger with Robert “Tink” Tuftee

When teachers were describing their classes in the morning, and Tink got to this one, several burly menfolk in the room pranced in anticipation. I’d been planning on going, ’cause duh, it’s Tink, but I admit to a moment of faintheartedness just then.

Went anyway, of course, ’cause duh.

The class was based on the 1617 The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence by Joseph Swetnam, personal fencing master to James I’s ill-fated eldest son Prince Henry. Assuming a four-foot rapier blade, Swetnam advised duelists to keep about 12 feet from each other, and then to lunge in, exchange a two-or-three move flurry of blows, and — wounded or woundee — get the hell out of Dodge back to those 12-foot marks. We donned jackets, gloves, and masks, and picked up daggers and corked rapiers; we were only a little successful at skewering each other, but we worked up a sweat trying! My favorite guard was what Swetnam calls “the perfect guard”:  dagger in 5, rapier foible braced on the dagger with enough pressure to put a bend in the blade. Move the dagger and SPROING! The blade jumps towards your opponent with the power of physics. Other takeaways: you look bad-ass if your parries and attacks are simultaneous and fencing masks are always sweatier than I remember.

Up next, Saturday: Smallswords, Sushi, and SPRs

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2010 2:06 pm

    I WISH I could have been at the sling! Sounds amazing, and your blow by blow is wonderful. Thanks!

    • October 1, 2010 10:19 am

      I wish you could have come! There’s always next year. :0)

  2. MacRican permalink
    September 30, 2010 4:24 pm

    Sounds like fun! I wish classes like that were closer.

    • October 1, 2010 10:37 am

      Yeah, and the early start doesn’t make it an easy commute… There are other, one-afternoon type workshops I can let you know about as they come up.

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