It goes like this:
As both the Muppets and Shakespeare are on many people's minds these days for various reasons (especially with the new movie about to be released), I thought I'd share a classroom exercise that I've used at both Tufts and Emerson that uses our furry friends to articulate the effects of casting choices on the execution of a play.
It goes like this:
I've been thinking lately about ephemerality of performance and mutability of texts. And how a play is completed not on paper but in performance. All of this is very Theatre 101 of course. But as theatre on the whole is not performed for "'experts" but for audiences, it bears repeating.
A few of my current and recent fight directing projects are plays that I've done previously in other venues (or, in the case of Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, contain pieces of plays I've done in other contexts). In the case of Romeo & Juliet, I've done that play so many times I can pretty much recite the dialogue around the fight scenes as well as all the commentary about how the characters might fight that takes place in other scenes.
A question I've been getting a lot is whether I just recycle choreography when I repeat plays.
That would be a resounding No.
The actors are different, the space is different, and most importantly, the director's vision is never the same. Then there are also the logistical factors. How much time are they planning to spend composing and rehearsing the fights? A production with a three month rehearsal period, plenty of time to train, and a commitment to rehearse diligently will have different ambitions for a fight scene than a company with less time and money for the same play. A production set in the Italian Renaissance will very likely have Mercutio and Tybalt face off with rapier and dagger, where the post-apocalyptic version may go with chainsaws (I am waiting for that version to happen).
Context shapes the presentation of text. This is something you learn in any branch of theatre. As a writer, if you're fortunate enough to see multiple productions/workshops/readings of the same play, you get a feel for what has fluidity and what has consistency.
By way of example, here are three videos of the same monologue. Two are performed by my friend and collaborator Zillah Glory, the third was performed at Brooklyn College as part of the Gi60 short play festival a little over a year ago:
Words in the theatre are but a design on the canvas of motion. - V. Meyerhold
This is the graphic for a little something I have in the works with Whistler in the Dark Theatre and Imaginary Beasts as part of the Double, Double Toil and Trouble: A Witches Brew of Shakespeare Remixed series that's coming up (this is in addition to my participation as fight director of Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, which has been a great time so far).
I am creating a piece as part of this:
I'm posting here to put down some early thoughts about how stage combat that occurs "in quotes" is choreographed and perceived. Somewhere down the line I'll be expanding these thoughts into an academic paper.
About a week ago I came into rehearsal for Whistler in the Dark's production of Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, for which I am composing violence. Both sections of the script involve a play-within-a-play, (Hamlet and Macbeth, respectively). In one case it is a group of schoolboys putting on Hamlet at their school, in the other it is famous actors putting up an illicit performance of Macbeth in someone's home in a totalitarian regime. Both metatheatrical sections include the famous duels of the Shakespeare plays that their characters are putting on. Which means we are seeing an actor playing one character, who is in turn playing another character, who is in turn engaging in a duel. The task of a fight director in a case like this is not to choreograph the character of Hamlet per se, but to choreograph a schoolboy playing Hamlet. The character of Hamlet is an early-modern image of a Danish prince who would have had extensive training and familiarity with dueling. In a production of said play with professional actors, the fight director would be working to articulate the conflict of the duel within these (and other) parameters. The character in Dogg's Hamlet however, is a schoolboy playing said prince, which adds a whole other filter to the physicality of the fights. The movement must be believable for a schoolboy moreso than for a prince. And of course must remain safe for the actors, engaging for the audience, and continue to advance the story.