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Macbeth! On a big stage! Exciting!

March 6, 2016
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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!

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The Bechdel-Wallace Riposte

October 3, 2015

You’ve heard of the Bechdel-Wallace Test, yeah? Set down by Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, from her friend Liz Wallace’s idea, the test asks if a work of fiction contains a) two female characters, b) both with names, who c) talk to each other d) about something other than a man. Passing the test doesn’t mean that the work is feminist or even good, just that it has a reasonable chance of accurately portraying the fact that half of all people are women. More than vindicating the works that pass, the test condemns those that fail — which is most of popular culture.

So I got to thinking, it’s pretty hard to find a fight scene with two women in it — at least, one that correlates to the Bechdel-Wallace criteria. I would also add that the two women must have an explicitly physical confrontation. Sorry, Gwendolyn and Cecily; the question is not “What can we reasonably turn into a fight scene?” but “What does it look like when we don’t have to do that?”

This is the only example I can think of, and it took me a while. It’s from Caryl Churchill’s magnificent play The Skriker:

JOSIE: She’s horrible. There’s something wrong with her.
JOSIE takes hold of SKRIKER to look at her.
LILY: Leave her alone.
SKRIKER: Leave me alone, I’ll tell my mum.
JOSIE: She’s not your mum. You haven’t got a mum.
SKRIKER: Mum! mum!
LILY: Josie, stop it. It’s all right, pet, she’s just/ teasing.
JOSIE: Get out you little scrounger./ Leave Lily alone.
SKRIKER: Mum, don’t let her/hit me.
LILY: Josie.
JOSIE: I know you, you bastard. How you like toads? you like dirt in your mouth? Get away from us. You come in the house I’ll put you in the fire, then we’ll see what you look like.
JOSIE picks up dirt from the ground and stuffs it in the SKRIKER’s mouth. LILY rescues SKRIKER.
LILY: Get away, you’re crazy./ (To SKRIKER:) It’s all right.
JOSIE: It’s her.

Full disclosure: this is not  technically a fight between two women, it’s a fight between one woman and one shapeshifting death- portent currently taking the form of a young girl. That’s the closest thing I have for now, but I’ll be on the lookout for more Bechdel-Wallace-compliant fight scenes!

10/5/15 — How could I forget the Lady Cavaliers’ short film Tea Before Honour?! Still counting on one hand, though.

Congratulations to Those Women!

August 11, 2015

those women best of

In its annual round-up, The East Bay Express has named Those Women Productions the best year-old theater company in the East Bay! Woohoo!

Those Women was founded in 2014 by Carol Lashoff and Elizabeth L. Vega, who wanted to explore the flip side of canonical stories about gender and power. I did the fights for their world-premiere production of Carol’s play Just Deserts last year, which was hailed as “innovative and harrowing,” “satisf[ying] as diverse an audience as it attracts.” (I sincerely meant to write all about the show; short version, it was great!)

As you might expect from a Best of the Bay, Those Women are at it again: Carol’s play Disclosure opens August 12th at PianoFight in San Francisco, and a festival of retold fairy tales opens as In Plain Sight on September 4th at the Metal Shop Theater in Berkeley.

Great moments in fight directing

July 15, 2015

Hamlet rehearsal, looking at a few non-fight bits of physicality in the show, including Laertes and Ophelia bidding farewell. Dave Maier watches them, thinks for a moment, and then asks, “Do you guys know what a ‘noogie’ is?”

Farewell, St. Mary’s (again)

June 3, 2015

The Wheel of Time turns, the ages come and go, and once again the spring semester at St. Mary’s College draws to a close. We did unarmed this semester, and even though it meant getting up early on Saturdays, the class was the perfect way to start the weekend: hanging out with Dave, a scenic drive, a coffee run, and eight students in a sunny dance studio.

I really like the vibe at St. Mary’s. The students are mostly theater majors, so there’s an air of theaterness! and theatery things! without the eternal struggle for time and space that comes with actually working on a show. They all know and work with each other outside class, which benefit to the work outweighs the occasional complication, I think, and they’re excited to be doing something so awesome.

Normally I only partner with a student if there’s an odd number in the class — which there was — so I was fighting the one lefty, but some further enrollment shuffling put me with another student, as well, and a unique challenge: I’ve never fought the same side of the same fight, first as a righty, then as a lefty. Sometimes back to back. Mostly it was fine, the physical logic dictating which side did what (thanks, Dave!), but every so often my brain would short-circuit, bluescreen, and restart. It’s like the rapier-dagger confusion but harder to cover up — I’m just glad this arrangement is unlikely to come up in a show! My partners were very gracious. :0)

No summer plans yet, fight-wise, but I hope to have some soon.

Comedy tomorrow, opera tonight!

April 29, 2015

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I was back at the San Francisco Opera with Dave Maier last week, helping out at an intro to stage combat workshop for the staff. We did something similar in January for the public as part of the opera’s Overture series, which introduces audience members to various behind-the-scenes aspects of theater. That first workshop got written up in SF Weekly, which I totally meant to post about.

There was a special treat this time, one we didn’t see in January: a clip of the opera’s production of Showboat. We were watching for the fistfight at the beginning — and well done, Dave! — but I also really enjoyed the sheer spectacle of the production, even in the short clip. I don’t usually go to the opera, or to big musicals, and I forget how much fun it is to see a zillion people dance and sing on a life-size set. So maybe I’ll be back at the opera soon — without the weapons bag this time.

Telling the Story Blow By Blow: True Detective

February 20, 2015

The eternal question: How short can a fight be and still get its story across, not just to people who are looking to read the fight like a book, but to a general audience?

Take this fight from my latest obsession, True Detective. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are amazing as homicide detectives Marty Hart and Rustin Cohle, who are partners but not exactly friends…

truedetectivefight

EXT DAY, police station parking lot. Hand-held camera. COHLE, in a plaid flannel and khakis, walks toward the station, looking grim. HART, having left his gun, badge, rings, jacket, and tie behind, bursts from the door and runs for COHLE, who holds his hands out to the side.

COHLE
Just comin’ for my files, Marty.

HART barrels into COHLE, shoulder in his gut, and they go down to the pavement rather spectacularly — COHLE’s feet fly off the ground, his right arm reaches down to catch himself, and they land with a heavy grunt. HART, kneeling/crouching between COHLE’s legs, punches him in the face, right-left-right, before COHLE grabs his lapels and shoves him back, then gets his feet on HART’s stomach and throws him off. They scramble up.

MAN (O.S.)
Stop this shit.

HART aims a left at COHLE, who bobs out of the way, but HART’s following right catches him in the eye. COHLE tries to close and grapple to defuse HART’s punching power, but HART uppercuts him in the stomach. They struggle briefly, COHLE gaining the upper hand. COHLE returns the gut-punch and throws HART over his hip. (For those of us counting, there is an unexplained knap at this moment.) HART rises and squares off again.

MAN (O.S.)
Swing, Marty! You’re gettin’ your ass kicked.

HART gets COHLE with a right, and another, but COHLE dodges the third and lets HART’s own momentum take him to the ground.

WOMAN (O.S.)
Stop them! Stop!

HART rushes COHLE again; COHLE sidesteps, grabs HART, and sends him slamming into the back of a red pickup. (COHLE’s truck, as it happens.) HART is nearly horizontal when he hits, and he falls hard on the pavement, face down. COHLE puts out a warning hand.

COHLE
Stay down, Marty.

MAN (O.S)
Get up!

MAN (O.S.)
Calm down, Marty! That’s enough.

HART gets up and gives COHLE another big, flying punch in the face. COHLE closes with HART and gets him into a joint lock, forcing HART’s doubled-over left wrist to the outside of his left shoulder. Just then, the cavalry arrives and many burly arms pull them apart. Three guys hang onto a struggling, wild-eyed HART, while COHLE backs away and keeps his hands up where everyone can see them. The left side of his face is a bloody mess.

So, in this forty-five second fight, Hart punches Cohle eight times, seven of those in the face. Cohle puts distance between them four times and punches Hart only once.

If you had to guess, who’s the more trained fighter? And who slept with whose wife?

ETA, after this post was linked: This is my own write-up of the scene, done from the video.