Welcome to my new Thursday column, Theatre Talk! I’m so excited to be presenting this interview series, featuring theatre and performing artists all over the world!
My first interview is with Dr. John Lennox, professor and fight director, based out of Michigan. I first met “Doc” at the 2011 Art of Combat New York City Intensive workshop. He is a fantastic fight director and teacher, and I am honoured to have studied with him! Let’s get right to it… read on to find out more!
Who are you, and what do you do?
What made you want to pursue stage combat? How did you get to where you are today?
Well, life has a way of telling you what you will do. I got into a lot of fights when I was young. I was a good fighter. I then took Aikido in high school. In a high school play I had to throw a punch at a character. The director showed me how. He probably never punched anyone in his life. I showed him how it was really done. After I went to a local community college on a theatre scholarship as a pre-med major, a number of my friends from high school there always had me coordinate the fights for the shows we were in. That was kind of the end of it. I went to Western Michigan for my undergrad, got a job afterward as an actor on a touring show and thought no more of combat. When I came back for my Master’s at Michigan State I coordinated one fight for a show, and then created a stage combat class where I taught one student — independent study. I was then hired as a professor at Lansing Community College, but they had someone there doing their fights. He wasn’t very good, but the head of the program liked him better than me. So, I directed I Hate Hamlet. Taught my actors to fence and we did an incredible fight scene. The program director apologized to me and used me for everything thereafter and allowed me to create a stage combat class. I went to a workshop held by Anthony DeLongis in L.A. in June 1999 to study. I had created the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in 1995, and in the summer of 1999 I was asked to do a fight demo at the Ann Arbor art festival to promote the summer season. I took some of my students from Lansing and we did a great show. Those students then decided to create a fight company. I wanted none of it. I had created two acting companies by then and was done creating companies. I told them I would help them though. We created Art of Combat. One by one they left or stopped doing anything for it and it became my sole responsibility. In October of 1999 I went to the first Western Martial Arts Workshop in Chicago to see if what I was teaching was historically accurate as far as current scholarship was concerned. I met Jared Kirby there. We hit it off immediately and created the Lansing International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention — later known as ISMAC. He joined Art of Combat and with his fire, we launched ourselves into the stage combat world. I started training with Maestro Ramon Martinez and Maestro Jeannette Acosta Martinez, and I grew in skill exponentially. I also began studying with Col. Dwight McLemore and ended up following that path — hawk and knife and Close Quarters Combat. Brad Waller asked me to help him create the Shenandoah Project — a workshop where only master level instructors teach each other, using students to show our theories. It was a ten year project that was amazing and opened my eyes to so much. These are my mentors. From their schooling is where I developed Combat Theory that I am known for and teach all over the world now. Kyle Rowling, who worked on Star Wars eps. II and III, Troy and Wanted then joined AoC as a fight director, and the company grew even more in the stage combat community. I started teaching with another of my closest friends, Steve Huff, and another friend of ours we met at ISMAC, Gareth Thomas. We taught Boarding Actions, and for a while I went all over the world teaching people how to fight like a pirate. All of a sudden I found that I had grown in name in the stage combat and WMA communities. I returned to school for my PhD and my dissertation was on stage combat’s relationship to actual combat from Shakespeare’s day to now: A History of Stage Swordplay: Shakespeare to the Birth of Film. I am now considered a scholar as well as expert practitioner in the field. I research some of the lost ancient combat arts of the Americas and bring those to workshops today. That is what I am known for in the WMA world, and here I am today. See, sometimes life just opens some doors and closes others without you actively choosing anything. Never intended to be a fight director or combat instructor. Life just told me to. As Maestro Ramon Martinez says “Sometimes you just can’t ignore the signs.”
What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?
There have been so many over the years, and so many to mention. There’s the Shenandoah Project, Paddy Crean Workshop and so many others I’ve done that have allowed me to travel all over. As for performances I’d have to say the demo for the Ann Arbor art fair — not because of its brilliance, but because without it, I wouldn’t be what I am today. However, I really loved working for La Monnaie, the National Opera Theatre in Brussels. My good friend Jacques Cappelle brought me in to assist him with a fist fight when I was doing a workshop for him at his school. It was a delight. I also have a soft spot in my heart for my production of the play I wrote: The Many Deaths of Shakespeare, which we first performed at Lansing Community College back in 2006.
Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?
Thankfully, not really. Our fights are safe and while bumps and bruises are a part of the field, we haven’t had any hospital trips. The worst war stories I have are walking in with choreo ready to a set that isn’t what was discussed — or better… the director pulling me aside to tell me that the actress who is doing 90% of the fights is deathly afraid of swords. Five one-minute long fights had to be cut down to 15 seconds each overnight.
What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?
What are your goals for the future?
What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?
Go to David Boushey’s stunt school right away: The International Stunt School. After that, spend a few years in the Western Martial Arts workshop circuit learning from the best — Combatcon, Paddy Crean Workshop, HEMA workshops, etc. Train as much as possible, and get connected with people who will train you as a fight director and stuntman. You will find them at these workshops. I wish I had had this guidance when I was younger.
Thank you so much for sharing, Doc!
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