Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Parents from the Preschool Across the Street from My House Are the Worst People in the Whole Entire World

That may be a slight exaggeration. BUT ONLY SLIGHT.

For some reason, the people whose children attend the preschool across the street from my house think it is perfectly acceptable to block my driveway during pick-up and drop-off. At first, we were irked but took it relatively in stride. However, after being blocked either in or out of my driveway dozens and dozens and dozens of times, I’ve reached my wit’s end, then passed my wit’s end, then reached BLINDING RAGE.

hulksmash

One thing you might not know about me is that I’ve had four surgeries on my hips and pelvis, and I have a degenerative condition in my back. Walking can be extremely painful for me. I can’t just park around the corner, as I can’t walk up the hill, even on a good day, without the pain of a thousand flaming suns.  I need access to my driveway. But of course, for the parents of this children’s center, my ability to get into my house is insignificant compared to the CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE of them saving the 17 seconds it takes to drive one house down and around the corner, where there is always ample parking.

We’ve tried discussing it with the school director (repeatedly). We’ve tried talking nicely to parents. We’ve tried talking sternly to parents. We’ve tried yelling angrily at parents. We’ve tried calling the police to ticket the offending vehicles. We’ve contemplated taking sledgehammers to cars and/or laying down caltrops. (I still have not ruled these last two out.)

When confronted, they hand me one of two reactions:

EXCUSES. “It’s the very first time I’ve ever done this!” (Evidently 400 kids go to that one preschool.) “I was only there for a second!” (I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes waiting for you to get your ass out of the school, into your vehicle, and out of my life.)

BELLIGERENCE. “Fuck you, lady!” “Who do you think you are? I can park where I want!” or my absolute favorite, delivered to me by a man whose size and height dwarfs my own, “GET OUT OF THE CAR AND SAY THAT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” It takes a special kind of horrible man to physically threaten a mom in front of her own house while blocking her driveway, but it takes epic balls to do so while you’re driving a car with personalized plates, doesn’t it, Mr. Calhoun?

excellent

I’ve finally taken to blocking my own damn driveway, which prevents them from blocking me IN, but I do have to leave the house occasionally, and if I return during drop off or pick up hours, it’s almost a certainty my driveway will be blocked by one of these fine, fine citizens.

So this is my latest solution:

Every time I leave the house, I put up one of these signs. So far, it’s working! I’m SO glad, too, because I’m not entirely sure caltrops are legal.

drivewaysign.rancor

drivewaysign.cthulhu

drivewaysign.takei

drivewaysign.barf

drivewaysign.dex

drivewaysign.picard

drivewaysign.tardis

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Absolute Core Truths of Theatre Personnel Management

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My husband and I out in front of our theatre. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

This is something I wrote for Theatre Bay Area‘s Chatterbox blog in 2011. If you’re a Bay Area theatremaker or theatre company, you need to be a member of TBA!

You can see this post in its original setting here. I recommend going there to click around the blog. There are some really excellent articles there. Velina Brown‘s posts with advice for actors are particularly excellent.

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THE ABSOLUTE CORE TRUTHS OF THEATRE PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

This season marked my 10th anniversary as artistic director of Impact Theatre, and my 15th with the company as a founding member. When I became Impact’s AD, I quickly became aware of the fact that there’s no AD boot camp. There’s no Handbook for New ADs. Some local people were very helpful—Patrick Dooley at Shotgun Players was especially generous. Now that I’m more established, people who are planning to start their own theatre companies, or who are in their first few seasons, come to me for advice and I do my best to pay it forward.

I always give a lot of practical advice—how to handle auditions, how to get insurance, why you should join Theatre Bay Area, how to write a playwright contract, etc. One thing that’s struck me recently, however, is something I’ve never discussed in these situations: How much time we spend in the theatre finessing personnel management. I’m sure it’s the same in every field, but since theatre is where my managerial experience lies, I’m going to speak specifically to that.

Here’s what I’ve learned are the Absolute Core Truths of Theatre Personnel Management. These are probably all already printed in some management book, so feel free to tell me if I’m boring you by repeating something you had to read in business school, and I’ll go back to the ranting and inappropriate jokes you’ve come to expect from me. Here’s what I learned in the School of Hard Knocks™.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

1. You don’t buy loyalty with a paycheck. You earn it by treating people with respect.
This doesn’t mean complimenting their work. “Great job!” or “You’re so good at this” only go so far with your staff if you treat their opinions dismissively and if you routinely override their expertise. Your marketing director, your lighting designer, and your box office manager all know more about their areas than you do. It’s their job to know more about it than you do. Listen to their opinions. Allow them to disagree with you. Take their opinions very, very seriously, because if they’re disagreeing with you about their area of expertise, it’s almost certain that they’re right and you’re wrong. Respect their knowledge and experience, and they will reward you in 100 ways.

2. Give your staff ownership of the company and the work.
Allow your staff the freedom to make decisions. Don’t interfere with their decisions or their processes unless absolutely necessary. Does the set design violate fire code? Necessary. Does the rehearsal schedule violate the terms of your AEA contract? Necessary. Did no one tell the director the script is a comedy? Necessary. Do you think the backdrop should be light green instead of blue? Unnecessary. Do you think the sound designer should use “Bittersweet Symphony” instead of Sigur Ros? Unnecessary. Obviously you should make your opinions known, but putting your foot down and requiring a designer, development director, or stage manager to make unnecessary changes to their products or to their processes creates disgruntled, unhappy, underappreciated staff. Give your opinion or guidance, and back off unless the matter truly requires intervention.

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Wearing authority with ease. Art by Michael Fleming.

3. Wear your authority with ease.
Nothing says “I’m insecure in positions of authority” like someone yelling at staff or refusing to allow staff to voice their opinions. A strong leader engages staff as equals, respecting their expertise. This doesn’t mean you should cede authority. Allowing your staff to make their own decisions and create their own processes doesn’t result in an authority drain. Step in when it’s necessary to step in. Put your foot down, respectfully, when it’s important. But have the strength to recognize when it’s important and when it’s not. And when mistakes happen or disaster strikes—because it will, trust me—blaming staff or yelling at people or otherwise losing your cool is the worst thing you can do.

4. Admit when you’re wrong.
Because they all already know it. Bluffing makes you look foolish.

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The error makes it delicious. Admit my wrong what, Uncle Sam?

5. Don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions.
Sometimes people need to be let go. This is the hardest thing for me personally and something I’ve bitched out on doing a number of times, hoping for the best. Learn from my mistakes. Be gentle, be respectful, but get rid of the people who can’t do their jobs. Again, everyone else already knows, and they’re sick of covering for that person.

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Keep your techs happy. You can’t see it, but he’s carrying a case of Newcastle.

6. Do whatever you have to do to keep your tech people happy.
While all theatre personnel are equally important, too often techs get treated poorly, blamed for mishaps, and left out of the glory. Happy techs make a show sparkle with awesomeness, like a magical lighting and sound unicorn flew over the theatre. Happy techs can build a gorgeous set out of popsicle sticks and coffee filters. Happy techs call 427 cues without breaking a sweat. Unappreciated, yelled-at techs will still do their jobs perfectly—they’re professionals—but they will withhold the awesome and take someone else’s gig next time around. Or worse—continue taking your gigs and talk shit about you in the community.

7. Relax. It’s theatre.
This isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if the director casts Actor X instead of the actor you liked best at callbacks. No catastrophe will ensue if your lighting designer went with a different gobo. It’s not fuckpocalypse if your marketing director thought one show was on the weak side. Breathe. Creating art is about both process and product. Don’t beat your process to death with your image of the perfect product. Nothing is going to be perfect, but it’s within your power to make it awesome.

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Happy Mother’s Day

Me and Jonah, Halloween 2001

Me and Jonah, Halloween 2001

I’m a mom, but I’m not one who gets all demandy and weird about Mother’s Day. I don’t need cards and flowers. My kids and my husband are wonderful, and that’s truly enough for me. Although I *do* appreciate the Xbox Live points I get from them from time to time, not gonna lie. Once my younger son spent his allowance on Xbox Live points as a gift to me. I basically exploded with joy.

My favorite picture of the boys. 2004.

My favorite picture of the boys. 2004.

My own mother was . . . difficult. She had a complicated childhood, and struggled with depression her entire life. She would veer recklessly from extravagant affection to vicious lashing out without warning. She refused treatment every time it was brought up. By the time we were teenagers, she was so deep into her depression she was barely functioning. She kept up appearances in public, and with the rest of the family, but at home, things were rough for all of us. We begged her to get help and she refused. When my brother landed his first big job and was making piles of money, he told her he would come pick her up, drive her to therapy, pay for it, and drive her home, and she refused. She wasn’t interested in stepping out of her depression. She believed that leaving it behind would mean she was no longer honoring the difficulty of her life experience.

My mother.

My mother.

She had stopped taking care of herself in every way that phrase has meaning, and would only take her blood pressure medication off and on. Eventually it caught up to her. Stroke, hospital, and a death that should have had the respect to come more quickly. She would have hated every second if she had known where she was.

Me and my parents

Me and my parents.

My father is a good man, in every way that phrase has meaning. He left my mother when I was 12 and I was devastated. My mother lavishly excoriated him in front of me, daily, and instructed me to hate him. I did my best to comply. I was too young to understand that my father was escaping an impossible situation. They were 34 and 35. Babies. My mother decided she was too old to start over and that her life had ended. She deteriorated from that day forward until her death at 62. SIXTY-TWO. At the time, a friend of mine was dating a man a year older than that (who would eventually become his husband). It’s a shockingly young age to die.

The tragedy is that my mother was brilliant and beautiful, with a razor-sharp, irreverent wit and a lavish warmth. The monster that was her depression took most of that away much of the time. She never fully disappeared– the monster could never conquer her completely– but she was clouded over far too often with the person who felt she was the victim of a world designed specifically to hurt her. And so it went.

My mother as a high school sophomore.

My mother as a high school sophomore.

My mother, Charlene, and my newborn niece, Bayley, 1994.

My mother, Charlene, and my newborn niece, Bayley, 1994.

My father went straight into a new life with a new woman. My mother instructed me to hate her, and I did. For years. And of all the selfish, horrible things I’ve ever done in my life (and there are plenty, I assure you), this one hurts the worst. I know I was a child under the influence of a strong but very troubled woman I adored, but I still feel that I should have somehow known better, and understood who this new woman was.

My father and Charlene at my niece's 8th grade graduation.

My father and Charlene at my niece Bayley’s 8th grade graduation, 2009.

My stepmother, Charlene, is– I’ve tried to type this sentence five times now, and I can’t get it out. I’m crying as I type this.

My stepmother, Charlene, is the best woman in the world, an enormous positive healing influence on me, a constant gift to my father, the linchpin of this entire family, and the most important woman in my life.

She sat patiently and waited until we figured it out on our own. She and my father never said a single negative word about my mother in my presence. My father to this day has not, and answers my direct questions evasively. Charlene is more forthcoming, but is still circumspect. But I know. Oh, man, I know.

Instead of giving up on us (a perfectly reasonable idea) and focusing on her own child (my awesome stepbrother who is awesome), she just . . . waited. She waited and she loved us. And that was all she did– loved us, and never stopped loving us, and waited for us to figure it out.

Me, my sister, my sister-in-law, and beautiful Charlene.

Me, my sister, my sister-in-law, and beautiful Charlene, 2006, goofing off in hats at high tea.

And we all did, eventually, one by one as we got into our 20s. As you do. My mother was wrong. She was trapped in a hellish fantasy of her own making. We had believed her. And we were WRONG.

The fact that it took me YEARS to figure this out is the worst thing I can say about myself. It feels like the worst kind of failure and stupidity. But I figured it out. It was like being struck by lightning. I remember the DAY, even, that it finally dawned on me as I sat, stretching out and talking to a friend before a dance class. Her mother was getting remarried, all three kids were flying out for the wedding, her parents had divorced when she was twelve, the new guy is such a sweetheart. And something about that conversation made everything finally click into place. It’s deeply humiliating to even talk about. I should have known years before, but the mythology I was taught at a young and vulnerable age was stronger than observation, stronger than logic. Still. I should have known.

My sister Becky and Charlene, 2013.

My sister Becky and Charlene, 2013.

There’s no way for me to enumerate all the things Charlene is to me, has done for me, and means to me in this blog without it becoming tedious, because it would take all damn day to list them. All you need to know is that whenever I reached my hand out for her, she was there. She’s one of the few people I know loves me unconditionally, because I was a SHIT to her as a teenager, and her response was to love me. I deserved a swift kick in the ass, and instead, she gave me everything she had to give.

Now that I’m a stepmother, I am overwhelmingly grateful that Charlene taught me how to be a good one. My stepson Jacob came into my life when he was 5, and I went through many of the same things Charlene did when she married my father. Charlene handheld me through it, without ONCE MENTIONING, “Well, at least your stepson isn’t a shit to you like you guys were to me.” She’d have every right. But that’s not who she is.

Charlene with my niece, Maddy. 2013. I love her smile.

Charlene with my niece, Maddy. 2013. I love her smile.

This is the paragraph where I should describe her in detail, right? And I can’t do her justice. She is wonderful. She is loving, and warm, and funny, and wise, and an AMAZING cook, and can fold a fitted sheet COMPLETELY FLAT (which is some kind of witchcraft, I think), and is everything I want to be. She can swear creatively and simultaneously make an elegant dinner party for 12 using nothing but an onion, a shoelace, and a Mr. Coffee. She was at Altamont, and my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and the birth of my son. When my mother was dying, she and my father picked me up at the airport and shepherded me back and forth to the hospital, sitting for hours in that crappy hospital cafeteria waiting for me. Every single time I’ve ever reached out for her, she’s been there for me.

You learn how to love from your mother, I think. My mother taught me how to love lavishly, openly, and wholeheartedly. It’s a good way to love. But Charlene taught me how to love unconditionally, and what it means to love someone enough to know that sometimes you put their needs ahead of your own.

Hanging out at the pool with my dad, 2012.

Hanging out at the pool with my dad, 2012.

Not that she neglected herself– she made time for herself and time for my father. She gave us an excellent example of what it means to take care of yourself and your marriage while still taking care of your family. To have balance. I had never heard of such a thing. I didn’t know what it looked like until she showed me.

She taught me how to be a mother, how to be a stepmother, how to be a strong woman. I’m still trying to live up to her example, every day.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Charlene. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you. You came into my life and made EVERY SINGLE aspect of it better.

Another one with my niece, Maddy. 2012.

Another one with my niece, Maddy. 2012.

How to Look Cooler Than You Are

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Cheshire’s basic poster image for the world premiere of The Fisherman’s Wife, by Steve Yockey.

 

You know what I hear ALL the time? “Your posters are amazing.” “Your production shots are incredible.” “Your flyers are gorgeous.” I KNOW. You know why?

Cheshire Isaacs, that’s why.

 

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Another Cheshire poster image. I directed this show, and he captured its feel perfectly with this image.

 

Apart from being Impact’s Managing Director, my partner in crime, and my theatre husband (you can ask Cheshire and my real life husband about how I can’t keep track of who I told what to. Magical), Cheshire is Impact’s Graphics Overlord. If you’ve ever seen an Impact poster, image, or photograph and loved it, you have Cheshire to thank.

 

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So why am I telling you all this? Because, kittens, Cheshire is leaving his job as Art Director at Berkeley Rep and going freelance. Need an amazing poster? A kickass logo? Exceptional, attention-grabbing PR shots or production photos? New headshots? BAM. He’s your hookup, no question. (He’s San Francisco Bay Area-based, so photography will have to be within a reasonable distance unless you have a TARDIS.)

 

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Cheshire’s basic image for Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men. My real life husband painted the mini to match the actor playing the paladin, Jonathon Brooks.

 

Cheshire has been making me look cooler than I am for years now, and now he can make YOU look cooler than YOU ARE. And if you’re already extremely cool, well, his work will make you EVEN COOLER.

 

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Cheshire’s image for Prince Gomolvilas and Brandon Patton’s last installment of Jukebox Stories

 

I have a lot of his poster images here, but fewer of his PR and production shots, because I have tons of his shots all over the blog.  Click around and check it out. His shots are incredible.

So check out his stuff and drop him a line when you need some amazing art, OK?

 

One of Cheshire's PR shots for Impact's Titus Andronicus. Mark McDonald, Reggie White, Anna Ishida, Michael Garrett McDonald, and Joe Loper pictured.

One of Cheshire’s PR shots for Impact’s Titus Andronicus. Mark McDonald, Reggie White, Anna Ishida, Michael Garrett McDonald, and Joe Loper pictured.

One of the PR shots Cheshire took for my Romeo and Juliet. You can see how the poster and PR shot match in tone and feel.

One of the PR shots Cheshire took for my Romeo and Juliet. You can see how the poster and PR shot match in tone and feel. Joseph Mason, Mike Delaney, Reggie White, and Jonah McClellan, with Seth Thygesen as the corpse.

Stacz Sadowski in a production shot from Cameron McNary's Of Dice and Men, of course by Cheshire.

Stacz Sadowski in a production shot from Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men, of course by Cheshire.

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Cheshire’s art for Impact’s production of Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman is now the cover art for the published version, available from Samuel French. This isn’t the only Cheshire Isaacs theatre poster that eventually became the book cover.

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Get It Together and Hire a Fight Director

As many of you know by now, I’ve been teaching at the Berkeley Digital Film Institute since its founding. Many film directors have passed through my classes, and exactly . . . um, carry the two, OK, FOUR PERCENT of them understand when they start my class that staged violence needs a fight director. And before you start congratulating yourself for being in theatre and therefore knowing better, easily half of all stage violence is blocked without a fight director. Maybe more. Here’s why you need to hire a fight director for your film or theatre violence.

Impact's Romeo and Juliet. Seth Thygesen as Benvolio, Marilet Martinez as Mercutio, Michael Garrett McDonald as Romeo. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Fights by Dave Maier.

Impact’s Romeo and Juliet. Seth Thygesen as Benvolio, Marilet Martinez as Mercutio, Michael Garrett McDonald as Romeo. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

They’re better at it than you are. I know you totally think you can stage that fist fight based on your many viewings of Star Trek TOS, but believe me, you can’t. Or, rather, you CAN; it just won’t be safe or look anywhere near as good as if you had brought in a professional. Here’s the deal: Ideally, you know the look that you want. But the road to get there is not necessarily a straight line. You don’t, for example, set up a stage punch exactly in the same way you’d set up a real punch. It’s not as simple as just not landing your punch. Additionally, every fight has a narrative. Do you know what the story of your fight should be? Do you know how to tell that story clearly? A fight director does. Nothing is more annoying, or pulls you out of a moment faster, than watching badly done violence. It can take a beautifully acted scene and throw it straight down the toilet. You can have all the honesty you want, but if your violence looks cheap and crappy, it’s going to obliterate all that honesty immediately.  So, for the same reason you hire any other designer whose entire job is to know more about their area of design than you do, hire a fight director. It’s the difference between a badass fight and this.

…….or you could just use your phaser. Still: KIRK RULES.

Fight Director Christopher Morrison:

“The fights are integral to the story. A fight happens when the characters run out of language to pursue their objectives and their choices become physical. Block/direct accordingly. Also understand a fight is a DESIGN element. As a director you should understand what KIND of violence you want, how that violence fits into the world of the play/spine of the story, and what tone the violence should be (i.e. cartoon, filmic, epic, comic book, intimate, ‘fake,’ dirty, etc.) and be prepared to speak to your fight lady as you would another designer on the team.”

Christopher Morrison getting thrown by Cara Gilson in Impact's production of Zay Amsbury's The Wake Up Crew. Fights by Christopher Morrison.

Christopher Morrison getting thrown by Cara Gilson in Impact’s production of Zay Amsbury’s The Wake Up Crew. Violence by Christopher Morrison.

They’ll keep you, your actors, and your audience safe. Apart from the obvious first thought– you want the people around you to remain unharmed because you’re not a psychopath– I’m guessing that you, like me, are someone who enjoys staying out of prison and avoiding lawsuits. An excellent way to do that is to hire a professional to stage your fights safely. Fight Director and actor Carla Pantoja:

“I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard or been privy to of actors getting physically injured because someone didn’t use a respectable fight director. Now when I say ‘respectable fight director,’ I mean someone with reasonable and up-to-date training, or even hiring someone in the first place. [Name] shared a story awhile back of a nonunion (sadly, most of these horror stories are peopled with nonunion folk) actor who had her arm broken and dislocated because the director didn’t hire someone and wanted an arm lock that was ‘real’ (ugh, I hate that term used in relationship to theatrical violence– you want ‘real,’ start a fight club). This director demonstrated on her and snapped her arm. She required surgery.

Part of using a respectable and up-to-date fight director is getting the up-to-date knowledge. There are techniques that are outdated. Just like acting, techniques change. “

All fights, no matter how well-choreographed or rehearsed, carry some measure of risk, like everything in life, but the better choreographed and rehearsed they are, the lower that risk is. If you’ve ever lived through an actor getting injured on your stage, knowing you did everything in your power to prevent that is a world of difference from knowing your actor has a puncture wound because you couldn’t be arsed to hire a professional.

And please be prepared to trust that professional and follow his directives. A safe fight will not remain safe if you throw all the fight director’s instructions out the window. Fight Director and actor Andrew Rodgers:

This show is about as bad as it can get for a fight director.  The company called and asked if I’d choreograph the violence and the description of the play didn’t seem so bad.  But then I saw the publicity photos– the sole actress of the production (let’s call her ‘Jenny’) had a knife in her hand in the pictures.  I came to a rehearsal to see what was going on and I discovered that ‘Jenny’ had NO IDEA what safety meant.  The knife she was using was a dulled-down butcher knife, and my heart stopped when she first brought it out.  The blade was dull but it still had a point on it, and she was playing with it like it was a teddy bear– rubbing it on her face, putting it in her mouth, holding it by the blade or with two fingers.  I nearly exploded.  To complicate things, there was no structural, dramatic or narrative reason for the knife to be in the show– the playwright thought it’d be cool and edgy, and he refused to do rewrites until opening week.  I had to explain to ‘Jenny’ that all weapons, dull or not, should be treated as though they are sharp, and that the knife that she was futzing with could actually kill her or another actor.  I thought she had it, then my stage manager called to say she was doing it again.”

I’ve been lucky at my theatre to have worked with many wonderful actors who would never dream of ignoring a fight director’s instructions, but of course we always reinforce that with support from the director, fight captain, and stage manager. Everyone needs to be on board.

Stacz Sadowski and Anna Ishida in Impact's Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Fights by Dave Maier.

Stacz Sadowski and Anna Ishida in Impact’s Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Yes, you can afford it. Carla makes an excellent point that nonunion actors bear the brunt of the foolery of the producers and directors who don’t want to hire a fight director. Why is that? Because the small theatres who work with nonunion actors are always looking for ways to keep costs down. I’m right there with you in the trenches. My company is the smallest of the small. No one at my company draws a salary. But we wouldn’t dream of doing a show with fights without hiring a fight director. We build it into the budget from the start along with every other design element. If I can do it with my microbudget, so can you.

Obviously you want a trained, professional, certified fight director, but can you afford one? YES, dammit. A little research will show you who the big theatres in your area are using. While a small theatre is unlikely to be able to afford the kinds of rates paid by a LORT, perhaps that LORT fight director is willing to work with you on a sliding scale. If not, it’s almost certain she has a highly-trained associate or star student who’s qualified and talented but is early in his career and looking to build his professional resume. Is there an organization in your area that trains fight directors and actor combatants? Is there a university in your area that offers stage combat training? A little sleuthing will reveal who teaches those classes. Don’t just assume that these professionals are out of your price range, even if your price range is $100 and a sixer of Pyramid Hef. YOU NEVER KNOW. No asky, no gety. But don’t skimp. Pay your fight director what every other designer is getting, because that’s what a fight director is: part of your design team.

Carla Pantoja:

“For those who believe it is too expensive to hire a fight director, did you know that most of us are willing to talk about prices? Sure, there are price points I can’t go below due to commute, etc., however, I know people and I will point you in the direction of someone who may be in your price point.”

Bring your fight director into the process in preproduction, not during tech week. Again, a fight director is part of your design team. You should be meeting with your fight director before rehearsals even begin. Even if the violence is nothing but a single punch, talk to your fight director in advance, let her know who the actors are and what skills they have, discuss the fight narrative and style with her, and ask her how much rehearsal time she’ll need and where in the process she needs that time to be. Fight director Alaric Toy:

“The sooner you include the fight director in the show the better. If the fight director can be part of the audition process, even better. That way s/he can get a good idea of each actor’s true performing capability then and there. Listing ‘gymnastics’ and not being able to perform a cartwheel is just bad. I speak from personal experience looking at some actors’ supposed resumes and the reality of their movement capability doesn’t match when I have to choreograph the fight.”

Carla Pantoja:

“Producers, please call us in early to the rehearsal process. I can’t tell you how many calls I get to stage something like R & J two weeks before opening and none of the actors have ever held a weapon. I’m not kidding. You are setting us all up for failure. When you call me the first time INTO TECH! to help stage a fall or a hit and the actor can’t do it fluidly and it looks clunky, it isn’t the fight director or the actor’s fault. I am not a miracle worker; I can’t magically give that actor the time it takes to incorporate the moves into their body. BTW, falls are the hardest things to sell, I have found. They are the hardest thing to get right technically while visually looking convincing. I don’t do these last minute calls anymore, they hurt my soul.”

Reggie White and Cassie Rosenbrock in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Reggie White and Cassie Rosenbrock in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

What the hell do you mean by a “fight narrative”? Isn’t it just a fight? Ow, even typing that hurt me. This kind of attitude is all too common, and makes as much sense as asking why you should hire a lighting designer, because can’t you just turn the lights on and off yourself?

Andrew Rodgers:

“That is the key to good choreography– thought. The actors MUST be thinking or the fight turns into empty steps.  The fight MUST have a purpose, just like any other scene in the play, otherwise it’s an uncomfortable dance break (and I’m usually a fan of dance breaks.) The actors MUST be processing what the characters are thinking.  It’s the simple things like this that make good combat– not speed or big shiny weapons– although those have their place.  It’s about thought.”

Carla Pantoja:

“I remember one of my mentors, Richard Lane, tell someone: ‘Would you do Oklahoma and not hire a music director? Or would you hire actors to do a play, just give them a script and have them direct themselves?'”

Don’t avoid hiring a fight director because you think your actors don’t have the training to pull off a professional fight. A trained professional fight director will work with your actors’ capabilities.

Carla Pantoja:

“While actors are amazing, we need direction. We need an outside eye to tell us if what we are doing is working. Safety is also nice. Fear is detrimental to our work as actors, not only fear of ‘is this working?’ but fear of being hurt physically.

As a fight director, I am an actor advocate. My job is to help you portray violence in a convincing way in a safe manner, creating a fight with you and for you. A fight you will enjoy to do and can do well within your own abilities. It doesn’t behoove me to make you do a move you physically cannot do, a move you are fearful of, or hold you back if there is a special move you can do that can be highlighted in the fight.

I have sadly worked with too many actors who have been injured and left distrustful of theatrical violence.”

Rehearsing the Hotspur/Hal fight for Impact's Henry IV: The Impact Remix. Violcen by Christopher Morrison.

Rehearsing the Hotspur/Hal fight for Impact’s Henry IV: The Impact Remix. Violence by Christopher Morrison.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE TREAT YOUR WEAPONS LIKE WEAPONS. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever allow an actor to point a gun loaded with blanks at someone, or at himself, and pull the trigger. A blank is not a NOTHING. That noise is made by a violent discharge that can seriously hurt someone. Just because it’s not propelling a bullet through the air does not mean it is a fluffy puppy. (Personally, I use sound cues for gunshots. A sound cue will recreate the sound of the gun in the setting. Is your play set outdoors? In close quarters? Is that gun supposed to be a hunting rifle, a shotgun, a .22? A blank fired in your theatre will always sound like nothing other than a blank fired in your theatre, and yes, all blanks of all sizes and types sound like blanks fired in your theatre, not like a bullet fired in your setting. That is, IF the blank even goes off. I’ve been through far too much “click click click click POP” to rely on blanks. And again, they sound like crap. An excellent sound designer is worth every blank in the world put together.)

A dulled blade is not magically prevented from doing any harm to anyone. It’s still a hunk of metal that can penetrate a squishy human body rather easily.

MORBO LAUGHS AT SQUISHY HUMANS

MORBO LAUGHS AT SQUISHY HUMANS

And NEVER take your weapons out of the theatre unless they’re in some kind of case or containing device. Do you want three uniformed police officers and one plainclothesman charging downstairs into your theatre five minutes before curtain? Then make sure your actor leave his weapon on the prop table when he runs to the bathroom, not shoved down the back of his pants.

(I don’t need to tell you that an actor who plays with the prop weapons backstage is an actor you should NEVER HIRE AGAIN, right? If an actor can’t follow the simple directive of “don’t fuck with dangerous props (or any props, really)” then that lack of concern for professionalism and safety is bound to carry over into other areas of his work.)

All good troopers know to put their weapons back on the prop table when they're off stage, and never touch anyone else's props.

All good troopers know to put their weapons back on the prop table when they’re off stage, and never touch anyone else’s props.

So please hire a fight director. You CAN afford it. A qualified fight director will enormously enhance the quality of your show, keep everyone in your building safe, and open your eyes to new perspectives on work that you may, in many cases, have been turning over in your mind for years. When you finally get your hands on Lear (and by “you,” I mean “me”), a fresh perspective on those scenes you’ve been dreaming about blocking for a decade will not only make the violence better, but will provide fresh insights into the entire piece– narrative, themes, and characters.

Stacz Sadowski and Miyaka Cochrane in Impact's As You Like It. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

Stacz Sadowski and Miyaka Cochrane in Impact’s As You Like It. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Violence by Dave Maier.

This piece wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the fight director Impact Theatre works with– Dave Maier. Dave is brilliant. He and I see eye-to-eye about violence and tend to exacerbate each other’s love for stage combat when we’re working together as director and fight director.  We’ve been known to turn the simple direction “they fight” into scenes that say as much about the characters as the dialogue, maybe more, and that’s something I would never, ever be able to do on my own. Working with Dave is a joy. I learn something every time I work with him, and his ideas about character and narrative are always fantastic.

So hire a fight director. Be safe. Be a better artist. Be awesome.

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