Sunday, August 1, 2010

Article for magazine - 2010


Hi all and welcome to my first blog... I don't think it hurt...

I have decided to share an article that I have drafted up for a magazine here in Australia. This is the full version of the article, but it will be cut down when it goes to print. So I just wanted to share it with my bloggers! So follow me and my blog if you want to, as I share with you my growing developments, ideas etc here at my new blog home - Chaos & Order.


 “Oh, you’re a fight director? What - so you do sword fights?” 

This is probably the most common response I hear to my statement that I am (amongst other things) a Fight Director. It’s difficult to explain to the lay person, even industry types, exactly what my job entails. So, here’s how I would like to answer that question.

In 1969 in the UK, a meeting was held by artists who had regularly been teaching and choreographing fights for stage. The outcome of that meeting was the formation of an organisation that would specialise in creating and maintaining a professional discipline dedicated to the development of stage combat and fight direction. This organisation became the Society of British Fight Directors. Since that date, similar organisations have developed throughout the world, including, in 1993, The Society of Australian Fight Directors Incorporated (SAFDi), where I had the privilege of serving as president for over a decade (1996 – 2007).

Until these organisations formalised the profession, most theatres used fencers to arrange fights. There was also a tradition of specific actors passing a variety of arranged sequences down through the ranks over time. However, the heritage of stage combat and fight direction can be traced back even further, to a man by the name of Patrick “Paddy” Crean. Paddy was an actor with a background in competitive fencing. He first began to choreograph fights for theatre in 1932 in England, also doubling for such stars as Errol Flynn, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In 1962, he attended the Canadian Stratford Theatre Festival where he eventually became the festival’s fight director until 1983. He also continued to act. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 1999; unfortunately, he passed away in 2003. Paddy has left a great legacy.

Today, a growing number of fight directors have their roots in performance. There is an increasing trend for actors who have been exposed to stage combat through acting training to continue with further study and go on to become stage combat teachers and fight directors. This ‘actor-first’ trend is creating a fight director with a stronger understanding of the function a physical conflict plays within a story - and moreover, how to achieve it.

I am an actor, clown, writer/adaptor and director. I believe that storytelling is paramount and that my work as a fight director should be invisible. is The term ‘Fight Director’ is potentially misleading. Often, I will be credited as ‘Fight Director’ and there may not even be a “fight moment” in the show, which is confusing for an audience thinking – where was the fight?  Or, on seeing this title in the program prior to the show, expect a “fight”.

A “fight moment” doesn’t have to be dramatic - it could be comedic. It doesn’t always appear in the form of a sword fight or a punch-up either. The range of tasks I facilitate, arrange, co-ordinate or choreograph is growing. With the increased requirements to uphold OH&S standards, our role as fight directors is changing. In my opinion, a well-rounded, correctly trained Fight Director is skilled and experienced in areas encompassing, but not limited to: director, actor, movement consultant, dramaturge, safety officer, historical/modern martial artist (eastern and western), violence (sexual and domestic) co-ordinator, teacher, slapstick adviser and weapons consultant.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding from the industry about the role of fight direction in the creative process. Firstly, there is little committed development of stage combat at acting institutions. The fundamental skills involved in stage combat go beyond just knowing how to throw a punch. Limiting an actor’s training to just a few weeks within a three-year course is not satisfactory. Ironically, we would save the industry money if actors had a more solid understanding of stage combat when working on the rehearsal floor. Secondly, many companies still underestimate both the time needed to get a ‘fight moment’ to speed and the costs involved in ensuring that actors and crew are safe each night. Fight Directors are regularly the last creative brought into a process and they are given the least amount of time to contribute. Fight Directors should be brought in earlier to provide a costing (like any other department) about what might be involved. Then a strategy could be put in place that ensures a) a safe working environment and b) that a creative vision is fulfilled.

On a positive note, there are many companies and acting schools that are extremely supportive of the services Fight Directors bring to a production or actor training and these companies are at the forefront of understanding the roles and responsibilities of a modern Fight Director. Bell Shakespeare Company, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, Opera Australia, La Boite Theatre Company, Company B, Griffin Theatre Company, NIDA, Actors Centre Australia and QUT are just a few of the companies I work for.
Hopefully, this insight has given you an idea of how a qualified and experienced Fight Director can contribute to your project, whether it be on stage or screen. I welcome any comments or feedback you may have at smilee@combatcircus.com.