2016: The Year in Review

2016: The Year in Review

It’s that time again… time to look back over the previous year and reflect on everything that has happened. 2016 has been a year of ups and downs, successes and challenges. I think we can all agree that it’s time to move ahead and focus on the good things to come. But for a short while, I’m looking back over the things that happened throughout the year. Thanks for sticking with me!

If you’re curious, check out my reviews of 20152014 and 2013.


January started with archery tag, recording a podcast, visiting Toronto and seeing Kinky Boots, and going to the Brickenden Awards.

February saw the start of Tarzan rehearsals (which basically consumed my life until May), celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Original Kids Theatre Company in the midst of a snowstorm, visiting the London RV show and dreaming of buying a trailer, enjoying my cousin Jacalyn’s baby shower, and celebrating my stepdad’s 60th birthday.

March was a busy month! I saw The Great All-American Musical Disaster at Lucas Secondary School, and then was off to New York City with the Original Kids (my third time with OKTC but my fifth time to the city). I saw nine shows (including Something Rotten twice!), met Christian Borle, Adam Pascal, and Tavi Gevinson, hung out backstage at the Slipper Room with the lovely Veronica Varlow, experienced the madness of Sleep No More, took a longsword class taught by my pal Jared Kirby, and overall had an amazing time. Ceris and I recorded another podcast, and created an Instagram challenge for April. I celebrated my 33rd birthday by winning tickets to see Metric in concert and enjoyed the show with my friend Kate. Shawn and I also squeezed in an impromptu roadtrip to Toronto.

2016: The Year in Review

In April, Brock and I taught a swordfighting combination to two grade six classes, I recorded a course for the Drama Teacher Academy, created violence for Musical Theatre Productions’ Heathers the Musical, started a five-week yoga course, and saw a Blue Jays game.

In May I got to host the 2016 OKTC Playfest Awards Ceremony, and my mom and I made enough mac & cheese to feed an army (the secret ingredient was cauliflower). The rest of the month was consumed by Tarzan, which sold out the entire run before it even opened. I also got a mole on my shoulder removed, which turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma. For the record, I am absolutely fine, the doctor got it all out, and my scar is healing really well. But PLEASE avoid tanning beds and always wear sunscreen! I will keep bugging everyone about that!!! I finished out the month celebrating at the OKTC Grad Gala, which is always a bit of a tearjerker.

2016: The Year in Review

June started out with me appearing on Xandra‘s Heroine Training webinar, which was a lot of fun! I also appeared in a one-night-only performance of Campus Martius with a bunch of fun theatre friends in the London Fringe Festival, and went to the Oxford Renaissance Festival with my friend Cole. Shawn and his cousin Justin also built me a garden in the backyard.

My mom, my aunt, and I flew out to Sault Ste. Marie over the Canada Day weekend in July to visit my cousin Jennifer, which was a lot of fun. We went shopping across the border, played Cards Against Humanity, and ate tons of delicious food! My friend Lizz introduced me to the fun of geocaching (we also had a lovely outdoor adventure with Nicole), and Shawn and I went to see a WWE house show at Budweiser Gardens.

2016: The Year in Review

August started out with a visit to Rib-fest (and the largest cherry lemonade I’ve ever experienced), and consisted of gardening, reading, and a visit to my in-laws’ trailer.

September also began with a visit to the in-laws’ trailer. I started teaching OKTC’s T.A.G. (The Actor Grows) classes again, as well as started rehearsals as fight director for OKTC’s production of She Kills Monsters. I appeared on Theatrefolk’s podcast, chatting about theatre etiquette. I went to the London Psychic Expo, which was very enlightening! I also went with my mom to see Macbeth at the Stratford Festival.

In October, I received my first introduction to Thirty-One Gifts with a party at Kendryth’s, and received first-aid training with the rest of the OKTC staff. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Shawn and I travelled with Justin and Amanda to Pittsburgh for the first time. They went to see the Pittsburgh Steelers and I saw The Toxic Avenger. We also visited the Andy Warhol Museum, went up the Monongahela Incline and gorged ourselves with amazing Mexican food. At the end of the month, Shawn and I saw I Mother Earth and Our Lady Peace in concert, and had fun at Justin’s Halloween party. I also started loom knitting! (I’m obsessed.)

2016: The Year in Review

In November, Shawn and I travelled to Toronto to see Pentatonix in concert (SO GOOD). Shawn also got to meet Wendel Clark (his favourite Toronto Maple Leaf player of all time). Both She Kills Monsters and the T.A.G. showcases had fabulous performances as well.

And it all comes back around to December. I started out the month hosting my own Thirty-One Gifts party (and my mom and I cooked our brains out). OKTC announced their Spring 2017 season lineup, including my two upcoming productions: Peter and the Starcatcher and Disney’s High School Musical 2 Jr.

2016: The Year in Review

It’s been a really busy year. You may have noticed that my blogging here has become fairly sporadic and for that, I apologize. I have been blogging for the past year for the Theatrefolk blog, which I am thrilled to continue to do in 2017. One of my 2017 goals is to get back to posting here more regularly, but it will be at a reduced rate. I have been working hard on balancing my time, and I think it has been working.

I am looking forward to a fresh start in 2017. I hope you’ll join me!


Favourite Posts of 2016

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Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

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.

 

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

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.

Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

 

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.
Theatre Talk With Jared Kirby, Fight Director

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Jared!

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Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

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.

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

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.

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

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)

 

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

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.

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

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.

Theatre Talk With Kyle Rowling, Actor, Director & Fight Director

 

Thank you so much for sharing, Kyle!

Photo Credits: kylerowling.com

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Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

I first met Ceris Thomas when she took a chance on me and cast me in her production of The Three Musketeers at London Community Players. She handed me a sword, and my life was forever changed. Ceris is truly the sort of person who can do that to you — transform your life — with her words of wisdom, many-hat-wearing skills, her inimitable laugh, or a kick in the pants (both metaphorically and literally). Sounds dramatic, but Ceris is never one to do something halfway. I’m thankful to be able to call her a colleague, co-conspirator, and friend.

Read on to find out more!

 

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Ceris Thomas, I am an educator, director, choreographer, performer and advocate for the arts. I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I love doing that. My husband and I own Shrew’d Business and we provide training and workshops and rentals of equipment to theatre companies and schools all over Ontario.

 

What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today? 

I don’t know what “made” me do this. I think I have always done this. Both of my parents were teachers and very involved in the theatre community in my home town (Red Deer, Alberta). I’ve been around those two areas — teaching and theatre, my entire life. 

 

As for getting here… I’ve taken an interesting route. I took dance and music lessons when I was young. I performed in shows and I decided to go to College — first for theatre, but then I later changed to a Music program. Once I finished that, I was uncertain as to where to go and what to do next. I followed some friends to British Columbia and lived there for awhile and worked in a variety of situations – including teaching dance and theatre to young kids until I wound up working for Live Entertainment Corporation and The Phantom of the Opera. This led me to move to Toronto and while I was there, I finally saw Karen Kain dance… I had an epiphany, if you like, and realized I needed to go back to school, so I did. 5 years later I graduated with my BFA in Dance and my BEd. Of course, in the mean time, I’d met this guy, who later became my husband, so that meant I was staying in Ontario! I taught for 7 years in Toronto before we didn’t want to deal with that big city anymore and we decided to move to London. Our first summer here we ran the Theatre School’s summer camp — immediately immersed in theatre and London.

 

That’s the circuitous route in a nutshell. It was messier than that, but you get the idea.

 

As for mentors… there’s been quite a few. My parents for certain. Early music teachers, my high school band teacher (who retires this year), my voice teacher in Toronto — Angela Hawaleshka — things I learned from her I use daily in my teaching and my own practice, and one Dance Professor and York University — Donna Krasnow. These people told me I could do things, but they never, ever sugar coated it. They emphasized how hard it would be, how much work it would take and I believed them, and they were right. I try to emulate them all the time.

 

Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

 

What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?

I still love our production of Shrew’d! It started our company. We condensed the script of Taming of the Shrew down for just the two main characters. It was delightful. Brock and I don’t often get to perform together, but that was joyous.

 

There have been many highlights over the years. Some top contenders are The Three Musketeers, Follies and Oklahoma! But every show or project has highlights and wonderful moments. Most recently, I directed Henry V with my high school kids… and it was worthy of any stage, anywhere. 

 

Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

 

Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?

We all do… some are not so great and really leave a bad taste, but others are funny and uplifting. I prefer those. For example, the “in the dark” performance of 3M will always be a highlight. Imagine (you don’t have to Kerry, you were there), 350 students from all over London area sitting in the Palace Theatre for a performance and just 15 minutes into the show, some truck somewhere knocks out the transformer that powers the building. We had to do some fancy footwork, but we managed to carry the show forward and it was an enormous hit with our audience. I feel like they will remember that forever and if you get to have that impact on an audience, you are really lucky.

 

Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

 

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

Brock and I recently travelled to NYC to perform as the Tenth Doctor and his companion Donna in a combat show with the Art of Combat intensive workshop. I also had a hand in directing this little venture, plus I wrote the script. This was new for me and I’m proud of what I’ve managed to create in this little piece of fan fiction. I hope the audience enjoyed it.
After that, I’m back with LCP to direct a wonderfully funny production called The Trials of Robin Hood — think a Monty Python/Galahad version of the story with audience participation and optional endings. It runs in December and we really hope that lots of families come out to enjoy it. Auditions will be in September, so I’m looking forward to that.

 

What are your goals for the future?

I’d really like to spend a summer in England studying theatre. Plus director’s workshops… that sort of thing. Maybe I’ll start a fundraising campaign. Plus, I have a little play inside that keeps running around in circles in my head. I hope one day I can commit it to paper. We shall see.

 

What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?

DO IT. But do it your own way. Don’t try to copy anyone else, not even their path, because that is/was their path. Strike out on your own and if you make a mistake, learn from it and change directions. It’s all good. It all feeds into making you an amazing person. If an opportunity comes up that interests you – go for it. You may not get another chance. Also, do not listen to the word “no” and strike “I can’t” from your vocabulary.

 

Theatre Talk With Ceris Thomas, Director & Educator

 

Where can we find you online?

Instagram: @tltday

Thank you so much for sharing, Ceris!

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Theatre Talk With Dr. John Lennox, Fight Director

Theatre Talk With Dr. John Lennox, Fight Director

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?

My name is Dr. John Lennox. I teach various forms of combat — stage and Western Martial Arts (so, how to actually kill someone), and I coordinate fights and stunts for local films and theatres all over the world. I train people to fight and also train actors to become fight directors. When I am in my state/country, I teach theatre classes at Lansing Community College and online at Purdue University and University of Phoenix (actually here I teach Introduction to Art and Introduction to Video and Performing Arts). So I am a wandering professor who works in his field and comes to class when I am home — very Indiana Jones-ish.

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.”

Mentors — Maestro Ramon Martinez, Maestro Jeannette Acosta Martinez, Col. Dwight McLemore and Brad Waller.
Brothers I wouldn’t be who I am without — Jared Kirby, Kyle Rowling, Steve Huff

Theatre Talk With Dr. John Lennox, Fight Director

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.

Theatre Talk With Dr. John Lennox, Fight Director

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?

I have Combatcon in Vegas in a few days, the New York City Art of Combat Intensive Workshop in July, a workshop at Spring Arbor University, film shoots when I am done with that, a workshop in Mexico City, another AoC intensive in Sydney in January and classes in the fall. This is actually a pretty tame semester for me. Not sure how many shows I will do this fall. They often land in my lap in a week’s notice or so. you have to be flexible and ready to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice in this field.

What are your goals for the future?

I’d like to work on larger pictures and perhaps finally publish some of the combat works and screenplays I have sitting around. Past that, retirement to Mexico.

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.

Theatre Talk With Dr. John Lennox, Fight Director

Thank you so much for sharing, Doc!

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