You may not associate Little Women: The Musical with stage combat, but in the script there are two distinct areas of conflict that I choreographed for the Southwestern College production. The first was a pseudo-boxing match between Jo and Laurie. Since the musical takes place during and after the American Civil War, I drew upon historical photographs of boxers to inform the character’s fighting stances. Boxers in the 1860s adopted more of a “side-on” stance, twisting the hips away from their opponent and leaning their head back for protection. Also, the fists were extended towards the opponent in a supinated position, creating a body posture similar to the “Fighting Irish” mascot of Notre Dame. It was a lot of fun to choreograph the scene and work with both the natural energy of the actor and the circumstances of the character. As the boxing match took place during a song, I made sure to drill the actors to sync the timing of the combat with the music. The two youngsters testing the limits of love and friendship lent the scene a bit of a comic feel, which suited the overall tone of the production.
The second fight in the show took place in the world of one of Jo’s stories. The villain, hero, and heroine face off in a pair of epic sword fights. Luckily, Southwestern had just purchased a new batch of theatrical single swords from Rogue Steel, so we had top-notch equipment for the fight. Also, I had been teaching single sword in my stage combat class, so the students had a good level of familiarity with the weapon. I built jumps, avoids, thrusts, and disarms into the melodramatic, swashbuckling fights, all executed in a safe manner by the student actors.
On the management side of things, I made sure that a fight captain was appointed to run fight call before each rehearsal and performance. I also developed a “best practices” stage combat guideline sheet for the stage manager and disseminated fight notation to everyone involved in the fight. At the end of the day, the student actors, student fight captain, and student stage manager all learned a lot from the stage combat in the show. Nobody got hurt and the audience was entertained. It was a pleasure to do and I can’t ask for more!