Working Your Fight Scene: learn the moves first

(This may post be a little late as far as the timeline is concerned for this particular workshop, everyone already has their choreography.)

Train slow, because anger will give you speed in the fight.

– Fiore dei Liberi (paraphrased)

While this quotation is specifically referring to martial arts, we can still draw wisdom from it for stage combat. When receiving your choreography, your end goal is to perform with full character and intention, including physical commitment and speed. However it can be rather harmful to attempt this fullness when you’re doing the sequence for the first time. When we attempt full emotion on those first few passes, we usually end up playing the mood of the scene, rather than engaging in specificity. We move faster than we can think, and we are way off our partner’s timing. We also are making assumptions about each moment, rather than waiting to discover what the circumstances and relationship may reveal to us during our exploration of the script.

Instead, I find the best results when I first put my focus on what information is available to me right now:

  • what are the targets and methods (cut, thrust…) of attack, including angle of entry?
  • how am I defending myself (style and location of parry? maybe I avoid it altogether?)
  • what’s my distance?
  • what’s the cadence?

And then note what acting beats has your Fight Director already placed into the choreography. For instance, does your FD mention surprise moments, or attacks that your character is absolutely positive will succeed?

With all this thinking going on, many people reflexively start to hold their breath. It’s something so many of us are guilty of: we stop breathing as soon as we have a lot to concentrate on. Re-read the blog post on breath, particularly the paragraph where I mention building a “breath-scape”. If you’re aware of your breath at this early stage, it’s much easier to explore your breath choices later in the game because your breath is already moving.

Learn the actions without emotional assumptions. Be present and in a state of happiness Do several repetitions simply for clarifying the sequence of events with the above details. Simultaneously, keep your mind open for moments where your instincts start to see possible beats and nuances, even though you are not yet performing them. Your Fight Director may very well have started to place those in there for you, and you will surely find many more during your rehearsal process.

Another thing to pay attention to is the moments when your “bullshit meter” lights up. Sometimes little alarm bells of “this doesn’t make sense” go off in your head. You may not be able to fix it at the moment, or even know what’s causing that sensation, but you’ll be able to address it with the FD’s help, or with your own information gathering later in the rehearsal process.

But you won’t hear it if you’ve learned the technique with an overlay of “I’m in a fight, so I have to be angry” and “this should be faster”.

Trust that you will get the emotional content and the speed with proper rehearsal. Start with simply understanding the information available, and with rehearsal, you will integrate the many nuances you find through the process. Your current focus on precision will leave you available for laying in the emotional content later. “Anger will give you speed in the fight” meaning that your intimate knowledge of the technical and story-based content will make for a stronger, more compelling scene. It will, simultaneously, be safer because you have taken the time to own each detail.

And now, for today’s joy:

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