I had the opportunity to teach two unarmed stage combat workshops at the KC-ACTF Region 5 conference, just days after we performed the scene from Eurydice. I was placed in a ballroom with a 150 person capacity and I didn’t want to be flooded by many of the hundreds of students who attend the conference each year, so I made sure to limit the number of participants for both of my workshops to 40. The first workshop focused on the principle of escalation in fight choreography. When watching violence onstage, too many times the characters either explode into violence from a calm scene or all the energy from contentious argument is diffused in the first slow, cautious moves of what was supposed to be a slugfest. By organically building moments of increasing aggression onstage, I attempted to show how a scene can organically flow into moments of violence while still being safe for the actors.
The second workshop drew about 14 students. The class built towards creating a few moments of violence on film. I emphasized the role of the defender in responding to an attack by blocking, redirecting, avoiding, and/or bracing. Each student left the class with a short video of themselves performing some unarmed moves and some basic knowledge of how to shoot combat on film.
Teaching an unarmed stage combat workshop at KC-ACTF 2020.
A scene from Eurydice was selected for performance at the KC-ACTF Region 5 festival in Sioux Falls, SD! Everyone from Southwestern bundled up and headed north to perform. It was my first time attending the conference and I was surprised at the high quality of the workshops and student performances. I also found the time to get trained as a KC-ACTF respondent.
I have been hired as an adjunct professor of theatre at Southwestern College, KS to teach Stage Combat and Modern Theatre History. I am excited for the opportunity to teach these two classes, as they speak to my strengths as an instructor. I am familiar with my students, as I shared the stage with many of them in Eurydice last fall. I can’t wait to get started.
Though I had a cold and a cough, the opening night of Eurydice went well. The performance in the Little Theatre at Southwestern College was sold out so we added a few chairs to accommodate extra patrons. The director embraced a method of devising movement developed by the UK-based Frantic Assembly theatre company to incorporate non-realistic physicality into the show. We also did ensemble lifts and falls to bring the moments of “flight” to life. I was impressed with the energy that the student actors brought to the performance, something that undergraduates often seem to lack when approaching non-realistic work. The result was a show which was fun, dark, whimsical, deep, and light at the same time, mirroring the tone of the writing.
I have been cast as the Father in Sarah Rhul’s fantastic play Eurydice. In my opinion, Rhul is one of the best modern American playwrights and I have been excited to be involved with one of her plays for a long time. The role will be a welcome challenge.
The annual conferences of the Association for Asian Performance and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education were held in my hometown of Orlando this year. It was hot (not as hot as Boston last year) but the heat was worth it to hear all the new scholarship, reconnect with colleagues, and meet new friends.
I presented a paper pulled from a chapter of my dissertation (pic below). The paper focused on how the characters were depicted in an opera Zuni Icosahedron commissioned and produced in a Jesuit chapel in Hong Kong called The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The depiction of both character and music asked the audience to critically reconsider their relationship to performance. Interesting stuff!
Some of the panels I attended focused on new pedagogical ideas for teaching theatre history, discussions of new directions in immersive theatre, like Sleep No More and I made a special point to attend two workshops on the emerging field of stage intimacy direction. The conference was a great experience.
Presenting at AAP 2019 Orlando
Instead of celebrating the 4th of July with barbecue and backyard football, I hopped on a plane and headed to Hong Kong for a month to finish up the fieldwork for my dissertation (and managed to get started on a few other projects). It was difficult for our schedules to align, but finally, on my second-to-last day, I was lucky enough to score a 2 hour interview with Danny Yung. Yung is the founder and Co-Artistic Director of the avant-garde theatre company that my dissertation focuses on: Zuni Icosahedron. Running the gamut between collectively-created performance art pieces, site-specific video installations, and experimental interrogations of traditional Chinese opera, the only constant in Zuni’s eclectic performance style seems to be creativity. The interview helped to enrich the record of Zuni’s early years; after the first hour Yung remarked “This is turning into a kind of oral history!” Hopefully, this oral history will serve to bring more scholarly interest to theatre created by Hong Kong artists.
In addition to research, I also found the time to take in the sites, even getting a first hand chance to observe the anti-China extradition law protests that have rocked the territory for the past 2 months. I made sure to visit the beautiful new Xiqu Chinese Opera Center in the West Kowloon Cultural District (check the picture below), and did some hiking on the hot and humid Lamma Island.
Xiqu Center, West Kowloon, Hong Kong
On the Boat to Lamma Island
Tin Hau Temple, Lamma Island
5 years ago I set a goal to become certified in all eight weapon systems of the Society of American Fight Directors. I am happy to announce that today I have completed that goal. In the same day I tested in quarterstaff and smallsword while renewing in my favorite system, rapier and dagger. You can head over to the Video/Stage Combat tab on this website to see some of the tests. The culmination of an entire semester of learning and teaching stage combat was exhausting and exhilarating and a whole lot of fun. Ever happy to maintain a growth mindset, I have set my next goal to become a Certified Teacher with the SAFD. I know this will mean even more physical and aesthetic training, but I am up to the challenge. I only hope it takes less than 5 years!
SAFD Skills Test Crew Spring 2019
I had the chance to work with several graduate and undergraduate students on an exciting project this week: motion capture for a video game project at IU! Actually, I got to do mocap twice: once for an official IU media school project with a game company and the other for a class project on animation. It was an interesting challenge to suit up and play many different characters using only the body. In the process I learned that mocap actors, unlike actors on stage and screen, can play any type of character- the data points captured during the actor’s performance can be used with any pre-existing character model in the computer. Thus, I played the evil villain, the plucky sidekick, the tough guard, the sexy leader, the cunning thief, and the kind-hearted protagonist in the space of 70 minutes! I have posted the rough mocap video from the class project on the Video/Stage Combat page and posted some shots below.
Whit Fierce Mocap IU Spring 2019
Whit Mocap with Quarterstaff
Whit and Nate Mocap for Ara Fell IU Media School 2019
The pit, the pie, blood pumps, and lots of knives! Titus Andronicus has been a fun production to work on. Building the moments of physical violence has been a challenge, due to time and budget constraints, but both the cast and stage management team kept a positive attitude and learned a lot. For me, assisting with the stage combat has been an invaluable educational opportunity. I learned how to build a vocabulary that reaches both actors that are expert stage combatants and newer actors who need a lot of coaching to work through moments of physical altercation. In the end, a safe, exciting, bit of bloody fun was had by all. Check out some action photos from the show below.
Lavinia Held by Tamora
Titus is Behanded by Aaron
Titus Killed By Saturninus
Titus Drowns Tamora in Pie
Lavinia Kills Demetrius