DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR & ADVOCATE
D: Oh my gosh, Hi everybody... Hi, hi, hi welcome, welcome, welcome. Oh my gosh, Siobhan Richardson is here, and we are so lucky and I am so grateful. I'm so grateful! We're here to talk about you and your life, this incredible career that you've crafted.
S: Thank you,
D: You, you are such a multi-hyphenate, so successful, yeah, talk a little bit about that before we jump into viewer questions and how, from my lens, it looks like someone who has the range of success that you've had and the number of things that you still are wonderful at believes in themselves.
S: Yeah, that's a great way to put it. I think I've been very lucky to have found something I care about. And that fire is still lit for me. My catching the Bug moment was when I was in grade nine, at the Forest Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener Waterloo! We're both from the same high school! Which blows my mind.
So it was for the Sears Festival, which people now will know as the National Theater School Drama Festival. It was a show that we did for that and funny enough, so I met people on that show. I can remember two distinctly who I still know and work with I... So from grade 9. And that's something that has actually astounded me in the long in my career. The number of people whose names come up again, the people I know, again, the people I keep working with it. My very first Performing Arts summer camp I was so heart broken at the end 'cause I went like... Where does all this go? And some of them were just like, Oh, don’t worry about it, you'll see these people in two weeks, two years, ten years whatever, you're gonna see 'em all again which I think it is something that's really fascinating about our industry is that we do... We see people and we have friend love with them immediately and family love with them immediately, for such a short time, but then we keep seeing people again and again.
But that's not what you asked! You asked about career things. I started dancing when I was very small, I was in ballet when I was about four years old, and started then, left it for a little bit when I was doing Kung-fu at a Chinese school in my teens, and then when I was in the middle of high school when I went, "Oh my God, I'm gonna go to school for musical theater.” I went back to dance to make sure that I felt really good about where I was that by the time I was auditioning for things.
So I went to school for musical theater, as soon as I got out I probably started doing at of Shakespeare, because its Public Domain. But while I was in musical theater school, that's when I first had my first professional stage combat lesson. Now, I've done stuff before that in high school, but I had my first professional stage combat lesson then and again I was bit by the bug, I felt like I was going home when I went to musical theatre school for the first day, I walked in the door, I think it was the first or second day of school, and I came in and went *Sings* good morning. And then the whole room replies with *Sings* “Good Morning!” and I was like *excited Gasp* “Im Home!” And I felt that same kind of camaraderie when I went into my first stage combat courses, when I went to my first training course with fight directors Canada.
But as far as maintaining those different careers at the same time, it's been a really conscious effort, it's been a lot of conscious choices. I've been very lucky, and that I've been able to do both, I've been able to have some privilege and be able to bank that towards being able to do some training that I needed to do to ask people for help when I needed to.
I mean, I guess that's a much vulnerability and courage as it is anything. But it's been very conscious choice where I've been able to do these shows, and then go for this training, and then talk to these people, and be really proactive about getting headshots and resumes out there talking with an agent when I didn't have one, like looking for an agent, talking with people who are very skilled to work with, and I was very lucky to very early on, find the community of fight direction and stage combat and that was, again, really being able to practice it. 'Cause it's just like dance only, we have fewer opportunities to practice. Or certainly, we did back then. One of the things I'm really excited about at this time right now is that more people on board with the idea of training online. I've been doing it for about 10 years, but I'm really excited that more people are interested 'cause then I can share with someone who is 300 kilometers away, a three-hour flight away, six-hour flight away.
So, I'm able to help provide that opportunity for other people so hopefully they can do... Whatever version of the balancing act that is like, yes, I'm doing this, acting show I'm gonna be away on this day, so I can do this one-time only training thing and then come back and do this. So that's the... That's the somewhat ambling version of what is taking me to be able to do both. So, it's been singular focus, and some of it's been trying to do the two at once.
D: And it's been a lot of work.
S: It has been, yes, its pounding the pavement, it's like, "Oh I have a yoga mat-sized space in my apartment great, I can do some lunges, I can grab a pen and I can practice my Parries with my pen.” There’s always a little something I can do, I can practice my thrusts and cut *David and Siobhan mimic sword fighting with pens*
Then it's like we do with everything else: Oh, I can sing today. I could do some scales today, I can practice this monologue today, I can make these phone calls, I can be brave and ask, “Are you taking apprentices? Can I shadow you?” So sometimes it is like maybe phone calls that you a little scared to make or a letter that you're afraid to write.
But one thing I have found to be quite universal is how generous people are with their time and energy. I have more often had people say Sure, I can take a look at that. Then I had people say No, I don't have time. And when people don't have time, it's usually that they genuinely don't have time. It's not that you are not worth it, it's that they don't have time, and they wanna give you good time, and sometimes people have time for five-minute conversation if they don't have time for a five-month apprenticeship. I'm a big fan of like "Well what do I have available and what do I do with that?
D: Such good advice, that's good advice already. We’re only moments in! Hi everybody, welcome, these little chats are driven by your questions, so please start typing in your questions that you have for Siobhan right away, and we'll try to get to as many as we can. And in the meantime, we have some tips and tricks we're gonna share...
S: We do... We do have lots of stuff. So here is a really general idea about performing stage combat: Remember that it's kind of like dance with pointy edges. It's physical movement, it should be repeatable, but it's closer to partnership it's more like a pas de deux than it is a group number 'cause it's not necessarily about being in the right sync at the same time, it's more about something happens, and I respond to it. So I'm gonna bring out my partner. I'm very lucky. This is one of the other things im very lucky to have. This is my partner, Matt.
*Matt appears holding a sword*
S: Not yet, I think I want you to punch me first… haha, conversations we can have.
*Matt puts down the sword and reappears on camera*
S: We live together clearly so we are not distanced. However, if we were distanced, we could do this, because on camera, where you can play with the lens and all that other stuff, but we'll keep this mostly to stage work.
So the way that stage combat is like dance is that we are repeating choreography, but where it's more like a pas de duex is that it needs to be responsive to each other. So, if Matt "why don’t you come over here” *Matt moves to stand across from Siobhan* and if Matt's going to do a punch and I'm gonna block it, so we're gonna practice and talk it through first, so we agree on what's going on.
So straight punch and block. So, if we do it just on the same time it doesn't actually work. So go on the count of one. Three, four, one. * Matt punches straight, Siobhan holds her arm up at a 90 degree angle to block, their arms intersect at the same moment* it happens at the same time, but it doesn't look as much like fighting. If we do it this way, you go on one, three or four, or one. * Matt punches straight again, however Siobhan’s block follows a moment later* See that? How I have to follow? It's almost like a grace note, it's like a 16th note. I have to go afterwards 'cause I have to respond to the movement. So just like if we were doing a lift, we need to connect before he can pick me up with a punch he needs to start his action so that I can perceive and something's coming, get out of the way, respond and then, block.
So, whenever you're practicing your fights, remember that it needs to have that. We have to really see the stimulus response aspect of it. So that would be my first piece of advice for dancers and musicians who are... Who are having stage combat in their piece is that it needs to be responsive.
So, actually, let me show you what this looks like with a slap. Were gonna move away from the camera a little bit. And shall I... I'll slap you, 'cause it’s easier to see on camera.So I'm gonna slap Matt. And if he goes as soon as my hand starts moving it doesn't look like a slap. *Siobhan stands with her back to the camera, Matt is facing the camera. Matt moves his face away from Siobhan’s hand, prior to her following through on the movement* So we're moving at the same time, why isn't working? Because we need that imaginary transference of energy. So, if Matt waits for the moment of illusion when my hand crosses his face, then you'll see that transference of energy. *Siobhan and Matt demonstrate the slap again. This time it is convincing* So we have to see like Newton’s Cradle, we have to see it move this way.
And that's what can be really confusing, especially you have to do, stage combat, a fight in the middle of the dance number… especially, if you're doing a moment of violence in the middle of the dance it's a bit of a brain-shift 'cause you have to go from being on the down beat or wherever you’re choreographed to be, to being responsive to your partner. So it's a little bit of a hiccup in the head, but it's really important to be focused on your partner.
D: I love that idea o f a grace note. I think that's beautifully said. I've never heard it said that way.
Does your technique change between stage and film?
S: It sure does. There are some really specific significant differences. The big thing is, of course, if you're on camera and you're like the face that people are paying to see if the shot is not of your face, you're probably not performing the violence.
There's some significant exceptions like Tom Cruise actually does do a lot of his own stunts. Keanu Reeves does a lot of his own work, although I know that's some of his biggest dangerous stunts, his Stunt person is like, “No, no, no, you don't wanna do this one”, but he does do the martial arts. Keira Knightly I've heard is actually amazing with a sword. So it's quite possible that it is her you're watching all the time.
So that's the first big thing is that when we're performing on stage, whoever you are, you have to do all your own fights. So that's why we talk about stage combat being based on Safety Story Style, in that order. So Safety first, it's gotta be, or Sustainable. We've gotta be able to do it again and again, again, we've gotta be able to do it 8 shows a week, Fight Calls for those 8 shows. So 32 times a week, you're performing this thing.
And you’ve gotta be able to do it for your hour-and-a-half, two hours of initial rehearsal, and then every time you rehearse from then on. So it's gotta be sustainable. It's gotta be story-based, something has to be happening. And Style, there's a very different thing between... If I punch like this * Siobhan punches like a boxer keeping her fists in tight to her face* Or if I punch like this *Siobhan punches more erratically, without recognizable form* They’re both punches, but they're stylistically different.
So when it comes to performing on camera if it's not you a stunt person might be doing it but if it is you here are some other things. So on stage, we have to make the sound. I'm gonna shift my camera a little bit, so you're not looking at so much empty space. And I step back.. Come on back, Matt. we will do this this way *Matt and Siobhan stand across from one another, parallel to the camera* I'm gonna cross punch you, I’m gonna shoulder punch you... So, we're here…so I'm gonna punch Matt in the face. *Siobhan punches Matt using her left arm to punch across his body away from the camera. Matt reacts as if he’s been punched*
so we're gonna show you from the other side so you can see how far we are from each other. So we're actually this far apart. When, we do that. *Matt stands to face the camera, Siobhan’s back is to the camera, showing about 8” of space between her punch and his face.*
So for stage we have to manage that distance because we're being viewed from whatever angle the audience, we have. So that's left and right, that's up and down as well. Don't forget, especially let's say you're in London, you got like 5 balconies to play for. That's a lot of space to cover because as soon as you can see that gap between his face and my hand, you know it's not real. So on stage, we have to manage that in the moment. So again, fight work is so much like a pas de duex and not just I land on my mark. You're on your mark, and we hope it works.We have to be on our marks, but we do need to make adjustments for whatever variation happens day-to-day.
On camera, we can have so we can cheat that distance, so much more. So on stage, we wanna “hang loose” we want about that much space *Siobhan holds up her fist with only her thumb and pinky extended* maybe two *Holds up other hand in the same manner*. So everybody that's a rule, you can write down and remember from here to forever when you're on stage, you want people... No closer than this *Holds up hand in same manner*... You don't need them to be any closer than that. Exceptions are when you have a really a venue like 25 seats or something, but generally you just need to be this far *One hand in Hang Loose sign* maybe this much *Both hands in Hang Loose sign*. So anywhere between one and two Looses Hang, so that's a good distance.
Now, for camera if the camera’s on that side I can bring my hand over this this far away *Siobhan waves fist over a foot away from Matt’s face* and no one's gonna notice. *Matt stands facing the camera, Siobhan has her back to the camera. Siobhan slaps Matt and he reacts* It’s gonna look like we're hit each other. But if Matt scooches his feet towards me, I'm gonna punch him from here, and then he's gonna walk step-by-step, so you can see just how far is for me.
So here *Again Siobhan slaps Matt and he reacts*. Now, if he goes like, foot in front of another, go ahead, and just walk that way one *Matt steps one step forward* and then another scootch, two *Matt steps again*...I'm still not actually touching him, do it again, *Matt steps forward* now, I can finally touch him. So, that's how are you are from each other, on film.
And then the other thing, of course, is the sound when you are performing on camera, then they put in the sound afterwards, they either punch something or they use whatever files they already have, but for stage we have to make the sound ourselves, it's called a knap- K-N-A-P. It comes from making stone tools. We're not clapping which is this action *Claps* were knapping, like we're making arrowheads with Flint and a rock, on stage. So we’re gunna do this way now, so you can see the “bad side”. So my audience is that way *Siobhan points behind her away from the camera* you're upstage with me on stage, then Matt's gonna stand here. *Matt and Siobhan stand across from one another, parallel to the camera*.
So that what you saw before was this punch *Siobhan demonstrates punching across Matt’s face, this time towards the camera* But, you didn't see was this hand doing that. *Siobhan’s body turns towards the camera as she crosses Matt, and her non-punching hand makes the Knap on her chest*
So stage combat is all magic tricks. “Watch the hand” *Holds up punching hand. Whispers* Don’t watch this hand *Holds up Knap hand*. And I try to make it as subtle as possible... So I start with the fist. Open *Knap hand* Don't use a closed hand, on your own body hurts and then re-close it. So by the time the audience sees it again they don't know what's happened. Ideally, ideally. So those are some of the major differences for Stage and Screen.
D: I love it, yeah. So speaking of the... You mentioned that story is one of those 3 S’s.
D: So talk a little bit about the actors journey from to wanting to be real and watching to be in the moment and watching to be spontaneous, VS the reality of when that fight starts, how that shift, how to do that, where the balance is.
S: Yes, great question 'cause this is one that a lot of people have questions about. How do I reconcile that I'm doing this movement and it's gotta be real and alive it's gotta be violent, but also don't wanna hurt my scene partner. And we're going to assume that that's where everybody's living.
A really helpful way is to think of your movement like your text or your music it scored it's the same every day, and the variation comes in, in that emotional interplay from each other. So when we're speaking our words when we're singing our songs, that happens in the same way every time, but there's still that acceptable tolerance of variation we have, is in the emotional content and there might be a little bit of variation, some slight variations in timing. Actually Matt, I'll have you come back again.
*Matt appears on Camera*
There might be some slight variations in timing, so let's just do, I don't know, something simple. I wanna do like a... Oh, Duck punch. So maybe you do a hay maker and I’m gonna duck it.
*Matt faces the camera, Siobhan’s back is to the camera, but she stands directly in front of Matt making it hard to see him* so let's say that this is our choreography. You're gonna go *As Matt circle punches towards Siobhan, she ducks and he misses her. Siobhan stands and straight punches Matt, seemingly in the nose* And that's a really simple fight.
So there's some acceptable variation on that timing. And this is where we really see the fact that there needs to be variation. I don't just arrive on my mark and do my thing in my own time and place and hope that my partners in the right time, 'cause if we mess this up, let's say, I don't know, something's funny with my shoe and I slip or my costume comes undone. Let’s say we're doing, I don't know we're doing Beauty and the Beast where I punch the Beast, actually I punch Gaston, that makes far more sense. So let’s say, like my dress gets caught on my shoe, and if I slip but Matt still continues to punch, I get a very aggressive hug *Matt’s slow motion circle punch, wraps around Siobhan’s neck, and she gets pulled back* which is going to suck but it also means that we're not going to be doing the choreography. So Matt needs to be responsive to my movement so he can see it. So let's say again I slip at some point *Siobhan slips, Matt waits for her to be clear from the space, and proceeds to punch* and then we can actually follow through.
So yeah, that's where we need to have that variation. And that's where the storytelling aspect of it comes in. I am present to my partner. A good fight is not perfectly repeated, it's perfectly present.
D: All the love. Yeah, no, that's well put.
S: So to me that's generally the clearest way to put it. Is that our movement is like our text that is the stuff that is repeated in a predictable fashion.
The emotional content is the same if you think about it, when we work scenes, we still wanna hit the same arc. I don't wildly change that. We still hit the same arc, but there might be a little variation in how I get there one night. And remember too that when we're working fight scenes were working any scene the first time you do it, it's not going to feel organic. What usually happens with fights is that people wanted to feel organic on the first day. They're like, "Ah doesn't feel it doesn't feel real.” It's I guess what, if it feels real? You're actually doing violence, on your partner, and that's not what we're doing. If you're actually getting hit, it's not for Stage.
D: Yeah, yeah,
S: so the first thing, just give yourself a little permission for it to feel stupid. At the first outset, you're like, "Oh this happens. And then I do this and then I do this and it just sort of feels... *Siobhan mimes the steps of hair pulling*. So it feels a little chunky, but then once it actually gets going, you can actually *Acts hair pulling* act that because we also, we know it's predictable. Me as an actor, I'm not worried about my partner, grabbing my hair and actually pulling me once I start feeling that then you see the actor doing this first *Winching*... Oh no, that moment is coming up.
Oh no, as opposed to, I can rely on my partner to... I'm here, my partner does this *Siobhan puts closed fist on her hair *, I do this*Siobhan puts her other hand over her closed fist*, and then we go together. We actually understand that sequence of events so that we can build that trust, between us. So it's going to feel a bit chunky, at first, unless you've been working with someone a really long time, there's going to be a bit of trying to find someone's rhythm first. That's why we need physical specificity, physical availability and enough rehearsal time and enough practice.
So you practice on your own time, so you know what this... You know what that sequence is on your own time, and then when you're in... I'm just thinking boxing, thinking about Rocky. So once you get your first bit of choreography, you practice that sequence on your own as much as possible and then once you get into rehearsal the next day, you know, you and your partner know this is a sequence. I'm not remembering the sequence I'm now working on all of my partnership, right? Your arms are this long, mine are this long, so we have to move. And then, right that stomach punch comes. Oh, you punch slower than I thought you would. So I can't go early, I need to wait then I can go. So then you're working the intricacies of the timing.
That's when it starts to feel organic when you start feeling that ping back and forth of, You know, what it seems really lit like when we’re speaking together when we are singing together, and just... We're like... We're present with each other, we wanna reach that. So we wanna let all the technique bits fall away, but that only happens after we've done enough practice and rehearsal.
D: I love what you said at the beginning about it being a pas de deux because it rains very true to me and there's a lot of dancers online that can relate to when you first learned that choreography. It's chunky and it's uncomfortable, and like wait, and all of that stuff, you know. And then ultimately, it is not only something that's a little more natural but that it is, it can be ultimately infused by the emotion of whatever that it's supposed to be doing. Right, so I... No, I love your perspective on that. It feels, it feels very relatable. Yeah, it’s so cool.
S: It makes really happy to hear you say that in 2009, I got a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, and I was specifically studying how do we, the language of fight direction, how do we translate that to the actor's language? Because I felt a kind of their translation like culture shock every time something was happening. So I specifically set out to figure out how to… give myself some time to marry my actor brain and my fight director brain to help understand what that language is so I could better communicate in a way that is, that is useful to an actor.
D: Do you find there's a stigma, like you find that… I find sometimes that you say the words “fight” and people like...*tense gesture* and rightly so, again, why people are... “We have to do this right” I'm not saying that that's in question, but... But that there is a certain, I don't know, there's a certain physical reaction to... Okay, oh, it's the fight. And that's, in my experience, counter-productive to that, going Well. Is that your experience?
S: Absolutely. Yeah, I think there's a number of different reasons. So one of the things is that we all bring our own relationship to what is violence at all into it? So sometimes, we come into rehearsal and there's a kind of, okay today is a fighty day… and it might be a discomfort with violence as a whole it might have to do with one's personal relationship to violence. Maybe you were bullied, maybe there's violence in your life in a way that is not helping you in this moment. So sometimes we have to sift through or find a way to resolve our own personal relationship to violence before we're able to rehearse it in our most effective manner.
Another thing is that people sometimes have a previous experience with stage combat whether that be scene partners or directors, or teachers or Fight Directors that has caused them to go, “Okay, I've gotta be.. pick your poison: I've gotta be good enough, I've gotta be flexible enough, I've gotta be, I've gotta be butch enough, I've gotta be fluid enough and I've gotta be hard-edged enough” there’s a lot of, "How do I do this best? I just, I want the show to be great and I don't have confidence that I can do that.” So sometimes we're stepping through that.
Another thing too is that sometimes when we watch stage combat it's like, “yay the show”, and then the fight that gets dropped in a jigsaw puzzle, from a different puzzle. Like a piece from a different puzzle and then we can do the story again. So there's a kind of like, “Ugh We have to do this, because we have 32 bars of music for it, can we cut it? Well no 'cause then we started singing about their face hurts like so we can't cut it...” So it’s kind of like sometimes there's a bit of dread for what it's going to look like, and it doesn't have to be that way that's the thing, depending on who you're working with, it doesn't have to be the piece that gets shoved in and that's something that I can certainly talk on it at nauseum, but in the basics of it, two things, making sure our story is cohesive one to the other, and then, we're rehearsing it, cohesively one to the other, and also, a physical style as well. Like how one rehearses that, so that, so that it feels and looks like it's part of the same show and... Yeah, so that's basically it, the big things,
D: 'Cause it can be fun, right?
D: It doesn't have to take this hard left turn and be like “oh urm,urg”
S: The rehearsals of it should be fun. The actors should be having a great time, even if the characters are not.
D: Oh, I love that.
S: Yeah, 'cause its all about context on my end... Yeah, like I, as an actor having a blast even though my intent for you is "how dare you… the betrayal.. you, are challenging my truth, you are unjust and I cannot live in an unjust world. So you must be removed from it. Or I have a question and you wont stop talking. So how do I get you to stop talking long enough so that I can speak to you” and whatever that intention is, what if my character is doing is not happening at the same time it's like, "Are you okay, pal? Yeah, you're good? okay, this placement is okay? Yeah, yeah, remember when we did this in rehearsal, or how much fun it was to find this all. Wow,” we can have those two conversations happening at one.
D: I love that, I just love it. There's a question from Rivers, “advice for someone that will be taking stage comeback for the first time. Are there any activities, I should do, get involved with to compliment my health with stage combat, I'm not the most athletic.” Funny, we talked about these very things!
S: Yes, first off, when it comes to being in a show your fight director's job is to help create choreography that you can do. It's a little bit different from dance in that when we do a dance audition, we are assessed ahead of time as to whether we can handle the choreography that will be in the show. So we're kind of expected to arrive available to these things and then probably add a few tricks and grow a little bit while we're there. When it comes to stage combat, we don't often do auditions for them, it might, I have done them but we don't often. So your fight directors job is to get to know you a bit, see what skills you have and then help you shine with the skills that you have. So just know that once you're in the job, -- and then I push you a little bit to grow if you are open and available to that. so that's your fight director’s job.
So, know that once you're in a show, then you have a different kind of context then when you are in a class and when I’m your teacher, it's my job to help you go, “I know you're a bit scared. I'm gonna invite you to be brave and try this new thing”. It’s a slightly different context. As far as what you can do right now. A few things even if it's just like do two push-ups, and then the next day, do three, and then next do four and the next day, do two and then the next day do three. And honestly even push-ups really helps to get your core aligned. One of the things that we see in stage combat is when people's bodies are not quite talking to themselves, so they wanna punch and stuff but they're a little bit sort of too fluid as opposed to knowing that this area is a bit more like a cerial box so that my limbs move fluidly and easily, just like doing a Grand Battement, my limbs move fluidly in easily with the support of my core, my spine is good and strong and my lower core, my pelvis is really strong.
So that's the simplest thing you can do. If you've got some time to do some lessons or look up some other resources that are available, honestly any kind of movement because you want to be, you wanna be flexible, you wanna be strong, you wanna have a little bit of endurance. One of my colleagues Megan Cook, who's in Vancouver, BC, she always said that stage combat is like doing a sprint at the end of a marathon.
So we go through the endurance practice that is performing a show. And then, so often, the fight comes, out this climactic moment and it's a sprint. So even that basic level like cardiovascular fitness will support you. And then what you can also do is explore some kind of movement modality that does get you moving that keeps you active. And what we're looking for is not necessarily to be the most flexible but we are looking for you to be coordinated.
So even doing yoga is actually, funny enough, a really good one, 'cause guess what, we do a lot of… Matt can you throw me a small sword? Our armory is over there… So, even yoga can be really useful, even sports 'cause it's about a coordination of using the body. So what do we do a lot in stage combat do a lot of lunges. This is Warrior position, right? So having this strong body shape can help you if you expect to be doing any kind of sword play in your show.So yeah, so a bit of cardiovascular fitness, some stability in the core, some fluidity in the limbs, definitely any kind of martial arts will help you out, but even like I said, even if all you have access to is some yoga that'll be something that to help you be strong and supple.
D: Yeah, yeah, I love it... Can I ask when you are asked to set a fight where do you start? like what's your process in… You're going to Sheridan to mount that fight in Cabaret which was amazing, by the way! So what’s your launching?
S: So the first thing, first thing is always read the script. So what's in the script? I oh, I'm on my iPad, so I can't show you. I literally go through the script and I highlight all of the fight stuff or anything that I perceive might fall under my purview. So there may be, maybe there's some emotional violence and maybe the actors would like some support and approaching that scene. 'Cause it's really important to put the context of that fight scene in its own place. So you don't take that away with you and take it home with you we need to leave the work at work. So I go through my script, I highlight all the stuff that is conceivably fight, I do it on my iPad, so then what I can do is I can scan through it and I can see really easily 'cause I highlight in different colors for different things.
I'm gonna make a chart so that it's very organized. I love orderliness. So I make a chart of all the fights, where they are, some cue lines which is a tracking document that we can use later, so we can help track the fight call once we get that far and then I estimate also how much time it'll take. So my stage manager knows, approximately how much time I think things will take.
So I do that work, and then I talk with the director. I see what their vision for the show, is because I can't really build anything until I understand where they're coming from. So some of it is concept about the piece as a whole, some of it is design because I'll be very restricted, I'll be restricted in different than interesting ways. Let’s put it that way. 'cause it's so important to have a container, right?
So I’ll be restricted in different and interesting ways. If I've got a staircase, if there is a pool like when I did Metamorphoses, if it's a completely open deck, if it's very small room, it's very large room. So I can start getting a sense of what the capabilities, what the capabilities of the space will be and how we might be helped or hindered by design. So, for instance, like what are people wearing? And is everyone in long skirts or is everyone in miniskirts? Those are two very distinct challenges. Oh, we should be falling before we wrap up too... So it has a lot to do with gleaning a lot of information. Once I get into rehearsal, I'm talking to the actors about their perception of the scene, their perception of their characters. So I talk about my job as being, translating. I receive all this information, I listen to what your intents are and what your ideals are and then I translate that into a physical shape. We try it on, see if that works, and then we do some physical dramaturgy to make sure that it continues to align with how the scene is growing and developing.
I get a lot of inspiration when I'm in the room so, whatever, work has been done on the scene already whatever work the actors have done on their characters. So, what I'm building is so much more about what the people who are with that show every single day, that kind of journey because for people who don't know, fight directors tend to come in pretty much only for the scene that they're working on. It's very rare to have a fight director that's in for the whole production. There was one case where I was there for that kind of contract. But for the most part, you get dropped in to do your thing, and then come back for tech come back for opening and say, you're amazing!
Yeah, then we keep polishing. I just wanna make sure that my actors feel good about the work that they're doing, that they tell the story. The character is, that the director is seeing the arc that they're looking for, it fits in with the design and when we approach it, I find, when I approach it that way, we have far less in the way of like show - acting the fight - show. It actually becomes so much more cohesive.
D: What a wonderful advantage that you're an actor, right... You understand these things systemically right?
S: That's a... My partner and I, we have both talked about that over the years, because again, we've been very lucky and privileged -or hard work actually hard work has a lot to do it - position of being able to act at the same time as Fight Directing. As our knowledge of stage combat, our knowledge of psychology, our knowledge of martial arts historical martial arts. Like around 2006, we started seeing all the historical Treatise, Matt can you bring me a Treatise? we started getting all this information from ancient libraries, we started learning so much more about how these old swords work. So that as that craft has developed and we've developed our own craft as actors we've been able to mold our work in a way that continues to be really useful to the industry, continues to refine towards what each rehearsal room wants and needs.
So one of my colleagues, Guy Windsor has just released a new book, this is from Fiore who is a particular Italian master and I am on the cover. I'm so excited and I'm so grateful. The one and only Dahlia Katz took the photo and composed the image. And Guy Windsor has been one of my, one of my mentors over the years. So you can see how we've got these Treatises available to us. Which before the honestly, before the Internet, these were in somebody's library at home.
Here's another one here is, this is Cappa Fargo. You can get that book on Amazon, you can get it from him directly, and I don't have that link, but if you look up, if you look up Guy Windsor martial arts, you should be able to find him pretty easily. So yeah, so images like this or like Oh, oh, that's how that sword works.
So yeah, it's definitely been an influence on our fight direction careers and our way of communicating with people because we're like... Oh yeah, I remember what that feels like. It's also the empathy, right, it's also remembering this is scary, it can be... That's the other thing we said about what people say, “ugh, were doing the fight today”. It can be really scary. We are approach, we are connecting with these deep, deep primal urges, and I don't wanna hurt my friend, I don't wanna hurt my scene partner, but in that moment I’m just like, "Oh I'm feeling real anger and it can be, I'm feeling real betrayal, I'm feeling real saddness”. It can be really scary and I think being an actor, continuing to learn continuing to go to seminars and have... “Oh my goodness, this is my first time and I feel so dumb”. It's great to have that kind of empathy as a fight director 'cause I know this is really scary for you. I've been doing this for 20 years. This is easy for me. This is not easy for you, but I wanna help you feel that it's easy for you. So how do I support you in that process?
D: I love this trend in a lot of these chats, it keeps coming up, that culture and psychology is becoming such a greater part of our... Our craft, it's so exciting and so important.
S: Well, especially, we are emotional gymnasts. We need to know how to work our athletic instrument. And one of the things - Matt, can I borrow you for a second- one of the things I wanted to make sure I got to share today was this idea of tagging in and tagging out so that we haven't done it for you today, but when we begin a piece of choreography, we tag in *double high five* and then I'm on we're gonna do that little sequence for you, punch step punch. *performs sequence of previous fight*
D: So good!
S: And then when we're finished our fights, we step in when we’ve finished our fight, we step in again and we tagout *Double high five* so that helps our psychology go, “Oh, we're beginning the thing or ending the thing.” And it's just a little framing device to help our system understand that those feelings that danger that I'm in, so that fight or flight response that might get triggered while I'm doing that, that doesn't have to exist outside of that reality.
And that's one of the little psychological practices that helps us to go, “Great I’m vulnerable and I’m ready. And I don't have to do that anymore.” It helps us to be deeper in our work, it helps us be more engaged in our work because our system understands when I get to lead it, so it's more willing to go open open and then Okay, I can, I can tag out.
D: I love that
S: I'm so grateful, I got that from Tim Clots, who was one of my mentors during my fellowship. And yeah, it makes a really big difference.
D: Yeah, I love it. We're coming to the end of the time together, I can’t believe how quickly the... And I apologize for that look on my face everybody. I look at these back that I'm like, it's like, it just makes me so happy that you get to meet these people and you have such incredible things to say. What's on your mind that we haven't shared yet?
S: So two things I wanna show you how to fall. No, three things, okay, basic concept. So be nice to yourself. If it's hurting you, then you're doing it wrong. If it feels uncomfortable, it may just be that you don't know how to do it well yet, but start to discern that difference, start to or continue to develop your inner sense of like, "Am I hurt or injured? I am I challenged or am I disturbed or am I harmed? Those are really different things. So continue to develop the discernment of what those are.
This does not replace a class, but these are things for you to know to keep an eye on so that when you do have these actions in a rehearsal or in a show, you can ask the person who's teaching you to give you more detail. So that is my caveat to say, Please don't go and do this right after you see this.
So falling, gravity doesn't need your help. I don't need to slam myself to the ground. What I want to do is lower myself to the ground as low as I can get, set myself down and then roll myself to the ground so I’m landing in all my soft bits are not my bone bits. And then, don't drop your head. It is shockingly easy, to give yourself a concussion. So falling: You wanna lend on your soft bits stay off your bones, you want to roll down and you wanna counterbalance. So a lot like Dying Swan. You wanna counterbalance to find your way to the ground and hear how silent that is? *Siobhan slowly falls to the ground, while speaking*
You shouldn't be doing anything. Yeah, but when I'm doing it for real, let’s say that I’m shoved, to do that *Siobhan falls at performance speed as if shoved, with a vocal response*, or let's say I've fainted *Siobhan falls at performance speed as if fainting, with a vocal response*. I can do that without hurting myself. Also a pretty decent ab and thigh work out, honestly. I think the other one is getting stabbed. All right, Matt, I need you again so that if you would be so kind as to stab me.*Matt appears back in frame, Siobhan hands him a sword.* I'm going to show you the version that we see that I would love to never see again. *Siobhan is stabbed. She arches her back, reaches up and screams* Right? When I’m getting stabbed so many people wanna reach upwards and the physics of the thing is that I'm being pushed first.
So if Matt’s going to stab me here *Siobhan points to stomach* I'm being pushed first *Matt slow motion stabs Siobhan, who moves her core backwards* He’s gotta Push me first. This is beside me, *shows sword at her side* I'm fine everybody. Ive gotta go this way *motioning back*And then when people wanna do is go, “Oh no” *throws head up and back* or they wanna die this way *looking down at the floor*. But those people down that the orchestra didn't pay to be here *points down*, they're getting paid to be here, those people (the audience) wanna see what's going on.
So if he does it again *Matt stabs Siobhan, and they look at one another* it’s about this relationship, “why are you doing this to me?” *Siobhan acts her death and turns to the camera* eyes opened, look out, let them see.
And then the other thing to never use a retractable knife. Don't let anybody use retractable knife on you, they're dangerous, they don't always collapse or as they’re supposed to, it's really easy for them to intentionally not collapse. Do you put your thumb on the back of it? That'll make that blade really stable, so it just becomes a knife... Please don't use retractable Knives. Ever. For those who don't know this is real Steel *Holds up sword* but it's dull. I'm gonna run my hand on it. You can see just how dull it is right, super dull *Runs fingers up and down, wrapped around blade*.
So we don't want anything actually pointy. We don't want anything that's actually sharp. This action, we don't have time to go into it, fully, but let's just say that we're using an off-target technique So as he draws back the point goes offline, and then the flat comes towards me the point is never going into my body, to cover it with my arm, I cover the spot of the wound not here *Points to the tip of the blade on the side of her body* Oh, that's the other one. *with hand on her side* This one doesn't look like it’s in me... You just put this in the middle, *Holds onto middle of blade with both hands, and leans into it* and then it’s *Siobhan grunts as Matt pulls out knife* Wow! And it's just a contraction.
Offline, point is never moving towards me, never use a retractable knife. *Matt stabs again, and pulls sword out. Siobhan mimes with her fingers to mimic blood splatter* Blood pack, lights go down *Siobhan dies and disapears from frame, then pops back up*
D: Amazing. So you said you don't want people to try these things at home, but if they were using a Pringles can, could they? ...
S: So what you could do what you could do, you could use you, you something not pointy and do it really slowly, it doesn't need to be fast, right? That's one of the common misconceptions is, that the violence has to be fast for it to be effective. Sometimes it can be slow. There's a big difference, watch the difference between heavy weights fighting and feather weights fighting. It doesn't to be fast to always be effective. So what you can do... You can practice it slowly and remember those actions. While I'm drawing back the point goes offline, and the point is never moving into my partner's body, it's always the flat of the blade that's moving to my partner.
And what I would love for people to practice is that contraction for the reaction, the contraction right around the spot that is being attacked. I think that would be great. Contract and face up and keep your breathe moving, don't clamp up, it’s just like singing right? You don't clamp in here *points to jaw* Ah *Mouth opens* is far better than then I'm not even gonna do it that... So those would be the things that I think people would benefit really well from so that when you are in a situation where someone's choreographing something for you, you already have the habit in your body of... It comes towards me, I feel the pressure, and I contract as opposed to expand.
D: Amazing. That’s so great. Can you share your resources, how people can find you and what you're offering these days.
S: Great, so yeah, you can find me at email@example.com, if you're gonna email me. But it might just be easier 'cause you're seeing me on Instagram, just message me through @fighteractress and I'd be happy to share any further details.
So, I do teach privately, and so that's a big thing we're doing right now, we're also putting some courses online, so you can find some of the basics, like the fall I did. And if you follow me on YouTube, if you go to my YouTube, you might be able to find it there and the domain is /actorSR. I haven't moved everything over to /fighteractress yet, so it'll check both of those, depending when you're seeing this either those might have some resources available for you. And then, depending where you're going to school, you might see me there!
D: Yay! Siobhan thank you so much, thank you so much for this time. That was incredible. Everyone give Siobhan a wave, or a heart or a something! All of your fans are here. And thank you Matt. Thank you so much!