Revitalize!

I’m in the process of refocussing and revitalizing my blog. If you’ve been following my travels for many years, you’ll notice that my numerous travels and training adventures are now on this one blog at www.siobhanrichardson.com/blog! Bear with me as I re-categorize everything, as well as revamping my home studio in order to make better training videos!

 

In the meanwhile, I’d love your feedback to help shape upcoming posts. What do you want to know? What’s the most mystical part of the process for you? What’s your biggest stage combat frustration? Let me know in the comments below, or send me a private message.

Structure

Look at this kid’s structure! In a way, it’s not surprising. We keep talking about “look how kids move”, so if she’s been using martial structure from the time she was beginning to move, no wonder she’s on it!

Toddler Form & FocusNow THIS is form, focus, and discipline. Impressive!www.teemajor.com

Posted by Tee Major Fitness on Monday, December 7, 2015

General Advice For Rehearsal And Practice

The rehearsal and practice methods described in this blog are meant to be like a buffet: pick the things that you like. Use what works for you at this time, in whatever order works for you. Also, you may find that you use a different method every 5 minutes, or that you spend a whole hour using one approach.

The goal of the blog is to give you a sense of the many different ways that one can approach a fight scene. The purpose is to help you discover as much information about the scene as possible, and help you maximize your performance.

I encourage you to continuously re-visit this category, as I’ll continue to post new methods as I come across them.

Move As Fast As You Can Think

Run the choreography at a speed at which you can easily remember what comes next. Do all of the actions and any acting beats — pauses in movement, but not pauses in intention — in the right order without stopping.

Usually, this is a much slower speed than our egos want us to move at!

However, when you move at this slower pace, each moment is full of intention, and you avoid rehearsing unearned pauses into your fight. This way, your won’t find yourself with memory glitches or dead air in your scene when you move at full performance speed.

To rehearse in this fashion, make sure that each move and/or acting beat flows into the next. Move at a speed that allows you to easily remember what’s coming next, that is “move as fast as you can think”. The only pauses in your movement are those moments that the fight director and director have specifically placed into the scene, and are motivated by the scene, rather than pausing to remember what’s next. Think of it this way, if someone were observing your fight, they would think that you’re in slow motion, as if the film speed has been turned down.

The purpose is to help the body and mind memorize the beats of the fight in right order without any moments where action or acting isn’t happening. By being this clear and by moving with this much flow, you will help yourself avoid having memory lapses and dead air in your fights. The audience can always tell when you’ve dropped out of the scene for a second, and rehearsing in this manner can help you to avoid creating those holes in your scene when you “turn up the film to full speed.”

Mastery

This video is making the rounds. I’m currently dabbling in penmanship, so I eagerly gave it a watch, and then at 2:07 I was struck by what Master Penman Jake Weidmann says about what it took to get to his high level of skill and artistry:

I seems to me that Mastery in any field requires the same process: learn the tools, and spend thousands of hours refining the subtleties. People say, “you make it look easy”. One of my students says, “you’re just not human” at every lesson. It’s tempting to accept the praise and just move on, but being a good teacher means reminding everyone that mastery is within their grasp, if they are willing to spend the time refining their work in every aspect of the art form.
That’s why Matt and I not only perform and direct (those are own own expressions of the art form), but are also constantly seeing professional development opportunities. That’s why we travel to work with people who practice the art form and its related skills — acting and martial arts, for instance — with mastery, in some aspect or another.  That’s why we spend hours every day working on our instruments, so that we can continue to strive towards mastery and be the best at this work that we can possibly be.

I don’t know what is about stage combat, but so many people stop at the crawling stage. Others make it as far as walking and a few get to running. And very few make it to the world class “sprints and marathons” stage, the stage we all look up to. We admire the Jackie Chan’s of the world, and few people realize that they can achieve something very close to that. Or they know it, but just dont’ know how.

That’s why we write blog posts, and why we teach: we share the knowledge we have and help other people strive for mastery while we pursue our own path.

Thanks for reading, and we hope that your 2016 is your best year yet!

Recording Your Choreography: Write Away!

Taking notes on the details of your choreography is essential. You don’t often have the fight director there every day to make corrections and adjustments every rehearsal (you run your fights every day, right?). You’ll have a fight captain or some manner of outside eye, but without the specifics you’ll end up using valuable time during your fight director’s next visit just correcting the details you’ve forgotten.

Therefore, we have to be sure that we have the details specified by the fight director for each moment of the choreography. Nowadays, it’s tremendously simple to grab someone’s phone or tablet and take a quick video to document the choreography. I like to be sure to take two versions of the choreography:

  1. The whole piece of choreography at a speed at which the performers can move with accuracy and flow (no stopping unless it’s part of the scene). Include the dialogue.
  2. The whole scene very slowly, speaking through the choreography as it happens. Have the performers or the fight director say all of the targets and defences as you perform them: “Verezzi comes en garde in tierce, Bernardo enters distance and beats Verezzi’s blade aside in a high prime.” Also, make note of foot work and any specific notes that have been given. For instance: “watch your foot placement here”, “be sure to drive them right back into the up left corner”, “this is where you usually drop your back arm so make sure you’re holding it up in the right place”.

BONUS version: The fight director and/or their assistant performs the fight, or sections of it! Be sure to use that video as a general reminder of what the form is supposed to look like, what the style is supposed to be, and perhaps the speed you’re aiming for.

By the way, be sure to check that everyone consents to have an archival video for rehearsal taken. Some unions require this, and of course, it’s good etiquette to ask before filming people. The rehearsal video is not for the public, unless there is a specific agreement stating the video may be used in that fashion.

Not so long ago we couldn’t simply film the rehearsal and then post it where everyone has access to it. Previously, people had to take the time to write out the piece or develop rehearsal practices to be sure they retained the information. Those who did a lot of fight performances generally developed their own methods of transcribing or had the kind of memory that retains physical movement. Worst-case scenario, performers forgot and wasted valuable rehearsal time trying to remember what was done at the last rehearsal (boo!).  Nowadays, it’s so convenient to make a quick archival for a memory aid, that many people have fallen out of the practice of writing out the choreography. I can understand why: it takes a lot of time to do during a phase of rehearsal when brains are already tired.

However, writing out your choreography is tremendously beneficial.

I’m not saying to stop taking video! Rather, I encourage you to both take video and write detailed choreography notes. During my study with Brad Waller at the ACA in Washington, DC, one of the Masters students in the acting class remarked on how grounding it was to have his choreography written out. When acting, we are constantly going back to the script, consulting the text, re-reading passages. We’re looking to see if we’ve missed anything or if information we’ve gleaned during rehearsal of other scenes will shed light upon the text. On a purely technical level, sometimes we’re just checking to see if we are actually saying the right words in the right order.

Likewise, when we’re working on the fight choreography of a scene, sometimes it’s eye-opening to consult our transcription of the actions. Indeed, if we think of the fight as physical dialogue, it’s best to have that “text” written out so that we can easily refer to it, perhaps gleaning new information when we do, or even just having a place to make notes on the action. It also gives us new ways to examine the fight scene, which we’ll look at in future blog posts.

Meanwhile (after the longest pre-amble a blog post has ever had), here are a few ideas for writing out your fight choreography. You can do it with good old-fashioned pen and paper, but by putting it into a digital file it can be reprinted when changes need to be made, or if the working copy gets too messy or mashed-up. Whether by hand or digitally, leave a margin large enough to take notes.

 

Transcribing

To speed up your transcription process you might invest in voice recognition software or set up macros in your word processor.  If you’re typing or writing out by hand, you’ll find that your reference video of the choreography is really handy to watch and listen to! However, you might take the opportunity to see how much you retained. Try writing out the choreography from memory, and then use the reference video to congratulate yourself on how accurately you remembered the scene (we’re optimists here: we assume that you got almost everything down accurately).

 

Everyone’s brain works differently and your format should be something that’s useful to you. Here are a couple common practices to get you started:

The ChartA Charting MethodThis is a very common method and tends to be the quickest to refer to.

The simplest set up is three columns: person 1, directional arrow describing who attacks whom, person 2.  Write the attack and its corresponding defence or the successful contact under the appropriate person. In the centre column, put an arrow from the attacker pointing at the responder. Of course, the attacker is obvious when you read the actions, but for easy reference, arrows help the eye track the flow of the scene. You might add another column to number the exchanges, so that if you and your partner are working from the same “script” you can use the numbering to describe which exchange you’re referring to. Personally, I find that numbering can put performers in their heads, and I generally refer to the story of the scene (“your attack after he tells you to defend yourself”) or by the sequence of the choreography (“your thrust at the top of the second phrase”).

You may want to add additional columns on the outsides:Chart with 5 columnsWrite any notes to self in the outer columns. Those notes should include what safety feature is being used and any other information you found particularly useful whether that be related to the execution of the moves.

 

The Running Dialogue

dialogue-style choreo transcription

Some people prefer this layout because it’s a constant reminder that the fight scene is a physical dialogue, not simply a bunch of moves. It encourages a “they speak and then I speak” conversational awareness within the fight. Some actors find the script-like layout is more familiar and so, easier to work with.

You might choose to have the physical actions beside the character’s name, and any character notes on the next line:

choreo: script-style with additional notes

 

Making Your Own Shorthand

Compare these two and you can see that in the lower example, I’ve replaced common actions with a single character. Chart with 5 columnschoreo in shorthand with notes

At first, the reader needs a legend to read the notation, however, shorthand makes the chart more visual and is great for a quick reference in the long run. It’s also great for quickly jotting notes after a run. It can be particularly useful if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of fighting. Sometimes when there are many fights or long sequences, keeping the various pieces clear can become challenging. If you have a shorthand you’re familiar with, it’s easy to refresh your memory at a glance. You’ll want to have your translation key on hand until you get used to it. That said, shorthand can sometimes add a layer of mental processing, when all you really want is to remember what you’re doing without having to translate in your head. As always, use a method that best facilitates your process.

Take the time to write out your fight. You’ll confirm the details of your choreography immediately, and give yourself another method to reference the fight, making your rehearsal more efficient. It also allows you to dive into the material from a different angle. Consequently, you get familiar with the scene and its movement more efficiently, allowing you to get more comfortable with the action and get to the exploration of the scene much sooner.

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Movement As Dialogue

As promised, we’re looking at methods and exercises for rehearsing a fight scene! Today, we begin with a foundation concept when approaching your fight choreography which lays the groundwork for the upcoming series.

In many cases, actors remember the sequence of the choreography and think that they’ve finished with rehearsing their scene. However, think of the moves like your dialogue in the rest of the play: now that you’ve learned the words in the right order are you done working on the text? Is the piece ready to be seen and enjoyed by the audience?

No. You have yet to explore the breadth and depth of the scene.

Likewise, you’re not done with your fight scene after you’ve memorized the moves in the right order. You’re just beginning the work of exploring the breadth and depth of the scene. There are numerous layers to the performing of a fight scene, and just as many angles from which to to approach it.  Remember that the choreography is not simply blocking. Your actions in the fight are more akin to the text in your spoken scenes and requires as much attention. It’s still a scene with objectives, tactics and obstacles, victories and defeats. You just happen to be moving in response to your partner, not talking to them.

There are many aspects of the fight scene to explore. The concept is Specificity. Your task is to be as specific as you can possibly be with each moment of your fight scene. Memorizing the actions in the right order is only the first step.

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