This week’s Theatre Talk features fight director Jared Kirby, based out of New York City. I met and was trained by Jared at the 2011 Art of Combat New York City Intensive workshop, and then came back for more punishment at the 2012 NYC workshop, where Jared introduced me to the joy of blood capsules. From there, Jared offered a special longsword class to my Original Kids during their annual NYC trip, where I got to assist with demonstrations (and subsequently became much cooler due to my association with a a real New York City fight director). I’m very grateful to Jared for the learning opportunities I’ve received from him, and can’t wait to study with him again (hopefully soon!). Want to know more about Jared? Read on!
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Jared Kirby, and I’ve been involved in Western Martial Arts and Combat for Stage & Screen for over 20 years. I teach in New York City (and the metro area) and have choreographed fights Off-Broadway, nationally, in London and Sydney. I’m the president of Art of Combat, a board member for the International Order of the Sword & Pen, and the president of Combat Con in Las Vegas.
I currently teach fencing at SUNY Purchase, Sarah Lawrence College and am a Provost of Arms (Assistant Master) through the Martinez Academy of Arms. I have an ongoing Combat for Stage & Screen class in New York City. I also teach a variety of workshops across the US and around the world including Canada, England, Scotland, Finland, Italy and Australia.
I am the editor and one of the translators of “Italian Rapier Combat,” the first complete, professional translation of Capo Ferro. I’m also the editor and wrote the introduction for “The School of Fencing” by Domenico Angelo and annotated by Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez. Most recently “The Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling” was released in February 2014.
What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?
I first fell in love with stage combat when I saw a human chess match at a Renaissance Faire. I was 15 years old and blown away. It looked like so much fun! I told myself “I’m going to do that someday.” Several years later, after I graduated from high school, I moved and auditioned for that very chess match. I got a part, received a lot of training, and ended up performing in the same chess match that inspired me to start learning stage combat. After that I had a voracious appetite for the sword and trained as much as possible with my instructor (Michael Anderson). Through that process I met someone who had moved to Scotland and learned historical sword fighting. When he came home he introduced me to the martial application of sword fighting and I loved it! From that point on I trained in both the stage and screen application as well as the martial art of European sword fighting. Each is a different way of expressing the art and use of a sword. I have never been able to determine which I love more, so I just keep doing both.
Having that dual background was a niche which helped me get roles when I was a professional actor. I can’t say I pursued it for that purpose though. I loved it, so I kept learning. I loved it, so I kept teaching others. I think it’s important to approach life in that way. If you pursue the things that you love, you will find opportunities and ways to bring that into your life.
After years with my first stage combat teacher, I moved to Scotland to study with Maestro Paul Macdonald. Now Maestro Macdonald is well known, but back in the nineties (before the Internet was a big thing) it was a huge deal to find someone who was teaching European swordsmanship. I decided to move to Edinburgh to train with him and a local group called the Dawn Duellist Society. It was at the end of my stay in Edinburgh that I met Maestro Ramon Martinez and after taking an hour and a half seminar with him in Spanish Rapier I was hooked. I remember telling him right after the class that I would be moving to New York to study it with him more (a decision that had solidified for me during that class). He was polite and did not laugh in my face but it was only 3 months later when I had packed up everything, moved to NYC, and found my way to his Academy. I have been studying with him for over 15 years now and during that time I have continued to learn from other great teachers in stage and screen combat from around the world.
What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?
That’s a hard one. The majority of the projects I get to work on are a blast! If I had to pick one story to tell it would be the Titus Andronicus that just closed at the end of August. It is my favourite Shakespeare play (and not for the obvious reason). Most people assume it’s because the play has 13 deaths, a rape, three hands chopped off, and two kids baked into pies and fed to their mother. All that is great for a fight director, but it’s actually because the play has the most number of characters who portray the most emotional depth in all of the cannon. Take Aaron the Moor for example. Here is the most vicious villain in the cannon and yet we get to see one scene with his lover and how he feels about her, then another scene where he unexpectedly is presented with his newborn baby and we get to see his emotional depth as a new father. This from a man who when facing death for his crimes says:
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
And that is just one of the characters who gets to show many different levels. But I digress 🙂
In this recent production not only did I get to create the violence, but I was also asked to Assistant Direct the production. It was a dream come true as I had the opportunity to share my insights about the production as well as create the blood and special effects that I think this play demands. We offered ponchos to all those in the front row because they were considered to be in the “splatter zone!” With the help of a great special effects woman, and two of my fighters (who took on the position I called blood boys), we were able to create realistic acts of violence. Each one furthered the story and revealed something about the characters that were dying and the ones doing the killing. It was a wonderful, creative and extremely fulfilling project to work on.
Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?
The most recent one worth telling is the production of Hamlet I recently did the fights for which starred Peter Sarsgaard. The rehearsal process with Peter and Glenn Fitzgerald (the gentleman playing Laertes) was terrific. Their clarity about their characters made it easy to create choreography which expressed Hamlet & Laertes’ mindset and desires in that final fight.
I received an email from the stage manager towards the end of the run that Laertes’ voice was in bad shape and the doctor had recommended vocal rest. They were checking with me to see how long it would take to work a new actor in to the fights if necessary. Turns out that Glenn was able to push through the weekend but visited the doctor again and was then ordered to rest his voice. When they emailed again to tell me we would be working in a new Laertes (as soon as they found one) I mentioned that I could jump in if it was easier on them. Having played the role three times in the past helped the lines come back quickly and since half Laertes’ scenes had violence I knew the blocking for them and of course the fight choreography. They put me in and with 48 hours notice I went on as Laertes opposite Peter Sarsgaard’s Hamlet!
I often tell my students that success is opportunity and preparation meeting. This is a perfect example of that. When I arrived Tuesday morning to learn blocking and rehearsing the scenes it was only then that remembered Glenn is left handed. I had choreographed the fights lefty vs. righty. Luckily I can do a sword fight left handed, so I was able to jump right into the fight. The thing is that I would never have had that skill except that ten years ago I hurt my knee and couldn’t practice right-handed for 3-4 months. I discovered that I could still fence left-handed and so instead of stopping my training I decided to work left-handed while I healed. I never could have guessed back then that it would be such an important skill to have.
What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?
I am currently working on choreography for a few upcoming films. You can see some past work at youtube.com/jaredkirby and here are couple clips in particular:
As president of Combat Con, I am already busy at work coordinating the 2016 event in Las Vegas. I am working on another book, coordinating some exciting NYC workshops and I am excited to be traveling to Sydney Australia again this winter to teach a Combat Intensive with Kyle Rowling and John Lennox.
What are your goals for the future?
My overriding goal for the last 6 years has been and will probably remain unchanged. I want to continue doing great work with great people. While I know this is broad, it has served me well. This year alone I have gotten to work with Peter Sarsgaard and Steve Guttenberg, my NYC class was selected by Backstage magazine as 1 of 6 in the nation they recommend for Stage Combat, and I had the opportunity to bring a Titus Andronicus to the stage which has been rolling around in my head for nearly a decade. I’m very happy with all this and we are only 2/3 of the way through the year!
What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?
Oftentimes actors ask me: how important is stage combat to learn. Others will ask me: how many hours they need to train. I think it’s important to find the skills you are passionate about. Then pursue them with vigour. If you are training in a variety of things which only mildly interest you, it is a disservice to yourself. These may help you succeed as an actor, but I have found it to be less frequently true. The performers who pursue their passions vivaciously end up finding roads to success that they could not have envisioned. Do what you love.
Thank you so much for sharing, Jared!
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