stage movement

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #1: Distance

When the plague first hit, lovely lurkers, I was just about to embark on the last unit of Metro’s Stage Movement class, and had to be quick about yoinking the whole unit to an online-only format. Since then, I’ve participated in three theatre productions on Zoom, one online-only stage combat class, and am just concluding teaching an asynchronous, all-online course at DU called Visual and Physical Communication, which is focused on body language.

Clearly, since March, we in The Biz have gotten pretty good at doing things you wouldn’t imagine you could do without being in-person; we figured out how to do these things remotely. Work has changed forever, methinks, and theatre certainly has.

I have been assigned my customary stage combat course at Metro this Spring (the semester begins mid-January), and I have to admit that I’m having a pretty good time shifting my curriculum in order to make the class safer, not the way it always is as far as theatrical combat, but to keep me and the students who take it plague-free.

Work From Home, armed with steel… (sketch by Paul Bradley)

The class will be meeting Fridays only, and there are several pandemic rules that all of campus is adhering to, including testing, flu shots, mandatory masks, sanitation mandates, and keeping the physical population of classrooms down. I am adding more of my own rules to my stage combat course, so as to keep it as safe as possible. Here’s the rundown, in a nutshell:

-our unarmed unit will be remote: students will learn basic punches and slaps, but no techniques that include touch (like chokes or grapples). We will learn these techniques for film, as opposed to emphasizing a live theatre approach. This unit will also be shorter, because…

-I am adding 6-foot staffs back into the curriculum! Back when I first taught this course (in 2005), I was just completing my textbook, and as such I followed the book’s lineup, including staffs. Later I would take the staffs out of the beginner course, because a) actors will rarely find themselves needing to know staff technique—sword are way more common; b) I was running out of time with three weapons systems crammed into 16 weeks. But now, staffs are back, and unarmed is a smaller unit.

-we will be mainly working with swords through most of the semester. After all, you add a 4-ft sword to the end of your extended arm, and you’ve magically got social distancing.

-Since the class will mainly be about swords this time, we may just break out Metro’s beautiful broadswords.

-also: lightsabers. Need I say more?

I’ll be posting in more detail about all these things in some separate posts here, in an attempt to get enrollments enough to not cancel the course. Stay tuned, and if you’re a Metro or UCD or CCD student, sign up!

⚔️🗡🦠🥊😷

Vote for my seminar!

Hey lovely lurkers—it’s been a minute. I do apologize; I’ve had quarantine brain sum’n fierce.

But I have a big favor to ask you all:

I have a seminar submitted to this year’s virtual Denver Startup Week, and I need lots and lots of votes for it in order for them to consider offering it. So could you do me a solid? Could you vote for me?

I did this very seminar the other month at Boulder Startup Week specifically tailored for Zoom, and it worked great!

Anyway, here’s the link. Thanks a bunch!

Sign up for Stage Movement, 3rd & final plea: Clowning Around

What do you call a pile of clowns? A giggle? A clowder?

The semester is creeping up upon us quickly, lovely lurkers, and I have attempted to save my break and my sanity by not checking on my Metro class rosters every 5 minutes, to ascertain whether or not I’ll have a job the next couple months. Spoiler alert: I need 12 students minimum in each class or they’ll be cancelled. I’ll be checking up on everything on Monday, so I’ll let you know then if these pleas have helped or not.

As it is, allow me to put forth a third compelling reason why Stage Movement is such a fun and important piece of education that you must experience: Clowning.

That’s right, clowning: the once sacred art of creating worlds using physicality, of exaggerating your own personality into larger than life antics, exploring the long long journey from problem to (ridiculous) solution, and of course hats. (Clown hats: it’s what we do in lieu of elaborate costumes & makeup.)

In Metro’s Stage Movement class, we learn the basics of mime & gag creation, then we do a rollicking assignment called Clownlympics, in which our new-forged clowns present sporting events. The other fun thing about this event is that I break out my kid’s-dance-class instruments, and the audience clowns then provide musical accompaniment to each event. It. Is. A. Blast.

So sign up for class! I promise it’ll be incredibly fun, and you’ll learn a lot about movement techniques, styles, and how your body works in space (and on stage).

What Was I Scared Of?

“Well,

“I was walking in the night, and I saw nothing scary. / For I have never been afraid of anything. Not very. / Then, I was deep within the woods, when suddenly, I spied them: / I saw a pair of pale green pants, with nobody inside them.”

Thus begins one of Dr. Seuss’ not-so-well-known stories, found within the collection titled: The Sneetches and Other Stories.

The original Seuss illustration of the story’s climax, and…

…the 2019 Stage Movement class at Metro’s tableau imitation of Seuss’ drawing.

You’ll have heard of the eponymous Sneetches: birdlike creatures, some have bellies with stars and others have none upon thars. The Star-Belly Sneetches treat the Plain-Bellies horribly, and we hear they’ve done so for years. In the end (spoiler alert), after being bilked by a ruthless Fix-It-Up-Chappie, the Sneetches learn their lesson, and decide that “no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

What Was I Scared Of? has a similar moral: in the end the narrator comes to a worldview-shattering realization that the pale green pants were “just as scared as I,” and declares, “I was just as strange to them / as they were strange to me.”

Learning to not only appreciate those different than us, but coexist with them, seems to be a common Seussian theme, across multiple Seuss stories. More importantly: that the differences we perceive in others, no matter how disturbing they may seem at first, are really, as the narrator of The Sneetches remarks, “…so small, / you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

I haven’t performed this story since the reprise, in 2002, of the original production, put up by me and a small number of performers I dubbed Five Funny Faces (after a favorite class-closing game a beloved acting prof used to do with us), in 2000. In 2000, we performed at Nomad Theatre, and in ’02 we were recruited for the Seussentennial celebration, at the Boulder Public Library. This is after the previous school-grant production at the now-defunct Guild Theatre in east Boulder, a couple years before, which in turn came out of my directing project at CU Boulder the year before that: 3 By Seuss.

For all these past theatrical endeavors, I had adapted five Dr. Seuss stories for the stage, and when it became untenable to perform them myself &/or with my own peeps, I began to teach this Seussian production as the final exam for Stage Movement classes. It’s a good lesson in creating elaborate sets (and weird characters) with only physicality. It’s an effective cumulative lesson of all the things the Stage Movement students are supposed to have learned through the semester.

Plus, it’s fun.

And it’s good to remind all these young people about (getting off my lawn, and) Dr. Seuss’ moral lessons, too. Especially nowadays, when it seems power is all in making the other side look bad, or feel bad, or creating an Other Side in the first place, where there really shouldn’t be one. It’s a new type of commerce for the Internet era: the trade in outrage.

I’m dusting off my own Seussian chops to include What Was I Scared Of? as an act for the upcoming Blue Dime Cabaret. I’ve recruited two

Alan, Adam, and Prof. Jenn have never been afraid of anything. Not very…

young men from my most recent Stage Movement class to perform it with me. I’m including it for a few reasons, the main one of which is that the show’s theme is Back To School / Let’s Get Educated, which means I’m literally bringing a piece of the education I regularly provide, up onto the stage. With some of my actual students to whom I’ve provided same, no less.

Also, who didn’t read Dr. Seuss as a kid in school? We all did. At least, I should hope we did. So it fits.

It should be a huge amount of fun, and I’ve placed us last, so that the audience will leave with that warm fuzzy feeling you get at the end of the story, when the narrator meets the pants quite often in his regular world, smiling and saying “hi” instead of freaking out. It’s a lovely ending.

Hopefully after enjoying the show, the audience will “forg[e]t about stars, / and whether they have one, or not, upon thars.”

O, the Many Glorious Things I am Up To Right Now

Whew! Goodness, lovely lurkers, what’s been happening? Yet again I realize I have been neglecting you whilst writing personal essays and memoir type stuff (read: whining a lot) under my pen name. That writing, plus the robust article needs of YourBoulder, all are keeping my wee swordfighting mitts away from here. Owa Tana Siam. (Say it aloud. It’s one of the many sillinesses I remember uttered by the Great Yendor, mathematician and magician, the wizard that was Everything Good And Pure About The Renaissance Festival, back when I used to sling steel there.)

So let’s see, what mischief have I been managing lately? Here’s a list:

Work! I’m still reaching out all my feelers in the process of this career change. Peddling Your Body Tells Your Story to everybody that needs it. Which is, of course, everybody. In the meantime, I continue to tread water with my academic work: this summer it’s an online section of Staging Cultures, which you’ve heard me discuss before. An online Children’s Lit is coming up soonish for the grad students at DU, so that one should be fun–let me know if you’d like to be an audience for my read-aloud vids; I plan on making a bunch of new ones. Haven’t heard from Regis in a while, which makes me wonder if I’ve been canceled like a Whedon franchise there. But I’ve also applied to teach comp at CCD, so that might fill in some gaps come fall if they decide to have me on.

Play! er, I mean, Plays! I’m the fight director for an all-female production of Richard III at Lost & Found Theatre, which should be a gas. I taught my basic movement seminar to the cast the other day, and will go coordinate the fighty bits next week. My kingdom for a horse… After that, my next gig of that nature that I know of will be fight directing for FRCC’s production of MacBeth, in September. Is this a dagger I see before me?

Boobies! Burlesque, that is. Blue Dime Cabaret is going strong; still the crazy be-tasseled geniuses we are, we had two shows up at Charlie’s Bar in Central City for Lou Bunch Day, which looks quite likely to turn into a yearly commitment.

Charlie’s Bar never knew what hit em…

Which is cool. For those, I channeled the late great Madeline Kahn and did my quirky Zuko version of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles. Then the very next week we were back in Boulder for our June Is Busting Out All Over show, for which I sang two numbers and also emceed. Our next show will be Back To School themed, which makes me realize I’m going to need to get myself a schoolgirl skirt. I’ll keep you posted on the date for that–it’ll be in August.

All that plus all the writing, plus divorce proceedings? I’m lucky I get to see my partner at all. Or, he is, I guess. Ahem. 😉

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll try to get back here for some Sherlockian nerdiness very soon. Ciao.

Ringing in the New Year

Sheesh, lovely lurkers. I need to take a moment and list my stuff coming up in the new year. I just wrote about New Year’s resolutions under my own name on my other, memoir-y blog, and it made me need to come here and share with you all the amazing shit that’s on deck, in the hole, and whatever other baseball or double-entendres you like.

Buckle up.

School: Regis’ next 8-week session starts mid-month. Those are all one-on-one grad students in all kinds of subjects, you’ll recall. So far, I’ve got a student who’ll be learning about Editing Non-Fiction.

Metro starts soon after. I’ve got an online section of Theatre History and Crit II, which should be great once I revamp and update it. I also have a Stage Movement class assigned to me, but as there’s only 8 students enrolled so far, that might not actually go. Good news is, the department chair is going to go into battle w the dean on my (well, its) behalf, and it is a required course, so I am allowing myself a modicum of hope.

It would not be a good thing for that one to be canceled, for more than one reason, not the least of which is: this is my specialty and I’d like to have something to show non-academics in that area. Also that I don’t know what’s up with DU; if they’re planning on ghosting me too or not. I have to function as though they are. Pray for me.

Writing: I’m slated to write the next series of Problematic Tropes articles over at Writers’ HQ, so stay tuned. If I can get disciplined, and get help from the SO, I’ll be putting forth one per month starting in January. So stay tuned there.

Performance: I’m doing lots of Blue Dime Cabaret, and a big fight direction project, all of which start in January.

Blue Dime Cabaret has three performances in January (starting on the 11th) over at Dangerous Theatre, and one at Full Cycle on February 16th. I’ll be performing on the 18th, and no idea what’s going on on the 16th, since we haven’t curated that one yet.

Somehow, most of the images of my emcee stint at Blue Dime at our December show depict me drinking beer. Yeah, I’ll allow it.

I’m choreographing and fight directing for D&D based play She Kills Monsters over at Red Rocks Community College. This play not only has, like, one fight per page, but it’s all fantasy styled, which should be super fun. I hear the director has cast a bunch of extra monsters, too, so that should be a blast. Plus, I’m getting paid a full semester’s worth of community college faculty salary for this project, which will be a huge help.

Career Shift: I need to read Ibarra’s book Working Identity again, as it is a rough patch in this area at the moment. I keep applying for multiple random things in the realm of content creation and such. More importantly though: I am doing my best to push my body language consultation / seminars, etc. to the hilt. This is what I’m needing to do next, and I know there’s need and demand out there; I just need to find it and bring it to the right places.

Hm, that’s a lot of “need” in one short paragraph. Welp. It’s apropos of the topic, so I’m leaving them.

Oh, and I applied to Denver Comic Con (sorry: Pop Culture Con) and Page 23, too, so let’s hope I’ll be presenting there again this summer the way I have for many years now.

Also? Pray for Pirates. I’ll explain later, just do. That’d be very cool too.

So.

Sigh.

That’s a lot, innit. Well. Bring it (ring it)…🍾🥂🎉

Your Body Tells Your Story

Is your body telling the story you want it to? Body language and expression are among the most potent tools we have for communication. Used well, they lend power to your message. Used poorly, they can undercut everything you’re trying to convey. Whether in communication with customers, leadership, the investment community or your own teams, the story you tell physically can be one of your greatest advantages, or most serious risks.

Let’s look at a recent example: One of my clients is part of the leadership team for a Denver area software company. Though he’s an experienced public speaker and a good communicator, he has a chronic slouch. Age, injury, and boxing training combined in him to make it nearly impossible for him to sit up straight. When he came to work with me, I immediately saw how his body language often communicated defeat, low status, other things that were the opposite of what his words were saying. He wanted to do something about it, but it was clear that just sitting him upright wasn’t going be easy, and wouldn’t feel authentic anyway. Rather than attempting to force his posture into something painful and unnatural for him, I instead worked with his natural slouch to create a series of powerful posture-gesture combinations that changed his demeanor entirely. Where before, his slumped, seated self projected a feeling of defeat to his audience, now his active, forward-slanted position showed passion, detailed knowledge, and direct communication of his confidence in the product he was selling. His new customized power-posture also helped free up his hands, thereby allowing for precise gestures for emphasis as he spoke.

Very soon after our session, my client was put on the spot to do a high pressure pitch in front of the executive team for one of the biggest retailers in the U.S. My client used his new tools to project a powerful sense of confidence in his offering, something absolutely necessary in front of a Fortune 500 executive audience. The result? His team landed the deal, which was the biggest in his company’s history. As he put it, “Was that success just about me? Of course not – the product and the team had a lot to do with it. But the first thing that the customer’s leadership team knew about us, before I’d even said a word, was that I had total confidence in what I was putting forward. That didn’t close the deal by itself, but you better believe that it opened the door.”

What doors do you have that need opening?

Leveraging my twenty years of experience as a movement and communication educator, I can show you what your body language is saying, and how it’s saying it. Better, I can help you take control of the story that your physical presence tells, and help you transform it into one of your strongest assets as a leader and communicator. Book me for my customized seminar in body language for leaders, and, during the month of August, take advantage of this opportunity at half price.

Email me: jenn zuko (at) gmail (dot) com, or if you know me online, use any messenger app at hand to contact me. Let’s get started!

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.

Wisdom From Anything, Therefore Nothing

(If you recognize the quote I remixed for the title of this blog post, say so in the comments, and extra points for you.)

What I’m finally beginning to realize and embrace, lovely lurkers, is that I need to quit worrying about whether or not I have anything “important” to write about, and just write the damn blog. Write. Right? Right.

‘Cause there’s always something. Like for instance: I just turned 45 years old, after having danced burlesque only a couple weeks before such an auspicious anniversary. The play for which I consulted and set the scenes of violence, called Wisdom From Everything, opens soon (in fact its first preview is tonight). I’m helping Friend Monica with her theatre piece, called Aphrodite’s Refugees. Both works speak to the plight of refugees: the play, about Syrian refugees, Monica’s piece, about her father’s experience in the refugee camps (and military) of Cyprus.

Me and Friend Brandy have begun a pop-up cabaret project called Blue Dime, which is an eclectic collection of acts: burlesque, magic, music, comedy, variety, drag, and any etc. you can think of (and some you can’t). We just got accepted into the Boulder International Fringe Fest, and you bet your blue carbuncles I’ll be keeping you apprised of this as we move forward.

But one of the biggest things to occur in my little world is my branching out into the corporate world with my valuable skills. With Front Range unceremoniously dumping me, plus being reminded of the popular business adage that once one turns 45, one needs must change careers, I find myself shilling my stage movement expertise to those who need such coaching in the corporate world. Hence, *everyone* in the corporate world. Right? Of course right.

What I am doing immediately in this direction, in order to collect the necessary endorsements to paint me worthy of a piece of that corporate money pie, is something I’m calling Buy Me A Beer, Help Your Career. How it works is this: take me out for a pint, and give me your pitch/presentation/whatever it is that’s imminent, and I give you pointers on how to maximize your body language, poise, gesture, and voice to best effect. You then, ecstatic with the spectacular results of my coaching, write me a glowing endorsement on LinkedIn. Easy peasy, and win-win.

Neat, eh? I can’t take credit for the idea; that was the SO’s brilliance at work to help yank me up by my bootstraps at this advanced age.

Well, heck. With advanced age comes advanced expertise, right? Right.

Upcoming Events and Things and Stuff

I know, lovely lurkers, you’re just plain tired of listening to me apologize for being an infrequent blogger. So I’ll stop doing that. Instead, I’ll be more pro-active and tell you about the things going on in my world.

The three Regis grad students I’m advising, facilitating, and otherwise guiding through various reading and writing projects are about to conclude their sessions. They had some lovely things, including magical realism romance, and analyzing novels in YA literature.

I was movement coordinator for MSU’s The Country Wife, which was a super-enjoyable comedy of manners that the young actors tackled quite well, movement-wise especially, if I do say so myself. I was just chatting with one of the actors the other day, relaying some compliments the SO had given them. I told this student that it’s a pretty impressive feat, to move in that stylized, elegant way (think 1675: wigs, fans, calves, snuff…) when he no doubt just got to his height, what, a couple minutes ago (he had just turned 21)?

I was also, even more recently, brought in to advise the scuffles in Local Theatre Company’s production of The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias. This is a high quality, tight, and of course timely play that I am delighted to be a part of. The challenge of this one is the thrust stage (audience on 3 sides), and though it’s not exactly realism (there are dreamlike aspects to it), it still needs to have a level of verisimilitude that will insure the audience won’t be jerked out of the story. They open this weekend, here in Boulder at the Dairy Center, so if you’re local, lurkers, go see it!

Finally, it’s burlesque time again in Jenn’s world. That’s right, Bronze Fox Burlesque is taking over one of the little nooks at License no. 1 bar in Boulder on a Wednesday night, this time in a Clue movie theme, in anticipation of Halloween. I’m dancing a solo, a duet, and I get to do one of my favorite Madeline Kahn moments in cinema. Again, if you’re local, come down to see us on the 25th at 9. But these events always get packed, so if you do come to this, get there early.