NOLA Project company member Alex Wallace wears a lot of hats. In addition to playing the lead male role in our upcoming production of “Romeo & Juliet,” he’s also the fight choreographer. As stage combat is a longtime passion of his, Wallace has always been the company’s go-to guy when it comes to staging a fight. I recently asked him to pen some of his thoughts about his love for a good ole’ fashion slugfest and what it’s like working on a play where the fights often steal the show. At the bottom of this post you can see sketches he made as blueprints for one of the fights from “Romeo & Juliet.” Here’s what he had to say…
If I take a moment to sit and think about the first choreographed fights I ever designed, I am brought back to the age of six. During sleepovers I would create epic battles between me and my cousins. Pillows were boulders and blankets were electric nets and these fights were ABYSMAL. Because at that age nobody wants to lose — especially my youngest cousin, Taylor, who would throw the most astonishing tantrums for the paltriest of reasons. And so the fights would mostly end with Taylor being allowed to decimate us. Prior to this moment, however, our acting was in earnest and everything was thrilling. But we knew that sooner or later the youngest would have to win or we would never be able to move on to a snack of cheese and soda and other vile vittles wee ones cram down their horrible screaming gobs. What was at one point an epic performance of heroic escapes and valiant cliffhangers devolved into us accepting the inevitable as Taylor bashed us up and down with the largest pillow as we COMPLETELY UNENTHUSIASTICALLY and in monotone voices, cry out “Oh you’re winning you’re winning. Oh, this is us dead now. Oh you beat us; good job Tay-LOR.” We perhaps revealed our resentment of the situation with the final syllable in her name. “You won again Tay-LOR.” Of course if I could go back in time and re-choreograph these fights, I would encourage us to lose the fight with courage and valor and, in doing so, we would make an EPIC story of heroism! And we would feel like the REAL winners in the end! That’s what I would do if I had a time machine. I would go back in time and re -choreograph our blanket fights.
The best fights, in my opinion, tell great stories. I feel the same way about all types of art — music, theatre, painting, dancing, etc. If there is an arc and a struggle, I’m sold and you have my invested emotion. I have always been thrilled by the idea of physical combat — especially if there’s an underdog and a valiant attempt at victory. I watch a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts in anticipation of these epic moments. They sadly come rarely in reality. Instead of an arc, what mostly occurs is a downward slope. It starts off with the potential to go in any direction, but usually one combatant winds up being more skilled or naturally talented, and you end up feeling awkward as the fight regresses into a cautionary tale as opposed to an epic struggle. But ONCE IN A WHILE – an epic battle DOES occur!
Take for instance the EPIC BATTLE of Fedor Emelianenko vs Hong Man Choi. At first glance you might believe that what you were about to witness was an execution. Fedor was outweighed by 130lbs and out heighted by a foot and a half.
Was this madness? No my friends, it was Sparta. Fedor fought with the grace and delicacy of an artist. A battle like this is how legends come into existence. With a bravery that most will only dream of, Fedor dove headfirst into the oak of a man and chipped him away until he fell.
These are the kinds of fights I like to create on stage — giant characters with giant perspectives telling giant stories. In “Romeo and Juliet,” you might remember… there aren’t any giants, so you won’t be seeing the above scene in THIS particular production. Not to worry though, because there are men with giant opinions possessing giant amounts of skill with a sword. I have tried to create fights that are more than just a few foil exchanges followed by the finishing thrust — I have tried to tell small stories. In planning these, I found it helpful to create storyboards so to better visualize what I wanted the final performance to look like. By the end of all things, I had over 20 pages of fights drawn out. The ones in this blog post are from the opening fight of the show, where we first witness the two families clashing on city streets. I hope when you see the R&J yourself, you will be able to appreciate the small stories inside the giant story that I did my best to write with rapier!
Alex Martinez Wallace holds two Examiner’s Awards for Excellence from the Society of American Fight Directors (Rapier and Dagger and Unarmed Combat) and has worked professionally as a fight choreographer in NYC and New Orleans.
Post by Richard Alexander Pomes
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