This week’s Theatre Talk features Australian Fight Director Kyle Rowling. I first met “Capt” (as he’s known to his students) at the 2011 Art of Combat New York City Intensive workshop. I was completely intimidated by him at first… he’s super tall and imposing, but he’s actually one of the kindest and most knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet. I’m honoured to have studied with him and to call Kyle a friend! (Also, he exists in action figure form… how crazy is that?!) Read on to find out more!
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Kyle Rowling. I am a professional Actor, Director and Stage Combatant. I am the Director of The Sydney Stage Combat School (SSCS), the President of The Australian Stage Combat Association (ASCA), the Vice-President of The Art of Combat: International (AoC), and a life member of The Society of Australian Fight Directors (SAFDi). I am a Certified Fight Director with AoC, SAFDi and a Certified Fight Master with ASCA.
My job, what I do is two fold as a Fight Director. Firstly my primary objective is to keep the performers I work with safe and able to continue working all day every day during a variety of potentially dangerous situations. As Fight Directors our job is to create ‘safe,’ believable’ and ‘repeatable’ illusions of violence for stage, screen and TV. Our secondary focus, and it is a very close second, is to create fights which serve the story and develop the characters at every moment. We do this by understanding the story and the characters and then by maintaining martial reality, and where possible, historical accuracy.
What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?
I started my first acting class and martial arts class in the same year. That was 1978, I was 8 years old. I always knew I had a passion and desire for action films. However it wasn’t until 1994 when I was first introduced to Stage Combat when I realised I could blend my two loves of acting and martial arts into a performance.
I started with two years of Judo, then progressed to 10 years of Koshin-ryu Ju-jitsu. From there I started Yau Kung Mun Kung-fu and then Jow Ga Kung-fu. Around this time I found Stage Combat and began my studies in the Western Martial Arts, the martial arts and combative systems of Europe. However when Stage Combat first started in Australia our knowledge base was limited. It was not until I made my first trips overseas, especially to the Paddy Crean Stage Combat Workshop, that I was introduced to true historical European sword work that my eyes were opened. At this workshop I met and worked with people such as Brad Waller, Jared Kirby, Dr. John Lennox and many others. These are all people I know proudly call not only my mentors but my friends and colleagues.
Since that time I make an effort to train in any and all styles I can, taking a little from here and a little from there. It is important as a Fight Director to be as well versed in as many styles as possible as we never know what a productions director may ask of us.
What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?
I have been very lucky (well, a very wise man once told me that ‘luck’ was ‘preparation meeting opportunity’, so when I got my first film role as Count Dooku’s Fight Double on Star Wars Episode II, he convinced me it wasn’t lucky that I got the job but the fact that I had spent the last 22 years preparing myself for that opportunity) so I will say I have been graced with several amazing opportunities in my career. As just mentioned I worked on Star Wars Episode II & III, I have also worked on Wanted, I was Eric Bana’s personal weapons trainer for Troy, I have also worked on Gabriel, Infini, Invincibles and spent 7 months last year in Wales as the Assistant Stunt Coordinator on Season 3 of Da Vinci’s Demons.
But if I had to pick a favourite I will always be thankful for the time I spent, and the character I played, in Episode 1 of Spartacus: Blood & Sand. I was there as an actor and for the first time got to use my skills for me, not to make someone else look good. I also got to work side-by-side with long time friend Andy Whitfield. I will always be grateful for the time I spent working with Andy before he passed away. (Love ya Brother)
Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?
I don’t really have any ‘war stories.’ Every productions has its trials and tribulations. Whether it is the 4:30am make up calls, working in the freezing wind and rain in Wales, or the baking heat, I am always grateful just to be working. Sure, sometimes it is unpleasant, but at least I’m not sitting in an office 24/7 doing a job I hate. Yes, the conditions vary, the hours can be long, it can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, but when you love your job it is never ‘work.’ I don’t think I have ever had a day I didn’t want to be on set.
My advice to anyone that hates their job… QUIT. Life is too short. But don’t follow your dreams; you will always be one step behind them. Grab your dreams by the collar and LEAD it to where you want it to go.
What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?
Currently I don’t have anything huge on. I am back in Sydney running the SSCS, teaching Casual Classes twice a week, doing the odd Intensive Workshop, teaching at several acting schools in Sydney, and biding my time. My wife and I run a Shakespeare company here (Bard of the Beach, Sydney) and we will be starting rehearsals around November for our Summer Season, and we have the second ‘AoC Sydney Intensive Workshop’ planned for January, during which it will be my pleasure to bring Jared Kirby and Dr. John Lennox back to Sydney again for the second time.
What are your goals for the future?
Obviously I want to do more acting in film roles, again using the skill set I have created over many years. But as a Fight Director my primary goal is the continued education of the industry as to the need for highly trained and educated fight professionals. Particularly when it comes to period productions. Big Hollywood films will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on period costumes and recreating period sets but then do the wrong with with the weapons. This might be ok for the vast majority of audience members, but it is my belief that a film should serve ‘every’ audience member. Not just the historically ignorant. There are thousands of people like me around the world that know what you can and can’t, should and should not do with certain weapons. We pay the same amount for a movie ticket, so why shouldn’t we be catered for too?
What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?
Don’t quit. If you want it, go get it. But that starts now!!! Look back to my note on getting the job on Star Wars. There are no ‘overnight successes.’ Every one of these people have dedicated years to their art for that one chance to prove themselves. You must do that too.
Thank you so much for sharing, Kyle!
Photo Credits: kylerowling.com
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