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
, 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.