Thursday, September 20, 2018

the victim does NOT do all the work...

I was reflecting on some thoughts and concepts that I was introduced as gospel in stage combat the other day. One of the fundamental principles I was told when I started my formal stage combat training was – the victim does all the work.

A maxim that states that while performing something like a hair grab for example the victim is the one leading the move. Here is a link to an example of the thinking I am referring to – hair grab YouTube link. (disclaimer – I am in no way having a go at this tutorial it is just an example)

Hopefully you took a quick look at the video it’s only a minute long – here is my problem with this line of thinking. The main concern for me is that the aggressor becomes a passenger in the experience. It necessitates that the aggressor must ‘follow’ the victim when in fact the image we are generally trying to convey to the audience is that the aggressor is the ‘dominate force’. It is another great example of making stage combat look stagey. Which again reinforces my notion that we should not be calling it stage combat in the first place. After all when I play a doctor on stage I’m not referred as a stage doctor am I? I’m called a doctor. But I digress.

I am curious by nature and therefore question everything; so why can’t the aggressor control some aspects of this technique? We know it’s not real… we know we are working together to create the illusion... so why does only one of the actors have to ‘control’ everything?

If we look at a waltz as correlation to the work, I am describing; the lead person is ‘guiding’ the other through two strong points of contact - the hand and the back. But even in this scenario the person being led knows the choreography it’s just these points of contact allow for subtlety and nuance in the delivery of the choreography. So why not bring the same level of subtlety and nuance via listening to combat for stage and screen?

I am not saying the victim has it easy, if we look at the dance for example the person being led must do it backwards for want of a better phrase. It’s just that I feel there is a better way to represent this type of violence. Which could be through stronger structure and alignment and guided communication from the ‘aggressor’. In the example in that video linked above - even if the male actor had grabbed the female actor’s elbow to create another point of contact he could have looked a little more involved with the picture / story.

Anyway, my one year old is hungry so must away. Hope that pricked your curiosity as well.

Stay curious...

You Tube Channel

Thursday, September 13, 2018

the wonder of gravity

Gravity is something that is always acting on us and yet it’s not until we have a bad fall that we realise how much it is acting on us. 
The trick when falling, tumbling and rolling is to learn how to develop the appropriate amount of force and momentum to exert so as to be in harmony with gravity. Too much force and too little force - both have unfortunate results. 
I like to enter these sorts of moves with an image of focusing on the first half of the technique. For example, if I were to do a forward roll. I focus on the amount of energy required to get my feet above my head knowing the gravity will take care of the rest. Rather than putting enough energy in to complete the whole roll. This approach also aids with the process of feeling like I have more time during the technique.  
I can also consider gravity when asked to ‘push’ another actor and choreographically they are to ‘fall’ over. For me when I’m pushing the actor to the floor. I’m doing this with the full understanding that I’m making a connection between their centre of gravity and their base knowing full well that gravity is in the equation. 
Visually I’m portraying the image that I should be robbing them if their centre and thus over balancing them. However internally I’m guiding the actor in harmony with gravity. I know traditional thinking is the victim does all the work. However, the reality is that I’m still involved in the work and connected to the other actor so if that is the case my thinking is: how can I best help them find the floor? Then answer lies in working with gravity.  
“You must learn to avoid the jar that affects the nervous system and organs which are in line and through which the jar is transmitted. When a man expects to fall upon his feet he will instinctively bend his knees and hips at the moment of impact and very little of the jar reaches the body.”
Chapter IV – Lupino Lane’s – How to Become a Comedian 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

illusion & reality…

The conception and application of these two seemingly opposing words is one of the biggest conundrums face when staging a disciplined and effective staged fight scene. For without a full understanding and distinction of these two words an actor can never hope to really grasp or perform the art form.

Inevitably however a lot of actors are obsessed with ‘reality’. Did that look real? I want it to be the truthful!  Where do I start!? After all what is real and what is the truth? Is truth a perspective from where one remembered an event? Is it something that is about to happen? When was something real? When we remember a truth (with a view to play that truth) have we dulled its truthfulness? Is that real?

When we as actors are asked to give the ‘truth’, what are we giving really? Are we doing anything real or truthful? I mean really, we are on stage or in front of a camera after all. When our character must kill another surely, we can’t be doing that for real? If we did that would only be a one-off performance. Even if we are asked to draw from life experience how many actors have killed anyone? Based on that thought, we are really giving an interpretation of reality and truth.  Though, we are for the most part learning truthful and real combative techniques in a lot of cases. That’s real.

When an actor has created a world of truths for themselves based on the given circumstances of the story it is easy to watch them as they are in the now – in their reality! When an audience is not observing technique, it must be easy for them to follow the story that is being told because the audience is now in their reality. But it was an illusion that got both the actor and the audience to that reality.

My point is that the two concepts go hand in hand; Illusion and Reality. A balance needs to be struck, in the comprehension of them while building a fight scene without it an actor will be lost. The same balance is faced by the fight director. If one is obsessed with only one of these attributes the other will suffer. Not many actors ask: Did the illusion work?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

slapstick & knock-a-bout...

Slapstick: A slapping device dating back as far as commedia del arte maybe even earlier. Used to make hitting sounds etc. However in today’s theatrical community the term ‘slapstick’ has taken on its own modern meaning. Most audiences and even theatre practitioners have an image of clowning around, bumping into stuff and falling over. In some way the meaning is still there it has just taken on a larger definition.
Falling and bumping into things, is something that I do a lot of in performance and have done for a long time. Someone once asked me why and when did all this start? And for a long time I just assumed it was because of my profession or some bizarre natural ability. But it was only recently that I remembered that as a child I used to ‘practice’ falling a lot. I would stand on the edge of my bed and practice various ways of 'dying', I was especially inspired by the guy who fell from the tower in the opening credits of F-Troop. For anyone too young it was a show on TV back in the early seventies. I can remember falling for hours, that’s children‘s hours… so it was properly only a few minutes. Little did I know at that age I was training my body to deal with the various positions that the body finds itself in when falling. Don't take knock-a-bout for granted!!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Talking with the bones. Listening with the muscles.

In recent musings I have made reference to my  Emptiness Compass: a process driven approach to my movement training. This has been the launching pad for many of my musings over the last year. Riffing on last week’s musing about spirit and energy I wanted to share my maxim I made up many years ago: Talking with the bones and listening with the muscles.

If we subscribe to the notion that when an actor grabs another actor, pushes another actor (hands or feet) or even crosses swords with another actor – a “conversation” is taking place. On a deep physical level - one person is “communicating” with another. I believe my maxim is relevant to humans not just actors but hey; to the musing at hand. Therefore, it follows that if one actor is ‘talking’ the other actor must be ‘listening’. This doesn’t have to be the grabber or pusher – in fact the actor being grabbed or pushed can / could be the one ‘talking’ and vice versa.

So, if someone is talking and someone is listening what are they taking with and what are they listening with? It is a physical landscape after all so it’s not our mouths and it’s not our ears. Yes of course we use our awareness but to be more specific for me: I talk with my skeletal structure and listen with my muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Due to the straight nature of my femur, tibia, fibula, humerus, radius, ulna, they have a direct line to someone’s core - after all that is what I am talking to, even if I am grabbing their elbow, ‘push’ kicking them or pushing them. Ultimately, I am talking to their ‘hara’. So, if my bones are talking to them – they must be listening. When I am being grabbed etc. I am listening with the subtler parts of my anatomy in this case my muscles. (I include ligaments and tendons in this). My muscles can absorb what is being ‘said’ and interpret it for my ‘hara’ so I understand what is being communicated and work our how best to deal with is, so my balance is not compromised.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

spirit & energy

The Emptiness Compass I have been referring to in some previous blogs is comprised of 12 paired words. These paired words when used together are designed to help keep a participants and students focused on an exercise / task at hand to ensure they are remaining in process rather than a product or outcome driven mode. 

My musings for this week’s newsletter bring me to one set of those paired words: Spirit & Energy. So, what do I mean by these words and what am I hoping a participant will gain by focusing on these two words?

“The floppies” is a term that I use when a person has no spirit or energy. No Life force as it were Being energised and tapped into your spirit is a must for this sort of work. Not only for your own safety but more importantly having your spirit and energy ‘switched on” on means you are actively accessing your physical communication receptors – meaning your body is alert to stimuli. Conversely you are sending information for someone else to read as well.

Mistakenly actors seem to perceive being energised with being tense and spirit with intent. For me being energised is about making your structure and alignment bristle with liveliness and by spirit I’m referring to your essence.

The combination of these two elements: spirit and energy make for a deep human body ‘space dish’. If trained, honed and tapped into; can allow the actor to pick up on the subtlest of information being transmitted. Thus giving the actor an extra set of eyes and ears on what is actually going on around them.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Can you direct our fights but make sure they're safe"

“I’d like you to choreograph a fight for our production, but can you make sure it’s safe?”

For the record questions like this continually do my head in. Surely, it’s implicit in the job title isn’t it? Fight Director. We work in an industry that over the last decade has been going through huge overhauls to its risk assessment process. In terms of both physical and emotional safety in the workplace. Which is fantastic and a natural response to high injuries, bullying and a lack of policy and procedures over the previous decades.

With respect to physical injuries in our industry. I’d be curious to see the proportion of injuries sustained through a staged fight that has been choreographed by an appropriately trained fight director and injuries in other workplace areas of theatre for example but not limited to; working from heights and electrics. My instinct is that given how long fights have been choreographed for I would imagine our collective safety record as fight directors must be high comparatively speaking. If anyone has stats out there I would be very welcome to see them.

My observation over the last 30 years since choreographing my first fight in the mid-eighties has been: that safety is built into the frame work of fight direction. I’m basing this opinion on the years of development that have gone into the art form. My impression is that safety is in fact within the scaffolding and foundation of the choreographic process. Even a novice would consider basic old school principals like: the victim does the work, eye contact and cueing. It strikes me (pun intended) that this long-term development of safety within fight direction positions the art form at the forefront of risk assessment.

I’m not saying the industry wasn’t (or isn’t currently) safe - I’m just making the observation that for the fight director, safety awareness appears to be built into the language and vocabulary when discussing and building a fight scene with actors. As opposed to (certainly in the years gone by not now-a-days) if I were doing a scene as an actor that didn’t appear to involve ‘combat’ there was no discussion around ‘be safe while rehearsing or developing that physical scene’ or even having a discussion around safety after a scene was explored.

I have this ability to see an incident or accident before it’s going to happen based on my years of experience as a performer and choreographer. The cues for seeing possible incidents and accidents are not always obvious; they could be as small as an unusual foot placement, prop being held in pronation rather than supination or an actor appearing a little ‘off’ emotionally one day.  I’ve trained my eye to see beyond safety towards a future that hasn’t happened yet. It is focused on the possible domino effect from one small movement. Seeing into the future like an upside-down pyramid of risk. 

So, I find it frustrating sometime on jobs when people outside the process of fight direction say: ‘that doesn’t look safe’. I acknowledge that different people have their own sense of what is; or appears unsafe or dangerous however if I’m employed to make something safe then surely it follows I’m qualified to know if something is safe.  Knee jerk reactions after a failed first attempt at an idea during a rehearsal like people saying: ‘well that has to change’ or ‘that’s not safe’ are further frustrations.

Have we gone too far though? Therefore, the question in my head is: are we behaving like helicopter parents with our actors? Are we being overly cautious? To be extremely clear I am not saying be reckless. I am not inferring we explore physical scenes in an unsafe way. I’m just expressing my observation around how safety is perceived and managed.