stage combat

Denver Comic Con is Nigh

It’s so nigh, you guys. It’s nigh enough that it should be named Bill (I’ll wait….)

And yes indeedy, I certainly am presenting my famous The Fight Is The Story spiel on a panel. This year, the academic branch of DCC (called Page 23) has added me to a panel called “Smackdowns and Superheroes: Fighting the Good Fight in Comics, TV Shows, and Video Games.” Right?! I’m on a panel that totally fits w my topic! 

So the Smackdowns panel is Saturday of Comic Con (that would be July 1st), at 5pm. I’m the fourth of four presenters, so hopefully I’ll have a nice robust audience left for my bit. I will no doubt be walking around Friday as well though, and maybe even Sunday, so beyond coming to see me talk about the importance of The Actor’s Rules in narrative, and physical storytelling, and how awesome lightsabers are, and how terrible the fight in Phantom Menace is, buy me a DCC beer and have a conversation (I believe this year’s specialty beer is called “I Am Brewt”). See you there, and soon!

Not that I’m on a break now or anything…

…but the peeps that are finished with their semesters, I have finished as well. Finally. As I said, lots and lots and lots (and lots) of research papers. I just might (might, mind you) have a half a handle on the new 8th edition of MLA format at this point. Might.

18582290_10155432990898028_6479972419694655595_nWhat else is on my plate? Well, I presented at the Teaching and Learning With Technology conference over at Front Range yesterday, which was pretty fun. Had a good, inquisitive audience that had more questions afterwards and cornered me at other sessions and stuff too. It was called “Video Killed the Paper Star” and covered a few innovative ways that assigning videos to students in lieu of papers can be a fruitful endeavor. I may do a little mini-article about it here, so stay tuned. Anyway, got to share a bunch of those grammar videos you’ve seen here, and some old reading responses in video form, especially Nate’s old ones from Advanced Stage Combat back in the day. His were so creative and thoughtful and it made me miss all you Stage Combat Club guys: Nate and Scott and Nick and Chris, Paul, and Geri, and the others that came in and out…(sniff)…

I also went to the opera recently with The S.O. and I was amused to find that I knew exactly where all those swords were from, and mused that they all needed a little coaching as far as handling them went (fight scenes though there were none). I also was shocked at the rust that has somehow coated my Schmooze Nozzle, which I guess goes to show that if you don’t use it, you lose it. So I’m polishing my charisma these days. If you run into me, force me to give you an  elevator pitch or something, would ya? Help me get back in shape.

Writing wise, I’m still doing stuff for YourBoulder.com, mainly their weekend round up thingies. It’s a fun gig, and a paid one, so I’m happy about that. The other blog I’m writing with The S.O. is also a very fulfilling project–it’s a style of personal writing I’m not super familiar with, but the pieces there are really, really good. It’s nice to have a quasi-journalling habit again, and him being such a good writer himself, it’s also nice to have a high bar to have to live up to. Write up to. You know what I mean…

Now I do have one breath before the new wave of stuff begins. During that deep breath, I will still be working closely with DU folks on their Capstones, and also working with a new batch of Regis peeps too: Children’s Lit, Editing Fiction, and Editing Non-Fiction is on my platter there.

After I take the breath, it’ll be time for summer at FRCC (two Comp 1 courses) and at Boulder_FringeMetro (an online Staging Cultures class). It’ll also be time for the first summer theatrical gigs to begin: early June I’ll be dancing with Boulder Burlesque, mid-June I may be dancing with Bronze Fox Burlesque, and late June is Denver Comic Con, where I will be presenting The Fight is the Story again, but I’ll keep you up on those things when we get closer to time. After that, I’ve got stage combat at the LDT and burlesque at the Fringe Fest to look forward to, amidst who knows indeed what else will pop up.

So there you go: the update on the workload. Now back to it.

Stage combat as a ryu

Back in my first martial arts training experience, I had the good fortune to train at a dojo that was intensely focused, complete, and rigorously disciplined in the instruction of its myriad arts. All the ryu-ha put together made for some high quality, authentic ninja training that has formed the base and foundation for many other practices in the many (many!) years of my life since then.

One of the documents I’ve come across as I cull my belongings is a page of musing re: making stage combat a facet of the trainings offered at the school. Before I recycle this (handwritten) document, allow me to share these thoughts of mine from 2004 with you, lovely lurkers.

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When most people think about the martial arts these days, one of two things come to mind: sport tournaments, and the movies. Therefore, most non-martial-arts people have a completely distorted view of what real martial arts (read: actually used in combat or self-defense) are really about.

As practitioners of ninpo, I feel it’s important to know what the fake stuff constitutes, so that we can freely communicate the differences to those who inquire. Also, as practitioners of theatre, I feel stage combat is one of the most important and useful trainings one can get in the theatrical arts.

Fake fighting and real fighting go hand in hand in this culture. Mark Grove isn’t so crazy in his inclusion of stunt work and stage combat in his dojo. I’d like to embrace this cultural idea of martial arts as theatrical, and include a branch of training in this art. In reverse, too, hopefully those only trained in the fake stuff can then also come to us, to learn what a real punch feels like to throw, and especially to receive, and etc.

I get poked in the sacrum with my brother’s boshiken. My first black belt test, ninpo taijutsu, at the Genki Kai dojo. Also pictured: sensei Jason Boughn.

Mini-Essay Contest Winner

As you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, lovely lurkers, each time I teach Comp 1. This semester’s winner is Bennett Fresh, discussing CGI vs. practical effects. Good job, everyone, and congrats to Mr. Fresh!


 

Real Fake Action

by Bennett Fresh

The art of special effects in film has a long and storied past, almost as long as the history of film itself. For more than a century, film has been the greatest storyteller available to the masses. From early nickelodeons to the blockbuster films of today, special effects have been used to suspend disbelief and transport audiences to new worlds. Practical effects, until very recently, have dominated the world of cinema. As computing power has become cheaper and more readily available, computer generated images have steadily risen in prominence. Many, including myself, have asked the question of whether or not CGI has been a detriment to film.  It is my belief that while CGI can be a powerful tool to help tell a story, it should be used sparingly.

George Méliès, the father of special effects, invented many of the techniques still used in film today. It was his work that laid the foundation for the effects that would captivate audiences and confound the laws of physics for more than a century. Considering the age of these early films, the effects have aged remarkably well. As time has progressed and the techniques pioneered by Méliès have become more refined, the films that make use of such effects continue to astound and amaze the audiences of today. Early computer generated imagery, on the other hand, does not possess the same luster it might have once had. Few examples from the early days of CGI are capable of producing the impact they intend and often produce little more than confused laughs from those accustomed to the more refined CGI of the modern era.

When producing a film, a filmmaker must consider all costs associated with telling their story. If the use of special effects is required, they must weigh each option carefully. CGI has an appreciable cost-to-benefit ratio when used for short sequences. As the length of a CGI sequence increases, the cost rises as the effectiveness drops. Take, for example, the less-is-more approach of Terminator 2. For those unfamiliar, the sequel to the original 1984 Terminator film introduces a polymorphic robotic foil to Arnie’s rigid, also robotic, protagonist. The scenes in which the phase changing takes place are short and dramatic. There is not much time to scrutinize the level of detail present, which lends greater power to the sequences that make use of CG. Even over two decades since its release, the liquid metal robot in T2 is still as convincing as it was in 1991. Contrast this with films that blow their entire budgets on CGI sequences that were glaringly awful even upon release, a great example being The Matrix Reloaded. The entire climax of the film revolves around a ten minute brawl between one hundred Agent Smiths that appear to be made out of silly putty and an occasionally solid Keanu Reeves. Here, even the end result does not justify the massive budget, as the action and gravity that the scene could have had is drowned in a sea of lumpy polygons that vaguely resemble Hugo Weaver in a black suit.

This is not so say that practical effects do not suffer from similar woes. The complexity of certain sequences can make practical effects prohibitively expensive, if not outright impossible. Although, unlike the big budget computer generated action sequences, absurdly expensive real fake action almost always pays off. As an example, let us look again at James Cameron’s Terminator 2. The specific scene to which I refer is the breathtaking helicopter pursuit, easily one of the most complex and dangerous stunt sequences ever filmed. The scene looks and feels real and will indeed have you “‘gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen,’ that is, on the edge of your seat,” (Anderson 1.6.10-11) because it is real. The action was all filmed in situ by James Cameron himself, as the stunt pilot scraped skids of the helicopter on the tarmac at seventy miles an hour over an artificially illuminated stretch of the Long Beach Terminal Island freeway. The lunatics who choreographed and participated in that chase produced one of the most convincing action sequences ever filmed.

Computer generated imagery is a relatively new tool for directors and filmmakers to express their stories on the screen. It has a great deal of potential and power if utilized correctly, just like any form of special effects. There are many examples of excellent films that benefited from using CGI, but there are many more examples where that is not the case. Practical effects, properly implemented, lend weight and believability to any scene in which they are used, with generally fewer catastrophic failures. Computer generated images would best be viewed as a spice that can enhance a film when used properly, or ruin a film when abused.

The Rock as the Scorpion King, looking like an awkward diorama from a history museum. ~Jenn

The Rock as the Scorpion King, looking like an awkward diorama from a history museum. ~Jenn

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Works Cited

Anderson, Wes. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Final Revision. 2013. Google. 3 Feb. 2017. https://d97a3ad6c1b09e180027-5c35be6f174b10f62347680d094e609a.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/film_scripts/FSP3825_TGBH_SCRIPT_BOOK_C6.pdf.

Stamm, Emily. “The Most Insanely Complex Stunts from Science Fiction and Fantasy Films.” i09, 31 Jan. 2014, https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-most-insanely-complex-stunts-from-science-fiction-a-1513419585. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

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Stage Movement Class–Sign Up plz!

Because I am staring down the barrels of a very thin Spring semester, the multiple schools at which I teach having given me fewer courses than usual (which translates to less income for me), I feel the need to remind my MSU Denver students that a very important course is being offered this Spring that not only is required for your graduation (as a theatre major), but is also incredibly vital as far as teaching you important skills for being the most versatile, talented performer out there.

Because I’m afraid this course is going to get cancelled due to low enrollment again, I thought I’d begin a series of blog posts about the course, to encourage you all to sign up. My first post in this vein is to show you a showcase of the final exam of the course, which is a performance of an adaptation of some Dr. Seuss stories I crafted for theatrical production.

The video below is a compilation of several Stage Movement final performances, plus the second professional performance of the show back in 2000, all clipped up and mushed together.

What this final does is it combines the many skills learned in the course into one ensemble performance: physical characterization, mime, clowning, vocal/physical conditioning, strength and flexibility conditioning, falling and rolling, creating sets/characters/worlds using only physicality, character creation from the outside in, and working with technically complex scripts.

Enjoy this reel, and sign up for THE 3220: Stage Movement this spring.

Seuss Celebration from Jenn Zuko on Vimeo.

 

Hand to God

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The lovely and talented cast and crew of Hand to God, in rehearsal.

A shout out is in order to the cast and crew of Hand to God, which opens tomorrow at Curious Theatre in Denver!

I had a lovely time working with these folks–highly competent professionals, who had the good sense to bring me in early enough to incorporate the violence in their fresh blocking in such a way as to facilitate much practice, meaning they will avoid the dreaded “act, then fight, then act” syndrome seen in so many productions. Plus the acting is fantastic across the board.

This play is a super-messed-up, funny, thought-provoking, sick in a fun way show that I’m very much looking forward to seeing when I can. If you’re a local lovely lurker, come sometime when I’m there so we can chat during the talkback after the show.

Break a leg, you sick puppets you!

Current Theatrical Projects Update

Those of you who know me personally know that in my advanced age I have taken to performing less and less. Well, less, that is, than when I was a young woman, which was CONSTANTLY. My main reason for this is that live theatre: a) sucks up every last nanosecond of one’s free time, and b) doesn’t pay. Or if it does, the compensation isn’t balanced to the workload. So I have been doing only fight direction gigs, and operating under the rule that if I do appear onstage, it needs to be at least one if not all three of these things: 1) a paid gig; 2) a very important project to me, dream role, that sort of thing; 3) not a crippling time commitment. I Miss My MTV was 1 & 2, The Five 5ths of Labyrinth was 2 & 3… You get the picture.

I now find myself involved in three theatrical endeavors, lovely lurkers, and I’d like to take this blog post to tell you about them, especially for you local lurkers who might want to come see!

The first is a play that I am both acting in and choreographing fights for, called Outrageous Fortune. It’s a show all about tragic Shakespearean characters in group therapy. I am playing a valley-girl-like, gum-smacking Desdemona. Also I recently choreographed the second largest fight scene I ever have, for the culminating scene of this play. It’s being produced by Viva, a theatre company in connection with the Society For Creative Aging, which means the very large cast has a wide range of age. Which is a particular diversity not often seen. This goes up in late November, for just two weekends, at the Dairy Center for the Arts here in Boulder. This play is a 3.

The second is a play I coordinated all the violence and blood for, at prestigious Denver theatre company Curious Theatre. It’s a play called Hand to God, and is one seriously fucked up dark comedy about puppets at a Sunday school. Sex, puppets, possession, and lots of blood packs. This show opens in early November and closes in mid December. This project is 1, 2, and 3.

The third project is a longer term thing, of which I’m now in training. It’s t

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That’s what this audition was for. I got in. Thanks for the good wishes.

he beginner troupe of Boulder Burlesque, also known as Conscious Burlesque. This is an art form I’ve long been interested in, but never found how to join it, barring some gray-area sexiness on trapezes in Frequent Flyers back in the day. So now I’m in several weeks of burlesque training, culminating first in a semi-private performance  November 11th, and then a public performance in February (around Valentine’s Day, natch). I’ve been gently self-mocking that this endeavor is my mid-life crisis, but in reality it’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years now, and the fact that they’re all Naropa-y and empower-y and therapy-y and stuff just makes it that much better….

So that’s that, and those are those. Hopefully I’ll see some of you in some of these audiences, eh?

 

BIFF Review #3: EllieIda

Fringe Fest Review #3: EllieIdaReview by Jenn Zuko

Wow!! 

Okay, so, if I had been teaching my Stage Movement class at this time, I would have demanded, nay, required all my students to witness EllieIda. Why? Because this show, and especially these two actors’ performing this show, epitomize the concept of physical characterization. Let me explain:

Two women perform eight roles in this show. And of those eight, two of them span ages in a way that Ian McKellen’s Sherlock Holmes barely rivals. And the show does not take place in chronological order, oh no. The plot jumps back and forth in time from flashback to silent film slapstick to the two central characters at age 100, drinking and fighting over the remote in a physical way that only very highly trained clowning skill can achieve. What makes this show even more astonishing is the fact that, as an audience, you know each character immediately and thoroughly, not because the two actors change costume and makeup and hair in the blink of an eye, no. Because they both embody each character completely using posture, gesture, facial expression, and voice. In some scenes, each woman plays both the central characters and a third character, switching back and forth in a way that anyone less physically well trained would render confusing as all get out. This audience isn’t confused, though, because the physical characterization is so spot on, we know exactly who we’re looking at, even though the other actor was just playing her literally seconds ago.

image from the Boulder Fringe Fest website.


I’m trying my best, in each show review, to find something that could use improvement. You know, just to be totally honest and not be *that* reviewer that does nothing but glow and rave. I’m having trouble finding something less than positive to say about EllieIda though. Oh wait, I know!: as a stage combat professional and fight director, I do have issue with the use of the full-contact slap to the face. Even in a teensy, intimate space such as the CDC, I never think that the “authenticity” of contact slaps are worth the risk. And yet, having said that, I could see very clearly that neither woman was at all being unsafe, and the slaps did not a) stop the action with being too discombobulating, or b) look fake, with flinches, too-quiet sounds, etc. So. Maybe this is the exception to my slap rule? Naw, I’ll never succumb…..

Bottom line? As you may guess, I absolutely highly recommend EllieIda. If you have to be selective, or miss any of the shows at the Fringe, do not let yourself miss out on this one.

RATING: 5 stars out of 5.

For more of these (and other) performances, go to Boulder Fringe.

Oh. Hey. Didn’t see you there…

I’ve not been super active here, lovely lurkers, because I’ve been active here:


This is the Longmont Dance Theatre’s summer camp, and they take me on each year to teach the ballet students stage combat. Which is ridiculous, stupendous fun, as the ladies (and every so often a gentleman or two) range in age between 9 and 18. But because of this, it also saps every last ounce of my energy. Especially in such heat.

This year, the students rocked with their fantastic unarmed fights, and their amazingly quick learning of the sword drill. Good job, kids, and I’ll see you next summer.