stage combat

What Day is it?

I mean, what even is time anymore…

Not that that’s an excuse. It’s really that I’ve been using other types of social media, the microblog type ones, to do colorful updates, commentary, and all that jazz. But I have missed this longer form platform for more composed musings, and so here I am. And now the party can start again.

I thought I’d begin anew this Fall-into-Winter by doing one of those life activity summaries that those of you who are left seem to enjoy reading. Here tis, in a nutshell:

WORK: I’m concluding a course at DU called Genres, in which a dozen Professional Writing Program students peruse various literary genres, analyze them, and even create some of their own. I always wish we could go over *actual* genres like Mystery, Fantasy, Romance, etc. but that’s not the way PWRI be. Which is okay. That’s over in a couple weeks. At Metro, the Intro kids are concocting their big final projects, which are one-act plays. I’m very excited (as I always am) to see how these turn out. This semester, they’re required to make a trailer for them, too, which should be a lot of fun. The Staging Cultures kids are winding up reading their last two plays (M Butterfly and Angels In America), and then they’ll be finished up too.

Once a week or so of many holiday snacks go by, I’ll be back online at DU teaching Art and Interpretation, as well as a translation class! That ought to be quite the hoot—I’ll have to revisit my Cyrano or Arsene Lupin translations. Then it’s Staging Cultures again at Metro at mid-month. It’s not looking likely that I will ever be given Stage Movement again there, so. We’ll see how much longer I linger there, before I get fully shouldered out. After momre than 20 years, 16 at that department. Hey, it’s adjuncting. What can you do…

Well, one thing I maybe can do: I’ve been serving on MSU’s Faculty Senate as affiliate (adjunct) rep, and will soon be also on the Faculty Welfare subcommittee. So we shall see what kind of things I can make better there…

Speaking of one-acts and adjuncting, I’m WRITING (about) both right now. I will be writing a holiday themed one-act for TCL’s festival again—last year, I wrote a play using the lyrics and situation of ”Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This year? I’m not quite sure yet, but I get the feeling that the Grinch may be visited by Scrooge’s 3 ghosts. The memoir project is officially complete. That is, I finished the writing part. Now to do a bunch more editing and get some paratext stuff together (like Tables of Contents, a query letter, etc.) and it should be ready to shop out by my birthday. Yipes and wow.

In THEATRE land, Blue Dime Cabaret came back and conquered! We had two shows at Dangerous Theatre, one of which completely sold out! The high level of talent that came back to appear for us never ceases to amaze me, but especially this time. I even got PB to come do a song with me. We plan on doing a First Fridays thing at Dangerous once the new year breaks, but of course everything depends on the pandemic still at this point. I had a great time doing the fights for Always a Bridesmaid at TCL, and I might have another fight gig coming up at Vintage, but I haven’t had confirmation on that one yet, so maybe not. Oh, and one thing that counts as both writing and theatre? I read some of my work at a Punketry show, accompanied by a punk/jazz band.

As far as just LIFE stuff? I’ve been finally, after too long, getting things like prescriptions and dental work done for myself, which is a good thing. I’ve been suffering recently from a bout of some kind of piriformis syndrome / sciatica type thing which has flattened me nearly completely for almost two weeks. That isn’t such a good thing, but having my body put the brakes on for me does make me perforce do some stopping, and thinking.

And writing. Which is a good thing to come out of that.

More longer form stuff to come. No, really—there’s a few things fleshed out in my notes that have gone dormant since my book project, that I would like to wake up and see if they take. Stay tuned.

Punketry was a hoot. My Beat profs at Naropa would’ve been proud.

Link is the Hero, Not Zelda

Well here we are again, lovely lurkers–time for a list of links, for your educational and/or entertainment needs. Please to follow any and all of these, and enjoy!

Denver Unique Week of Fashion was the first in-person live theatrical type event I did as the plague began to clear up a bit. It happened in April of this year, and it’s happening again at its normal Fall time of year. This event is focused on local designers and showcasing those designs on all kinds of beautiful models (not just the conventional type). I know right know I’ll be walking for Misfit Missy on that Friday, and will likely be strutting the catwalk on M and W as well. Keep up on my Insta to see more.

Speaking of live events coming back, we at BLUE DIME Cabaret are in talks to come back in September. We are still in very early preliminary talks, so no deets yet, but the place to find updates is our FB page.

Burlesquey friends of BDC are doing a horror themed burlesque show called HQ of 1000 Corpses, over at HQ Bar in Denver, in early October. I’ll have a sexy bloody act, and will be helping the whole show with the gory bits, too.

The Problematic Tropes (both of Badass Women and Toxic Masculinity) series of mine on Writers’ HQ were defunct for a short bit whilst they updated their website, so all those links in the earlier posts here aren’t working. Now they’re back, with all working gifs and such. And of course, the last few in the series are still up on Friend Jason’s blog.

My memoir is going swimmingly, as coached along by author Herb Childress. His book was an inspiration for the project, and his blog is also some very well written food for thought, on a much more regular basis than my posts here.

Finally, as I have had the hesitantly joyful experience of shooting some firearms over at a range near the SO’s family’s place, I have therefore become more interested in firearms in a theatrical context. I’m a sword guy–the gun thing is a big gap in my expertise when it comes to stage combat. Luckily, a local-ish colleague of mine is an expert in these things, both having written a stellar textbook on the subject, and heading the fantastic video content over at his Youtube page, called, cutely enough, PewTube.

Me awkwardly shooting a pewpew. It’s pretty fricking fun, as bad as I am at it.

Catching Up

Yowza. How about that heat, amirite? And that pandemic thing? whewww…

So let’s see… It has been A While…what have I been up to in all this time (yeesh, it’s been MONTHS) since I wrote last? I mean yeah there are several reasons that are totes legit why I haven’t given all you lovelies anything to lurk over (like, not having any real events happen on account of… well, the PLAGUE), but really that’s only reasons and not excuses. So here I am attempting to air out, fluff up, and put out this blog again. let’s hope on a regular basis. (I know, I know, you’re all holding your breath…)

And so, I thought it’d be mildly amusing to do one of those What Is Jenn Zuko Up To Right Now posts that used to be much more frequent. /cracks knuckles/ Here goes…

WORK:

My teaching is, ironically, still going strong. Remember how, before the pandemic, I was attempting a career shift? Well that got derailed in the shutdown, and I was relegated to sticking with the shitty job I have, than fly to others which I know not of. Plus, as an adjunct, I don’t get paid for unemployment. Better safe than sorry, and hey–I got to teach stage combat (in a pandemic-modified way), and have been given consistent online courses at DU /knock on wood/. Some of the DU courses were new to me, too, so that was fun. Masterworks of Fiction? Cool. Visual and Physical Communication? Sign me up! And the Capstones I’ve advised have run the gamut from a comedic memoir about trauma, to a volume of poetry, to this quarter where I’m working with a student’s High Fantasy novel about a world where cat-people engage in meditation and spiritual practice. Pretty cool stuff.

Speaking of current classes, I’m just in the first phase of both Summer sessions of DU and Metro. At the former, I’ve got the abovementioned Capstone to advise, as well as two online Visual and Physical Communication courses. I’m loving those–we read some of Paul Ekman’s work, and I get to nerd out about Lie to Me, one of my favorite shows… and at the latter, I’m doing that online course called Staging Cultures you’ve heard me describe before.

As far as near future when it comes to work?

No idea yet what’s in store for me in the Fall at DU, but at Metro I’ll be doing Staging Cultures again and a fully revamped Intro to Theatre course. It’s been de-colonized by a new prof, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the class is like to teach now. No idea if I’ll ever be getting a Stage Movement class ever again–said prof has basically taken it over, but time will tell. Also not sure when I’ll be back into attempting a career change yet (speaking of), but I’ll keep you all in the loop on that. Boulder Startup Week was a travesty, mainly because of the platform they were using, but don’t let them hear me say that…

THEATRE:

I was in a couple Zoom theatre productions through the pandemic, but you saw me advertise those. Especially if you’re following me on the Visage Tome. Live theatre is only now crawling back out of its hole, and I’m swooping in as best I can.

I have a couple potential fight gig irons in the fire for the near future but I haven’t gotten confirmation on each, so I’ll wait to announce those once I know for sure.

Denver Unique Week of Fashion was a hoot–it’s rare that a woman of my stature gets to be a fashion model, and I walked the catwalk for four different local designers that week, at various cool Denver venues (a few of which gave me ideas for the future of Blue Dime Cabaret…).

Friend Kerry form college is a filmmaker now, and she brought me on to her upcoming dystopian fantasy movie, called Suffer. I choreographed and directed the fight scenes for it, and did so over Zoom, which was a fascinating process. I haven’t done a lot of fighting for film–most of my experience is in live theatre–so that was neat. I look forward to seeing how that turns out. The stills and updates they regularly share on Instagram look really cool.

Future theatre stuff?

Besides those two fight gigs that I haven’t heard from yet, we at Blue Dime Cabaret are in talks to return to regular shows as soon as may be. Nothing set in stone or on calendars yet, but our return is indeed imminent.

WRITING:

I hope to be a bit more regular here on this blog, and I also have ambitious ideas of picking up my pen-name blog again too. This is a lot of writing for a woman whose job entails a lot of writing, but again–not an excuse. We’ll see how it goes. I can at least be, say, weekly, here? At the very least. Okay, now I’ve promised you. So be it.

I’m working on a big BIG project, too–a memoir-ish book tentatively titled A Strong Woman Under The Gaslight. It parallels the emotional abuse I suffered in the same 20 years from both my husband and my job as adjunct faculty. Now that I’ve plunged full speed ahead in the writing of it, I’ve also added the third thread of the abusive nature of a life in the theatre. It’s exhausting work, but important work. I think it’s going to be a pretty damn good book, too–it’s shaping up.

Said memoir wouldn’t be… well I was going to say it wouldn’t be as good as it is, but if I’m honest, it wouldn’t be at all if it weren’t for the brilliant and intrepid Herb Childress, author of The Adjunct Underclass, Slush, and others, who has agreed to the insanely difficult job of being my writing coach and guide through the process. It’s because of his work on my weekly submissions to him that this work is going at all, let alone so well, and I am quite excited to see how this whole book pans out.

Near future of writing stuff? Well eventually I do want to get this memoir thing published, but that’s neither here nor there, and that’s more like far future. But eminent SAFD-connected journal The Fight Master is publishing another of my articles in an upcoming issue. This time, it’s a cobbling together of a bunch of material from my many presentations on The Fight Is The Story. I’m passing revisions back and forth between the editor and me on that right now, so that’s a thing that’ll happen soonish.

Another reason why I haven’t been writing here. But again, not an excuse. Just a reason.

OTHER:

I’m living mostly with the SO in Centennial/Greenwood Village right now, with brief forays into Boulder to visit doctors and dentists and the Birdhouse. Less liminal, but still a bit so. Going to Goth Prom but no longer Denver Comic Con, which has been fully rebranded and has lost me, frankly. We”ll see about Page 23.

And I’m fully vaccinated. So. Pucker up.

From Insta, the other day. The gladius I’m wielding was a birthday gift to the SO.

Unarmed Pandemic Violence

The MSU Denver Stage Combat students have concluded their first unit, which was Unarmed. Since Unarmed usually takes being closer together than pandemic rules allow, we decided to do one of those linked-clip videos you’ve seen so many other stunt groups do during social distancing mode. Here’s the final, knitted-together version for your enjoyment. And remember, if you’re moved to comment: these are beginners. And it’s a pandemic.

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #4: fighting on film

I’m going in a brand new direction in the stage combat course this Spring: we’re going to be doing our unarmed unit all online! Check out this video in the vein of those stunt compilations you’ve seen around during lockdown: the participants are all MSU theatre students, alumni, or faculty. Oh, and my partner, too.

Sign up for stage combat so it won’t get canceled!

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3c: Swords (broadswords)

Me, Brian, and Geoff performing at CO RenFaire, 1998. I like to call this pic “Broad’s Swords.”

We have this lovely little collection of hand-and-a-half broadswords at Metro, and before now I’ve never had the time to bring them out and play with them in class. But now that I’m shifting the course curriculum a bit and making the semester more about having long weapons in our hands (easy social distancing), I thought I’d go ahead and fit them in this coming semester.

Broadswords are a bigger, heavier, thicker-bladed, and earlier type of sword than the rapier, though many of them tend to be no longer. The ones we have at Metro aren’t heavy, solid-steel, enormous longswords or claymores, though—they’re built a bit lighter than most I’ve used and learned on; they are about the same length as the rapiers (though obviously the blades are much wider), and the hilts are your basic cross hilt and with a grip that’s easy to use with one hand, or the hand-and-a-half technique, where you steady your hold with your off hand on the pommel. This will be a lot of fun and will be an easy segue either from or into the lightsabers, which can also be used one handed or two.

Plus, our broadswords make this gorgeous chiming sound as they clash together, with proper stage combat technique of course. We haven’t really used these weapons hardly at all, so if you’re a Metro, CCD, or UCD student, you won’t want to miss this iteration of the class—I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to use them again, if we go back to “normal”…

There’s still just 5 people signed up. Register now!

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3b: Swords (lightsabers)

Honestly, need I say more?

We had lightsaber day once in class in the BeforeTimes. This is the 9-cut drill from Japanese swordsmanship and it’s super cool looking.

Okay, okay, here’s the deal: there are still only 5 students signed up for MSU Denver’s stage combat class next semester. I’ve been regaling you with the things I’m adding, changing, and planning for with the pandemic rules in mind, and the class is looking like it’s going to be a heckuva lot of fun.

One of the changes I’m making is I’m going to mainly do weapons work, keeping our safe distance and etc. So I’m adding staffs back in to the curriculum, as I mentioned, and we’ll be doing not one, but three kinds of swords!

My technique for cool looking lightsaber fights for stage are not based on the Star Wars canon styles, but on Japanese katana technique. I do this for several reasons, the main two of which have to do with the fights needing to look real (instead of a twirly non-fight dance like in episode 1), and that originally? Star Wars is a combination of a western and a samurai flick, and the “elegant weapon for a more civilized age” lends itself very well to katana technique.

Also, katana technique is much more versatile—anyone who’s an anime fan can then use the basic style for any sort of Japanese-looking fights, and the drill is based off of actual swordsmanship/martial arts, as opposed to a fictional or purely theatrical system. Learn lightsabers from me and that’s not all it’s useful for (though it’s some of the funnest).

How can you resist? Let’s get more masked avengers signed up, so we have these experiences! What are you waiting for?

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3a: Swords (Rapiers)

One of the coolest weapons to learn in the field of Stage Combat is the sword. In my not-so-humble and professional opinion, the rapier is one of the coolest looking and funnest (I’m also an English professor–that’s totally a word) swords to learn, too. It’s also most likely the sword you’ll find you’re using onstage most often in any number of productions–other types aren’t used nearly as often as rapiers.

Perfect social distancing. Plus gloves are required when using rapiers.

Rapiers are the swords you use in Shakespeare, in Three Musketeers, in Moliere stuff… even in some Restoration comedy they’ll use the very slightly earlier rapier. Fantasy worlds, too, like to feature the ornamental quality of the rapier, and for good reason. Rapiers are pretty, slender, and quick without being tiny and invisible onstage, and let’s not forget Princess Bride‘s role in popularizing them for theatrical use. Pirate flicks often use rapiers over cutlasses, too, because they look so cool.

We at MSU Denver are beyond fortunate that we own, in the theatre department, over 20 beautiful, custom made rapiers for use in class and in productions. This gorgeous and well made arsenal was constructed by the late, great Denny Graves; who in his life was one of the very best stage combat weapon makers in the country, and certainly in this state. He’s no longer with us, so our collection of Graves masterpieces is something to treasure, being irreplaceable and made like no other swords you can get anywhere these days. (Rogue Steel is a close second, so if you’re in the theatrical weapon market, they’re the ones to go with nowadays–I have two of their rapiers and I’m very happy with them.) But the fact is, unless you are the lucky owner of a Denny Graves piece, you won’t be able to work with them pretty much anywhere else unless you take my classes at Metro.

Plus, a 4-foot sword at the end of an extended arm equals around 6 feet of safe distance between you and anyone else. Win-win.

In a past Advanced class, the students adapted the opening scene from Romeo & Juliet into a pirate rivalry, cannons, Captain Hook, piecemeal costumes, rapiers, and all.

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #2: Staff Meetings

I’m writing these posts, lovely lurkers, for a few reasons: one is to share with my colleagues in the stage combat community what sorts of things I’m doing with stage combat instruction, with safety in the pandemic in mind. Masks and social distancing are the ways to guard against the plague, and as such, some of the things I used to teach (especially the types of techniques involving touch), will be tossed aside this year in favor of other, safer, things.

This year, I’m adding back one weapons system that I used to include as part of the regular syllabus (and it has a dedicated chapter in my book, Stage Combat): six foot staffs.

Chris and Wee Katie rehearse their pirate vs. ninja fight.

Since safe social distancing is six feet apart, I thought it was the perfect thing to once again teach in the beginning course at Metro. European style staffs of this type are called Quarterstaffs, and in the Japanese style (which I am most heavily trained in, from my years in Japanese martial arts) is called rokushaku-bo, or just bo staff.

Staffs are a super fun weapon to learn–I know it’s not nearly as commonly found in theatre as unarmed or swords are, but hey. It’s a pandemic, and needs must. Besides, “normal” theatre ain’t normal anymore, and won’t be anytime soon. So. Speak with projection, and carry a 6-foot stick.

If you’re a student at MSU Denver, UCD, or CCD, sign up for Stage Combat in the Pandemic this Spring semester. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Scott and Jordan used staffs, swords, and canned food as weapons for their fight scene from Waiting For Godot. Yep, you heard right. They also used their new-found knowledge of fake blood to help with verisimilitude.