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Fight Director for Romeo & Juliet

Updated: May 2

Poster for Romeo & Juliet in collaboration with Stage Play Japan
I'll be working as Fight Director for Romeo & Juliet by Stage Play Japan

How it started

Several years ago, when I first started building out Quiet Flame's actor's curriculum, I was determined that we needed a rapier class. As the principle weapon of the Shakespearean Era, the rapier is by far the most widely used weapon in western theatrical stage combat and in the west, it is a main staple of a theatre actor's training. In Japan however, it is practically non-existent. As the purpose of Quiet Flame is to look beyond Japan and prepare and train actors to work on a world stage, (for both theatre and film) I was determined to not just know this skill myself, but to share it with our actors. Out here, it would be an extremely niche skill; and if there is anything I learned from being Japan's first non-Japanese stunt person, it's that there is opportunity is having a skill that no one else does. (Another great example of this is my good friend, Anthony De Longis, who got into his first Jet Li movie because of his bull whip skills.) With both luck, and determination, the program was built. Fast forward to now three years later, and through Stage Play Japan, I finally have a chance to apply these skills; as both an actor and the show's fight director in Romeo and Juliet.

both acting and fight director

As most of my experience has been in in film, theatre is always a new and refreshing experience for me. (I think this will be my 7th or 8th theatre experience and 2nd time working as a theatrical fight director. )

For this particular production, I will also be playing Tybalt- a quick-to-fight character much akin to the character I played in Eastbound Traffic, (Baron). albiet younger, and much more aggressive. While theatre performances are nothing new for me, (I've done 7 or 8 shows; 3 or 4 of which have had full tours), this will be my first time having to play both a character and the fight director at the same time. Thankfully however, (or perhaps by design) Tybalt isn't a character with a lot of dialog. (It would be way harder to do this if I had to play Romeo!) Still, I am very grateful to have the other Quiet Flame Instructors on board to help with developing the choreography, training the actors, etc so I can have the time to practice and rehearse myself as well.

Two of our actors in Romeo & Juliet rehearsing for a fight.
Two of our actors practicing their Rapier skills in preparation for the role.

The difference between stage combat and film combat

There are a lot of major differences that come into play when both creating and performing fight choreography for theatre vs film that will make this an interesting challenge. Some of them are as follows: 

The audience has only one perspective; and it’s a wide shot. 

In film, the fact that the camera can be maneuvered, positioned and mobilized means that the story of the fight that you are trying to tell can be told with both the big picture and the small details. Big flashy body or weapon movements can be followed up or embellished with close-ups of faces, a bead of sweat or blood falling in slow motion, or almost inperceptively small movements of the hand, food or head.

This also means that if a hit wouldn’t sell to the audience, you can simply change the angle or placement of the camera to make it sell.

Whereas in theatre, the audience can only see what their naked eyes can show them. While this doesn’t mean a loss of details in the choreo, it does mean that the small things have to be played big enough for everyone to be able to see them from a far; and all from basically one angel as the audience can’t really move. So instead of moving the camera around you combatants, this means you have to have your combatants shifting positions to make hits read for the audience instead. 

It's all one take; including the dialog

One of the challenges that I personally had in making this switch is that in film, once you film a fight, that’s it, and you are done with it. You can let it go from memory to focus on the next one. Whereas in theatre, you have to memorize all of the fights in the show and (and all your dialog) to be able to perform it all in one go. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal because once all the fights are made they would be performed by different actors; but in this show it’s particularly challenging because Tybalt does all of the fights himself. Also, as it’s live that also means that all of the individual fights have to be performed in one take as well.

The fights are set to the music and not vice versa

Usually, in film, you make the fight and then the editor finds the appropriate music and sets that music to the fight. In theatre however, it’s the opposite way around. You are given that musical piece and you have to build the fight to match it in length, timing and duration. 

Rapier vs Katana choreography

Another interesting challenge in this process is the fact that I’ll be doing choreography for Rapier instead of Japanese swords. While rapiers may be the most prolific edged weapon in western historical theatre, they are rarely used here; and while both of them are swords they are as different in application as you can get. Katanas basically follow the traditional Japanese martial arts mentality of the one hit kill. (i.e why Karate had board breaking and why Judo, Sumo matches are played to score a single point, etc). It is more akin to a curved broadsword made for slicing instead of bludgeoning. It uses big cuts and big slashes. 

Rapier on the other hand, while long range, is a quick and nimble weapon who’s mantra is “death by a thousand cuts”. Most of the damage is done with stabs and thrusts. 

The great thing about using Rapier for theatre however is that having a lightweight steel blade, the sword itself can provides all its own sound effects. This can be particularly helpful in lower budget productions. This is in stark contrast with Katana Tate which typically uses wooden weapons with a reflective foil covering; which necessitates sound effects during the show. 

When and where is the show?

For anyone who is interested in coming to see the show, it will be on June 3rd and 4th at 19:30 at the Shibuya Cultural Center Owada. 

For more information, feel free to scan the QR code in the photos below. Hope to see ya there! 

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