Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Crash Course in Swashbucklery and Fisticuffs!

I started acting at a very early age, running around the forest near my family's cottage re-enacting scenes from The Princess Bride and Star Wars. Recently I decided that as a PROFESSIONAL ACTOR, I should take all steps necessary to prepare myself for the inevitable day I'm on set and someone expects me to be able to convincingly have a sword-fight.

Trying to look cool while catching my breath. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
 Thus! Early in May I signed up to do a two-week intensive introduction to stage combat run by York University and taught by some of the wonderful humans from the stunt crew Riot Act. In the course, you learn the basics of sword, quarterstaff, and unarmed combat for stage and screen – and rehearse three fight scenes choreographed by the instructors. At the end of the two weeks you perform them, and if the adjudicator thinks you were convincingly badass enough, you pass, and get to put “can swordfight” on your acting resume.

The "Peking Opera" stance. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
Every morning started off with a “warm-up.” It’s not a warm-up. It’s just a 45 minute workout that any other day I’d consider more than enough physical activity for one day. Ten minutes of non-stop calisthetics! Then run around the room a couple times! Now backwards! Now do a bunch of aikido rolls! Now do eleventy seven crunches! Now do some different weird crunches where you’re also doing yoga! All this and more – it was deadly but incredibly effective, and as someone who often ‘forgets’ to do core exercises it was a really great reminder how important they are.

This is a very awesome looking backwards aikido roll. Trust me. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
Then, the scenes. Our unarmed fight was a scene from the Benecio Del Toro / Tommy Lee Jones movie The Hunted. I got to roundhouse a dude, choke a dude out, get tossed across the room and land in a roll – and knock a dude to the floor using my favourite move, what I like to call the “Captain Kirk Punch” – the two-fisted hammer-punch to the back, the core principle of Starfleet Martial Arts!

The quarterstaff scene was haaaaaard. I’ve had to do some unarmed stuff on screen before (I got slapped on Renegade Press, punched a couple times on Falcon Beach, etc) but I’ve never handled anything like a staff. Instead of being given dialogue for that scene our assignment was to build our own scene around the choreography and music we chose ourselves. My partner and I, of course, chose Europe’s The Final Countdown. Somehow our scene evolved into me playing an overbearing manager of a doweling factory (hence the staves) and my partner playing a lowly subordinate whose had enough of my hogging the radio in the storeroom. It was hysterical, even included several yells of “FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!” in the place of “HA-YA!”

"I cannot live in a world where you have everything and I have nothing." Loved this scene. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
The sword scene was by far my favourite. We were taught basic rapier swordfighting, and the choreography was set to the dialogue from the climactic duel in The Count of Monte Cristo (Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce do a fantastic version of that fight in the 2002 version). I got to play Fernand Mondego! I loves me a bad guy! I think my favourite move from that fight was something called “the Angelo” where I swatted the Countess’ blade aside with my off-hand and passed my own sword behind my back to bring her on point. So cool! So cool.

Thankfully I managed to pass! I can definitely put “can swordfight” on my resume – and I had a ton of fun, so hopefully soon I’ll have reason to call upon those skills! I’d recommend this course to any actor wanting to expand their special skills (and get a kick-ass two weeks of working out as a bonus!)

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