Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stage Violence - A Fine Line

Have you ever seen a fight on stage and just not believed it? Have you ever seen someone fall on stage and worry that they may be really hurt. These are the two extremes directors and actors strive to avoid in presenting any sort of violence onstage. The audience must believe that the fight is real, but must never believe that anyone is truly hurt. To master this thin line of believability, the process begins with rehearsal.

In the initial rehearsals, a fight choreographer is utilized. Their job is to break the fight into beats. In these beats, the actors know exactly where they are at all times. Usually the appearance of violence is the job of the receiver. It is not the person who throws the punch who must “sell” it, but the person being punches who must provide the reality in their reaction. If a person grabs someone by the lapel and pins them to the wall, it is the person pinned who is supporting their own weight and who is giving the appearance of struggling and gasping for breath. Throughout the rehearsal process, these beats are rehearsed over and over and over until the involved actors can go through the beats without hesitation or trepidation.

It is important to note here that stage combat is not always a complex choreography. In Enemy of the People, there was a simple move made by Cliff to intercept Sandy when she becomes overexcited at Tammy’s discovery of the polluted spa. What appeared to be a simple matter of stepping in between the two ladies, had to be choreographed as intricately as a sword fight or a slugfest. If Cliff is too early in his interception of Sandy, the scene loses the intensity. If Cliff is too late, Sandy runs over Tammy.

Once the scene is choreographed and rehearsed to the point that the show is ready to open, there is a new process of preparation which happens every night before the start of the show. Fight call is a walk though of all the stage combat in the show just before the show starts. Usually this is done at a slower speed, building up to full speed with each repetition.

When you see physical staging in Mouse in a Jar or any other Red Tape show, you can be certain that the safety of the performers in the primary objective. Every move is well rehearsed to make you believe that the fight is real. Every move is well rehearsed so you can fear for the safety of the characters without fearing for the safety of the actors.

Errol McLendon
Company Member

Mouse in a Jar runs October 5-31, 2009
Tickets are available through our website.

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