Fighting in the Dark

When the first words you hear on entering the rehearsal room are “You can even finish him off here if you want to,” you know you’re in for a treat. If you’ve seen either the film version of Wait Until Dark or the play it’s based on (or if you have ever seen a thriller of any kind…), you know to expect a pretty terrifying fight between the bad guy and our heroine. Yesterday, director David Ira Goldstein and fight director Adriano Gatto were working with Brooke Parks and Ted Koch on a moment near the end of the play, and I was invited to observe. I promise not to spoil the ending, so you’ll still feel every adrenaline-filled scream at the theatre!

Imagine, if you will, a nearly empty rehearsal room. There are a few pieces of furniture – a table, a couch, a stove and a sink, and a shelf standing in as a refrigerator. Tape on the floor indicates walls, steps and other changes in level, but you have to work hard to imagine these things, as well as the locked door at the top of the “stairs.” Not only does the company need to create the scenery in their minds, but they also need to find a way to tell a dangerous story, while keeping the actors completely safe.

So where do they start? First, they take into account what kind of training these characters would have – how would they know how to fight? Ted’s character, Roat, is a con man. He knows how to fight because he learned it the hard way – on the street. Brooke’s character, Susan, is a blind woman in the 1940’s. Knife fights are something with which she would have very little experience.

They talk about the timing of each movement in great detail, including the moment before. The preparation for an action tells us almost as much about the impact as the action itself. The angle of an actor’s arm tells the story of where that arm will end up in the next moment, and whether or not it will hit its target. While observing today, I learned a new use for the word CRAFT – as an acronym for the steps in an act of stage violence: Cue – Reaction – Action – Follow-Through. The actors have to know what the cue for each movement is – is it seeing the weapon? Or is it seeing the other actor draw back in preparation for a strike? Then there’s a reaction to that cue: does the actor attempt to move out of the way to avoid being hit? The reaction and the action – a fist moving forward, a knife swipe, etc. – might happen almost simultaneously. Then, here’s the crucial thing: follow-through. It’s crucial to making an impact look real. Without follow through, stage violence doesn’t look like it hurts, it doesn’t appear to cause any damage.

With this show, there are even more details to consider. How dark is it onstage at this moment? Will the couch block the audience from seeing parts of the choreography? How does this action match with the dialogue in the script, and does it keep the tension mounting as the fight progresses?

Even though I watched them painstakingly work through every movement in this fight, when they ran it again at the end of rehearsal, I promise you, the answer to that last question was undeniable. Oh, yes, it does…


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