Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Buckling My Swash (Pt. 1)


Oh my sweet dear lord, WHAT am I doing up at 5:15 in the morning on Memorial-Day-weekend Saturday? Oh... that's right. The third annual Salem Sockeye stage combat workshop (well, it's the first time the Sockeye workshop's been held in Salem. The two workshops before this were held in Seattle, AND before the Seattle workshops John Armour held three combat workshops in Portland on Memorial Day weekend. So, this is actually the SIXTH annual MEMORIAL DAY workshop and the FIRST annual SALEM workshop and... you know what? It's a moot point, since they're changing the name anyway. feh!!).

I'm actually a little anxious about attending this weekend's workshop. I'm going to attempt to get recertified as an Accredited Actor Combatant by the SAFD... and I don't feel ready. I haven't been certified since 1996 (four years after I left the University of Alaska program), and it's been about five years since I did a full weekend workshop. I've done some violence in Portland-area shows, and I've choreographed a few fights since then... but I'm not really sure if my skills are "up to snuff" and ready for adjudication.

Well, I'll just have to swallow my fear (and my fourth cup of coffee) and hit the road for Salem. The workshop is being held on the Willamette University campus. I've been to Willamette before, but never to the theatre arts building. I'd better get an early-ish start so I can find the place.

Check in: 8:15 am
It's a good thing I gave myself extra time to find this place - I drove past the driveway to the theatre arts building three times before I found it.

Check-in was a breeze- John and the crew at Revenge Arts (who's running the workshop) have a large crew of staff and interns helping out. Things were a little disorganized at the beginning... the class schedule hadn't been printed up and distibuted by the time I got there, people were crowding into the lobby without any idea of where to go, etc. We were slated to do warmups and have introductions & announcements at 8:15... and it ended up being more like 8:40.

But hey, this is a pretty huge event, with people coming from as far away as Washington DC, Colorado, Ellensburg, San Francisco, and even (gasp!) Tacoma & Seattle! I don't begrudge the Revenge Arts guys a slow start. They've got a lot of stuff to get organized.

One thing we did receive right at the outset was a T-shirt with the new name of our local Memorial Day weekend workshop printed on it. The workshop hath been officially re-dubbed the Oregon Knockout.

I'm suprised that I seem to be the only Portland-area actor at the workshop (if a couple of the other participants are from Portland, I haven't met them before). I know that John sent information about the workshop to PDXBackstage, and that other people in town knew that the workshop was going on. It's great to see so many college students attending, and people from other areas of the country... but I was really hoping that some of our local actors would take the opportunity to learn some of the principals of stage combat to help them prepare for that next show which might require them to participate in violence. As a combat choreographer myself, I've often been disappointed by the fights I see on Portland stages... it's often not the choreography that's at fault (not that I haven't seen bad choreography...) so much as the actors' comfort with the moves and their bodies doing them. Workshops like this make for better fights on stage, which make for better plays that contain them.

It's my not-so-humble opinion that every actor should be familiar with the principals of stage combat - not because they plan on being in a lot of plays that require broadswords or quarterstaffs, but because combat training makes one a better actor. Combat is just acting. Every moment of violence, whether it's an open-handed slap in the face or a full-on broadsword battle, is a scene in a play that tells a story for a specific purpose. Understanding how to tell that story with your body safely helps you figure out how to tell other stories in other ways. I REALLY hope that more Portland-area actors will come down to the next shootout so they can add these skills to their repretoire.

Ok... gotta go. Time for my first class: Quarterstaff training to prep for my Skills Proficiency Renewal. I haven't used a quarterstaff in about 15 years... this is gonna hurt.

10:30 am

Ooof... I was right. I'm WAY rusty on the Quarterstaff. A lot of that weapon's use comes down to knowing when to use the "blade" of the staff, and when to use the "butt." Bob Borwick, a Seattle actor combatant and choreographer who's teaching the SPR class, has been very patient with me this morning. He had to stop me a lot to remind me of which part of the staff to use, and when to cross my body with the staff and when to leave the body open.

The rest of the class is more experienced with the staff than I am. We've got college teachers, Seattle-area performers, and Craig who flew up from Washington D.C. to attend the workshop (he'll be my partner for the SPR exam later that afternoon).

I'm already sweating like a horse. Time to get back in for the second half of the class.

12:15 - Lunch Break

Oh boy. I'm going to be hurtin' tomorrow. Not because I got biffed by a quarterstaff... actually, Craig's quite confident with the stick in his hand (and yes, please ignore the double-entendre). The repetition of our choreography for our SPR has left my legs and shoulders very sore, though. I've completely sweated through my T-Shirt (good thing I brought a spare). As I sit in the Willamette theatre lobby and eat my bag-lunch, I can tell that I'm going to be paying for today and tomorrow. My body's going to be soooore.

The good news is that I think I've got the SPR choreography down pretty well with Craig. I cover a lot of ground when I advance, so we had to adjust the fight a bit to keep from running out of room. That being said, I'm feeling pretty confident going into the afternoon. The trick will be remembering the choreography from here until 4:30, when we perform the fight for SAFD adjudicator Dale Girrard. Luckily, they're going to give us about ten minutes to practice on the stage before we actually get tested.

Whew... time to pack up and get into the Rapier and Dagger SPR prep class.


Wow... after working with a quarterstaff all morning, you wouldn't think that two little pieces of metal (a rapier and dagger) would weigh so much. You'd be wrong, though... my shoulders and upper back are ABSOLUTELY feeling th e moves that Geoff Kent has been putting us through.

Unlike this morning's Quarterstaff class, which focused on drills in the first half and then choreography for the SPR test in the second, Geoff has had us working on the SPR choreography from the first minute. This will make it easier to remember the fight (lots of repetition), but the repetitive movements are also making my arms feel very very heavy :)

My partner for the Rapier and Dagger fight is a fellow from San Francisco who's not an actor. He did some acting in college, and he got certified by the SAFD, but he's since decided to pursue a career in Chinese medicine and alternative health care. He just came up to recertify because he likes combat. Cool guy. He'll be a good partner to fight with.


No time to write too much... We're doing the proficiency test for Rapier and Dagger first, then the Quarterstaff proficiency test. EEK!


Whew... I'll do one more note before I drive home for the evening. I think I did pretty well in my proficiency exams. The Rapier and Dagger exam went off pretty flawlessly, though the Quarterstaff exam had a couple of missed parries. Craig and I rehearsed the fight a couple of times before we actually tested, but we were both pretty tired after an entire day spent fighting, and I think it showed. Dale didn't say anything to the individual fighters after their fights, but both SPR instructors gave my partners and I a thumbs-up, so I'm hoping that's a good sign.

Oh god I'm going to hurt tomorrow...