stage combat

Sign up for Advanced Stage Combat plea #4

And the reason this time is:

Strange and unusual weapons.

At Metro, the beginning Stage Combat class covers the basics of both unarmed and rapier techniques. And as you might imagine, the whole 16 weeks’ worth of time is necessary for the introduction and especially the practice, of the bare basics.

In the advanced class, everyone enters knowing the basics, basically (we of course do a review session on our first day), and so we can use that knowledge to move forward into other stuff. This coming semester, we’ll be doing broadswords and staffs, as you’ve already heard about.

But there’s other stuff we’ll cover, too: some have to do with harder versions of the basic weapons. For example, large group fights, sword fighting up and down stairs a la Errol Flynn, circular or erratic footwork in sword fighting, advanced taihenjutsu like dive rolls, simulated (and real) martial arts throws, falling from a height, etc. (See me below, playing around on a climbing wall with a past advanced class–we learned some aerial dance rope stuff as well as basic climbing, plus falling from a height.)

In the past, I’ve also done micro-units on martial arts styles and found weapons (which are normal everyday objects used as weapons–something that pops up in current theatre far more often than, say, swords), and then of course one can also use classic weapons techniques to inform other, more unusual ones.

For example, a knowledge of basic Japanese katana technique will make you pretty decent at wielding a lightsaber (and staff knowledge helps with that double-bladed number Darth Maul had).

This coming Fall (if I can get 12 students signed up), we will be doing a video-game fight unit. And wouldn’t it be cool if I got UCD’s renowned film department in on that project. Is mo-cap, animation, or film technique in our future? Will I bring this class (as I have done for one of our summer private courses) down to one of the Parkour studios in Denver for specialized training? Time will tell. That’s if I get the enrollment numbers.

A reminder: anyone can audit, but anyone attending the three schools on Auraria campus (MSU, CCD, and UCD) can sign up for this course. As of last time I checked, I had 6 enrolled, which is half the required number I need for the class to go.

So. What are you waiting for?

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Plea to sign up for Advanced Stage Combat #3

And the central reason in this post, that you should sign up for Advanced Stage Combat at MSU this Fall?

One word: broadswords.

A few years back, the theatre department purchased a bunch of beautiful hand-and-a-half broadswords that are big enough to warrant good broadsword technique, but short and light enough that they’re easy to wield. And the sound they make, clanging together, is diviiiiine…

Thing is, whereas the rapiers are used in the beginning course, and every so often in productions (like, when we do Shakespeare, for example), the broadswords are rarely, if ever, used. So we’re gonna break em out in advanced class. If I can get six more people to sign up, that is.

(The pic below is not class, and not those particular swords, but is an image from my time in the late ’90s as a stunt performer at the Renaissance Festival. It shows how much awesome fun playing w broadswords can be.)

Plea #2: sign up for Advanced Stage Combat

Reason Number 2 of thousands:

Six foot staffs.

Even in SAFD land, the six foot staff (what they call quarterstaff) is not often taught in the basic stage combat courses. This is certainly understandable to a certain extent, as it’s not one of those weapons that most actors will most often find themselves wielding.

This coming fall semester, however, I will be adding staff back into the Stage Combat curriculum. Fun fact: when I first designed the beginning Stage Combat course for Metro back in 2005, there were three weapons systems they all learned: Unarmed, Staff, and Sword (rapier). I later axed the staff unit, for to spend more time with the swords and the finals, and with the knowledge that the staff (though basic weapons training for me at the time in martial arts) wasn’t really a fundamental weapon most beginners would need to know about.

But it’s so very much fun!! And so this fall we will be wielding them again for the first time in about a dozen years. So if you’re an Auraria student or want to audit, get on your registration now so I can hit my minimum enrollment before cancellation. Do eet.

Advanced Stage Combat

Remember a few months back, when I posted a series of pleas, extolling the virtues of my Stage Movement class, so that students at Auraria campus would sign up for it? I ended up with a good number of students in that one, and now I’m beginning a series of pleas about a new, vastly exciting course.

Well it’s not new, exactly, but the last time it was offered was …. gosh 8 years ago? Is that true? Anyway, suffice to say I wasn’t expecting the good folks in charge at Metro’s Theatre department to ever offer it again. But guess what? This Fall, it’s there, with a real course number and everything. It’s called ADVANCED STAGE COMBAT, and I am pleased as punch to be teaching this again. (At least, I’ll be teaching it if enough people sign up.)

I’m planning on putting up a post dedicated to each of the things about this course I’m most looking forward to, so let’s start with what’s the very first and very last fight scene the Advanced Stage Combat students do: the big group fight scene.

Big group fights are challenging, as there’s more that goes into a 3 person or more fight than just orchestrating pairs. For the first assignment in this course, I have the students do a full-class-member fight scene. One year, it was an 8-person fight. Another year? It was 12. One group set the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet on a pirate ship’s port, including cannons, ladders, “water” and grog along with the biting of the thumbs.

If you’re a student at any of the schools on auraria campus, do sign up for Advanced Stage Combat. I need 12 people to join me, or it’ll get cancelled. Plus, it’s a very unusual thing for an undergraduate program to have this robust a Stage Combat training offered to its theatre students. You’ll see it (sometimes) in MFA programs, but this is something special to have on your undergraduate cv. Take advantage of it.

Musings Upon a New (ish) Semester

Well fuck. 

I use invective, lovely lurkers, with conscience and reason. Why I just used one of the words that would make my movie Rated R in America is that I just saw that the last post on this blog was posted in, like, mid-August. Seriously, what the fuck? Why do you tolerate this kind of behavior from me, huh? Are you all so busy reading Parallel Bars that you can’t be bothered? Can’t say I blame you, truth be told…

So I’m jogging in the reins of Week 4 at both Metro and Front Range, Week 2 of Regis, and the verrrry beginning of Week 1 at DU. And lemme tell ya about the cool shit that’s happening at all those fine institutions (okay, I’m going with this invective thing):

At Metro: I’m teaching that online Staging Cultures course I’ve told you about before. It’s a really good reading list, lovely lurkers. Let me know if you want it. I’m also doing a MW (that’s Monday & Wednesday, kids) Intro to Theatre, which is a delightful gen ed course I haven’t done in a while. Man are those First Year Success students bright eyed and enthusiastically bushy tailed! They’re just about to embark on their historical presentation projects AND their Raisin in the Sun unit, so wow how much good material can we stomach at 11am? A lot, apparently. Youthful energy, I’m tellin ya…

Beginning Stage Combat over at Metro is Friday mornings as is usual, but as is not usual, it’s SO FULL YOU GUYS! There’s, like, 24 or something people in it, and they’re all lovely young talented energetic insane theatre majors and I am having so much fun and getting so old…. They’re just about to start choreographing their Unarmed fights, and I could not be more excited!

At Regis: I have two lovely and talented grad students doing a one on one Writing the Novel course w me; and one other lovely and talented grad student doing my own self-constructed YA Literature course (one on one, natch. It’s nearly always one on one at Regis). It’s going to be some stellar writing, which will only make me wish I had more time to work on my own work….

At Front Range: it’s two evening courses: a Comp I and a Comp II. The former is revising their Mini-Essays as we speak (Er, as I type), and you know what that means! That’s right: the Mini-Essay Contest winner post is imminent! Let’s hope it’s not the next one, as I need to be more frequent than that here….

Comp II as is usual these days for me, functions under a theme of Creativity and Innovation. They just finished their (quite high quality) Elevator Pitches, and now have just been introduced to the Analyzing An Image essay, which is where they pick an ad or psa and analyze it in essay format. Should be some good reading.

And finally,

At DU: Children’s Literature started today! As my ancient, steam-powered laptop decided to become a doorstop recently, it was quite the challenge to get that course shell updated and ready to go for a fresh crop of Professional Writing graduate students. But I am nothing if not diligent. And, yes, I have a lot of work to do still, but hey at least it’s up and functioning, and thanks to the SO, I have a brand spanking new refurbished box I can now use to get everything even more ship-shape. Thanks to that generous soul…

Oh but that’s not all! I also continue to have professional endeavors:

Bronze Fox Burlesque is doing their next show at License no.1 under the loose theme of Clue (the movie) and murder mysteries in general. I am mulling over choreography for a duet and a new solo right now…

Metro is doing The Country Wife in a couple weeks, a ribald comedy of no manners at all, and I am consulting the period movement as well as choreographing and directing a raucous chick fight with fans. And maybe fisticuffs.

I’m still writing for Parallel Bars and Your Boulder, editing the SO’s spectacular new book, and I’m just now starting to think I could remount my Retro Reviews of Sherlock, over on Sherlock’s Home, now the 4th season is far enough away…..

So.

Megan shows my Intro students the ropes. Literally.

Hm.

I guess there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to post here. Yeah, well. NO FUCKING EXCUSES, AMIRITE?

Ahem. Carry on….

The Fight is the Story (part 2)

Make sure you go back to the previous FitS post, part 1, and read it thoroughly before you read this one. This is my contrasting example to the pointless fight scene that was in the Phantom Menace. It appears at the end of Return of the Jedi. Here it is:

Let’s look at the basics first: this, like the PM fight, is a master and apprentice vs. a solo opponent. What’s that? Oh yes, it is. If you are under the impression that the Emperor isn’t a part of this fight because he isn’t whipping out a lightsaber, that’s where you’re wrong, and that’s also where you’re falling into the same trap as so many storytellers out there, when it comes to fights. The Emperor is a major part of this fight, throughout. In fact, he starts it.

So. 1): Why here, why now, why these characters fighting? What’s everyone’s OBJECTIVE?
It’s quite clear: Luke’s OBJECTIVE: to bring his father back with him. Vader’s OBJECTIVE: same thing, basically: to keep his son here with him, enjoy blissful life in the Dark Side as a family. And our third fighter in this scene, the Emperor? He wants these two to fight to the death. Remember what Vader seems to have forgotten: there’s only a master and an apprentice Sith at any one time. Now for the Emperor, he’d obviously rather have Luke, as he’s younger and stronger with the Force, but hey, if Vader ends up killing his own son, well talk about Dark side, and he’s been a pretty gosh darn good viscount of terror for this many years. Really either way is fine. And no, you don’t have to have read novels or anything to get this from this fight scene–in fact, if you didn’t see any of the rest of the movie, this would still be clear as day.

So, how about 2)? Lots of clear TACTICS going on here, starting with Palpatine’s biggest TACTIC, the one he’s best at: to seduce. Notice that he’s using mainly words in this fight, up until the end, that is. Why? Because WORDS ARE HIS STRONGEST WEAPON! Palpatine has no need to resort to physical tactics through most of this fight. Why? Because HIS VERBAL TACTICS ARE WORKING. It’s his insidious tease and threat to Luke’s friends that spurs Luke to grab his lightsaber and attempt to kill him. And yeah, it’s obvious that that is what he’s trying to do–the way the first move is choreographed makes that apparent. Vader’s objective? To protect his master. Through the first part of that whole fight, every physical move Luke does (after the initial failed one) is to try and get away from his father, so he won’t have to fight him. Kicking him away, only blocking Vader’s blows, jumping up to the catwalk–all these things are attempts to STOP fighting Vader. Why does he start fighting him again? Well, Vader himself pulls out the verbal tactics, to get Luke to come out of hiding and continue the fight. He finds out about Leia, and threatens her safety. This TACTIC works: Luke is overwhelmed with anger and launches himself at Vader, his attacks now vicious.

This is where we see the fight take a major turn. And this is where the biggest fight scene mistake was made in ep. 2 (the ridiculous Yoda vs. Dooku lightsaber fight), when you compare.

Luke accidentally cuts off Vader’s hand. This shocks him, and makes him stop his barrage, remembering what his OBJECTIVE is and how this attack was NOT a TACTIC to get him that OBJECTIVE. Palpatine takes this opportunity to pounce: still using verbal TACTICS, he reveals his OBJECTIVE to the other fighters. He tells Luke to kill Vader and take his place. When Luke turns off his lightsaber, throws it away, and says, “No,” this is the moment when Palpatine’s verbal TACTICS have run out. Then, and only then, does Palpatine resort to physical violence. And he does so in a way appropriate to his character (unlike Yoda vs. Dooku). Does he whip out a lightsaber and supernaturally become agile real quick? No, of course not, that would make no sense. Instead, he uses a physical weapon much more apropos to him: the Force lightning. Luke has no idea this is even a thing, and has no defense against it–all he can do is collapse, screaming in agony. He does have one more verbal TACTIC left in him, though: he calls for his father to help him.

And boy does that TACTIC work: Vader then uses a physical TACTIC to stop the barrage. Because of this balance in the fight scene, it’s my professional opinion that Vader didn’t predict that he’d die from the lightning. It sure doesn’t look like he expected it, but once it was happening, he changed his OBJECTIVE into killing Palpatine, because he knows he won’t survive to collect his previous OBJECTIVE. And thus he succeeds. All of this is crystal clear, not from obscure back story, but FROM THE FIGHT ITSELF.

Not a whole lot of spinning in this fight scene, but what a more compelling, interesting, gripping, and exciting fight this was than the one in Phantom Menace. Well, the music in the other was pretty cool…..

The Fight is the Story (part 1)

Since I will only have a mere 15 minutes for my DCC presentation this year, I thought it’d behoove everyone interested if I posted my more detailed thoughts about what I’ll be discussing Saturday, so that folks with inquiring minds can get the full effect of my presentation. This year, I’ll be talking solely about The Three Rules for Actors, how they apply to plot, and how fight scenes fit in with that. For background on these rules, see the following two older posts, one about the Three Rules in writing, and one about the Three Rules in warriorship. Read these articles first, so you can be familiar with the concept of OBJECTIVE, TACTICS, and OBSTACLES.

The basic thesis of my presentation “The Fight is the Story” is twofold: 1) a fight scene needs to be an essential part of the overarching story itself; 2) a fight scene needs to tell a story alone, too: a fight should be physical storytelling. Too often, fight scenes are shoehorned into stories (especially in this Age Of The Superhero Blockbuster), where they have no place, aren’t interesting or necessary, and are completely gratuitous. Why does this happen? Why, because fight scenes are cool. Empirically. But let me explain further:

1) Whenever a character speaks, what that actually is is TACTICS. The only reason a character ever opens her mouth is as a TACTIC to obtain her OBJECTIVE. When she has run out of words–that is, when each one of her verbal tactics has failed, then and only then does she resort to physical ones. This is (or, should be) the only reason a fight scene occurs. When the words run out, that’s when the fight happens. Actually, it’s my opinion that this is why fights happen in real life, too. But I digress…

So when I’m choreographing a fight scene for a play, I look at the whole script. I ask myself (and often the director) the following vital questions: Why does this fight have to happen here, now? Why between these characters? Why these weapons? What about all these things are vital TACTICS, to bring the characters to what OBJECTIVE? What do the characters want, that they are fighting to get it? Often directors will be surprised at how little actual fighting needs to be seen onstage.

2) Each move within a fight scene is a TACTIC to gain an OBJECTIVE in and of itself. Each thing a character does physically is to move him closer to his OBJECTIVE. When a fight scene in cinema has too much CGI, or too many cuts, the viewer can’t see what the TACTICS actually are, and so loses the thread of what should be physical storytelling.

EXAMPLE ONE: The Phantom Menace

So, let’s talk about 1): Why these characters, here and now? What is Darth Maul’s OBJECTIVE? What is Qui-Gon Jinn’s? Obi-Wan seems to be rather tagging along with his teacher, but it’s unclear what his OBJECTIVE is, either, except for one brief and fleeting moment (which I’ll talk about in a minute). Are the Jedi protecting the Queen? Well, no, it doesn’t seem like Maul is really threatening her, and she’s off being a badass with her army somewhere else anyway. The only thing I can see here is Jedi vs. Sith. No reason for the fight to happen, here and now, and the only reason I can even tell who’re the good guys and who’s the bad guy is that the good guys are white men dressed in light earth tones, and the bad guy looks like an amalgam of multiple cultures’ portrayals of demons and devils through history. Sorry, but it’s true: nothing in this fight needs to be happening now, as far as the over-arching plot goes (such as it is). Are the Jedi wanting to kill the Sith, or disarm him? Doesn’t seem like either, at least not judging from any of the moves seen here. And what’s Maul trying to do? Besides show off his aerial cartwheel skills? Which brings me to:

2): NOBODY IS TRYING TO DO ANYTHING TO ANYONE ELSE. There are ZERO physical tactics going on here, and no OBJECTIVES to speak of at all. Seriously. Look at it. Now, a lightsaber is a pretty versatile weapon: you can stab, cut, sever, throw and catch, and even do stuff to the environment to advantage. Is any of that happening? No. Not for any tactical reason anyway. It’s all for show. There’s a lot of spinning going on, both of blades and of bodies, for no reason (and yes, Virginia, I am a martial artist and I do know what spins are actually for in martial arts. Nobody is spinning anything for any of those reasons). The lightsaber blades are literally meeting in the air between characters, like kids playing with sticks in the park.

There’s one brief moment of a clear OBJECTIVE: when Qui-Gon Jinn is killed. Obi-Wan then suddenly, clearly, and beautifully shows us (FINALLY!!) a reason he’s fighting. He doesn’t have to speak it for it to be apparent: “You killed my teacher; I’m going to kill you!” However, that OBJECTIVE promptly disappears into the purposeless, spinning choreography as soon as it starts up again, and Ewan MacGregor’s brilliant acting reverts once again to Dancer Face.

My conclusion? The only reason this fight scene is here is that the writers suddenly realized, “Oh shit! We don’t have a big spectacular lightsaber fight scene yet! The movie’s almost over! Quick, put one in!” Because fight scenes are cool, and lightsabers some of the coolest. Thing is: if the only lightsaber fight was that brief drive-by encounter on Tatooine, earlier, that would have been much more compelling, much more impactful, and would have made a whole lot more sense. Think about it: Maul has a specific OBJECTIVE for having done that quick fight. His purpose was to reveal himself, scare the midichlorians out of the Jedi, and leave them freaking out. That way, we wonder with the Jedi: what the heck is gonna happen in the next movie? Was that the master, or the apprentice? What will they do next? (Of course, those of us nerdy enough to remember that the Emperor’s name was Palpatine in ep. 6 would totally know this, but still!)

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I Roger-Ebert a *good* example of a lightsaber fight scene.

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.

———-

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.