Belhaven Theatre

For All the Drama — in the Dept.

Belhaven Theatre

2014 One Acts Submission

The deadline for submissions for the 2014 One Acts Submission is Monday, Sept 1, 2014!  More information can be found at the tab on the header of this blog, which is the page http://blogs.belhaven.edu/theatre/one-act-play-2014

Plays will be selected for production by students in the fall Directing class, and will be produced in November 2014.

Last Train to Nibroc – announcements

Tuesday night, April 1 is the opening night for the Arlene Hutton play “Last Train to Nibroc” at Belhaven Theatre (no foolin’). Break a leg to the cast and crew!

As has become the tradition in our department, after the first performance, there will be a post-Opening Night reception in the lobby.

Friday night, after the show, stick around for the first performance of Belhaven’s new comedy troupe Proverbial Improv. (Don’t worry, if you can’t make Friday, there will be a couple more shows before the end of the semester)

And on Saturday night, after the final performance, join us for a post-show discussion with our special guest, playwright Arlene Hutton!

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Antigone at Sea Change Theatre

Sea Change Theatre of Beverly, Mass. opens its production of Antigone by Sophocles tonight!

Sea Change was founded by two alumni of Belhaven Theatre Department, Jason and Staci Schaum – and Jason was an actor in Belhaven’s production of Antigone back in 2006.

If you are in the Boston area, check out this production!  Break a leg to all the cast and crew of Antigone!

Promotional still from the Sea Change Theatre production of Antigone by Sophocles

Promotional still from the Sea Change Theatre production of Antigone by Sophocles

Ginny Holladay, Alumni Update

Ginny Holladay who graduated from the Belhaven University Theatre Department in 2013 is living and working in Seattle, Washington.  I asked her to write a litte update on what she’s doing right now:

Assistant Directing on MR PIM PASSES BY  has been way more fun than I deserve…mostly due to the fact that the director, Karen, called me up one day with the “crazy idea” of letting me play the maid Anne. Thanks to that completely nonsensical idea of hers, I have not only been able to observe a truly passionate and fun-loving director at work, but also work opposite some fantastically talented actors and crew. Working/interning at Taproot Theatre (Seattle, WA) has been a priceless experience for me, and I know I owe a lot to my experience at Belhaven University where I learned the following important lessons: -when to be silent and when to speak up -how to sleep and stay healthy in the midst of long, hard hours -to always be compassionate and encouraging to people you are working with…that’s all we want for ourselves after all.

I love and miss you all so very much. -Ginny

Ginny Holladay in Mr Pim Passes By

 

This is a drawing by the costume designer of MR PIM PASSES BY for Ginny’s character Anne.

Working on Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Everytime I get to teach Shakespeare my passion and love of his plays grow.  My relationship to Shakespeare’s plays began in ignorance which is not a bad way to start.  In undergrad I had the priviledge to play Lady M in Macbeth.   I auditioned to play one of the smaller male characters (even then I knew I wanted to play men and have been able to do so many times in my career) and somehow ended up playing the Lady herself.  We were in the deep south and I’m sure the production was very southern in sound, inflection and temperament.  It was a passionate production.  Fun.  Scary.  And I loved speaking those words and living that story immensely.  Since then, I’ve been to graduate school, studied and performed in England; acted, adapted (cut) and directed Shakespeare’s plays.   I’ve moved from ignorant pleasure to utter fear; to grasping and ultimately to a freedom in working on his plays.  A freedom that I’m grateful for.  When you have the time watch or rewatch the John Barton Playing Shakespeare series on youtube.  The humility and approach will inspire you.  Seeing a young Ian McCellan, Patrick Stewart and Judi Dench will delight you.  Although I don’t get to work on these amazing plays as often as I’d like; Shakespeare makes me want to be a better person and certainly a better actor.

I’d love to hear about your experience working on Shakespeare!

 

Stage Combat class

Here’s a couple photos from this semester’s Stage Combat class.  At the end of the semester, these students will take the test to be SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors) certified as Actor Combatants.

Students in the Stage Combat class, spring of 2014

Students in the Stage Combat class, spring of 2014

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Professor Stewart Hawley instructs students in Rapier and Dagger combat during the Stage Combat class, spring of 2014

 

Combat

Stage combat has more in common with a combination of ballroom dance and stage magic than it does with any actual fighting discipline. Once an illusion is decided upon, it becomes a matter of figuring out how to best execute it within the skill level of the cast and in the time allotted. This can be as “simple” as someone being slapped and/or falling down, or as complex as a duel to the death with chainsaws. The illusion must also further the story being told and support character development. If the fight director has done their job well it should be nearly impossible to determine where the director’s work ended and where the fight director’s has begun. Melissa Hillman has written an excellent article on the hiring, care, and feeding of fight directors.

All that said, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss why the study of stage combat is important and why acquiring some familiarity with the skills involved in portraying violence in performance should be given some priority across the various disciplines.

Safety
Safety is the biggest reason to learn stage combat. For a profession with such a badass reputation, the practitioners spend a whole lot of time and energy being concerned with the well-being of everyone involved.

Fight directors are first and foremost concerned with keeping everyone safe. This is no small job. I’ve often seen otherwise brilliant people lose their damn minds when it comes to their own safety on stage. I feel like there is an article in the news about once a year about someone getting shot onstage with a real firearm. Think for a moment about how many things need to go wrong for that to happen. I’ve often told students that “the stage is like The Matrix, if you get hurt there, you get hurt in real life too.”

Performers need to be able to identify and actively avoid situations that might lead to injury. A working knowledge of the fundamentals of stage combat is a great start. An understanding of these principles can also help them advocate for themselves in instances where they might be being asked to do something unsafe. I’ve come to believe that it borders on unethical for a performance training program to send graduates out without these basic tools.

In the past I’ve also had stage managers take my classes and workshops alongside actors. If you are not “showfolk” and don’t know what a stage manager is, they are the backbone of a production. They make sure not only that everything happens, but that it happens on time, and happens correctly. I once invited an Actor’s Equity stage manager to speak to a theater appreciation class I was teaching and explain what they do. Near the end of the talk one of the students said, “so we clap for the actors, should we bow down to you?” A good stage manager has among their primary concerns that no one gets hurt on their watch.

I’ve heard it said by some of the people who’ve trained me that it’s often the simplest techniques that have the highest risk of injury. If you are dueling to the death with chainsaws, you respect the chainsaw and go through all the necessary safety procedures. But if the scene needs someone to be slapped and/or fall down, performers will sometimes think that “they can take it.” “Taking it” might land a performer in a hospital.

Narrative Clarity
Few disciplines within theater enjoy the clarity of dramatic conflict and narrative transparency that fight directors have as a matter of course.

Any specific technique should be able to communicate a storyline (or a piece of one). If one character is striking another and they fall down, the audience should be able to follow the action of what is happening from beginning to end. That is to say, from several seconds before the blow lands until after the victim hits the floor. In a longer sequence, such as a duel for instance, each moment is a piece of narrative action. One character feinting a cut to the head, disengaging their blade after drawing a parry, and then executing a blow that is barely dodged might take less time to perform onstage than it did to read, but involves an entire series of narrative actions with the conflict being clear throughout. If there is a reversal (in the Aristotelian sense), that aspect of the storyline is generally extremely clear.

Actor training is often about having clear objectives and understanding dramatic conflict. Characters in violent conflict are among the most direct manifestations of clear objectives and conflict.

This narrative clarity is extraordinarily useful for directors, designers, playwrights, and dramaturgs. When Romeo is trying to kill Tybalt, there is little ambiguity about what the characters want, but there is no limit to how those wants might be played out.

Understanding of Illusion
While according to some scholars, we live in one of the least violent periods of history, Lt. Colonel David Grossman observed in his book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, that the majority of those who purport to study violence do so “in a world of virgins studying sex.” The overwhelming majority of any violence that anyone reading this is likely to see probably happens in the context of its portrayal in an entertainment medium, either in a context where it was composed by someone like myself, or in the context of athletic competition. Since we see so little actual violence (a good thing, I would say), a basic understanding of how the popular illusions of violence are created is useful. I would argue that an understanding of the illusions would lead us to enjoy them more, the same way that an understanding of music leads to a greater appreciation of the same.

Also, there is much to be said for having a better grasp of how specific genres of illusions are created when engaging in creating a larger illusion yourself. This is true for nonactors as well. The understanding of illusion also relates to an appreciation for narrative clarity. If one understands intellectually that a stage punch is not a real punch, that the scene in which a duel took place was a cooperative venture, and that it was composed with safety, narrative, and sightlines in mind, then the overall appreciation of the larger production can only increase.

Collaborative Synergy
At their best, composition of fight scenes involves a unified effort between the fight director, the director, the performers, designers, and technicians.

I had a great experience that was illustrative of this synergy while choreographing a scene for Aunt Dan and Lemon with Whistler in the Dark last season. The illusion for a pivotal scene involved interfacing the costume design with the set design in order for movement to be created that told the story in the script. There is a scene in the play in which a man is drugged and tied to a bed in a spread-eagled position, and then strangled with a pair of stockings by a woman who stands over him. As the man’s hands are unavailable to engage in the basic safeguards of a stage choke if the stage directions are followed, another solution must be found.

In this case, there was a piece of cloth of identical color and texture secured to the headboard of the bed. As the stockings used to choke the character are being placed on the actor’s throat, the actress reaches underneath and grabs the cloth attached to the bed, bringing it up on either side of the actor’s head, with no pressure whatsoever being brought to bear on the actor playing the man’s throat. As the character is choked, the actor played out the stages of asphyxiation from a place of complete physical safety.

On a very practical level, whatever your discipline within theater or film, understanding the basics of your collaborator’s discipline will speed up communication and deepen the process (I’m speaking broadly here as this is true of all the disciplines in theater). Specifically in regard to combat and performers, if you’re an actor, you’ll be able to learn more complex choreography more quickly, expanding the options available for the final product.

Broadening of Dramaturgical and Textual Analysis
“They Fight” is a great stage direction. And in many classics involves a lot of context. By broadening the understanding of violence on stage, we can understand how and why it might happen in dramatic literature.

Characters are always in pursuit of their wants. In Stanislavskian terms, actors pursue character objectives. To paraphrase military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, stage combat is the pursuit of objective by other means. By way of example, in Satre’s No Exit, Estelle wants Inez out of the room. At one point, she begins to physically remove her from the space, and would succeed if Garcin did not convince her to change her course of action. A similar scene takes place in Burn This by Lanford Wilson when Burton wants Pale out of Anna’s apartment, and that scene then escalates dramatically. Niether of these plays are known for their fight scenes to the degree of say, Romeo and Juliet or Killer Joe, but in all of these examples characters apply physical force in pursuit of their objectives.

Stage combat is an aspect of modern theater that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We can start to give it that attention by learning the basics of how it’s done, and then taking that knowledge to other areas.

Note: This article was modified from a blog post on MeronLangsner.com

- See more at: http://howlround.com/why-everyone-should-study-stage-combat#sthash.CVejAfOx.dpuf

Dr. Campbell visits Belhaven

We are pleased to welcome back Dr. Lou Campbell, founding chair of Belhaven’s Theatre Department this week!  Dr. Lou spoke in Belhaven’s chapel service on Tuesday morning, and will spend time with various classes on campus this week – in Theatre, Dance, International Studies, and sharing in several department meetings this Friday.  We are glad to have him back with our students, sharing his passion for the Lord and for the arts, his heart of international missions and physical theatre, and his decades of experience in the balancing of his family and his calling.

Any alumni in the Jackson area this week are welcome to come by the campus and see Dr. Lou and Laura – especially as he shares with the department at our 3:30 meeting this Friday.

Dr. Lou Campbell shares in Belhaven Chapel, Nov 5, 2013

6 ways Stage combat makes you a better actor

You’ll Be Safer Onstage

There is a common saying in stage combat circles when comparing the wrong way to do something with the right way: “Hospital. No hospital.” Your body is your instrument, and stage combat training teaches you how to keep it in one piece. You will also learn when and how to advocate for yourself if you feel that you’re being asked to take an unnecessary risk. An actor who is assured of his or her own safety in a physical scene is one who is free to create as an artist—and far less likely to have an understudy take over because of an injury. Remember: No pain…no pain.

You’ll Be Better at Performing Fight Scenes

This point might seem obvious, but it covers more scenes than you might realize. “Fight scenes” don’t just mean the climactic battles (as awesome as those are). Pivotal slap in the face during an intense drama? You’ll own that moment. Dying of a heart attack? Audience in the palm of your hand. Comic slip on a banana peel? They’ll be laughing all the way down. And if there’s a climactic duel, you’ll be better able to handle more elaborate choreography, making the most of your rehearsal time and having a far better fight than without training.

Better Overall Physical Storytelling

Stage combat is a genre of physical theater designed to articulate a clear narrative of character conflict. Practicing physical storytelling where conflict and objective are clear and up-front will only help your physical expression in any other scene. We’re in the business of telling stories. Practicing the narrative clarity of a good fight scene will carry over into your other work. When every move in a scene is a potential matter of life or death for your character, that intensity and attention to detail will infuse all of your acting technique. Which brings us to…

Significant Practice in Very High Stakes Acting

A duel with broadswords will have you portraying life-or-death situations. The stakes are not often higher than that. Training in how to get to that extreme safely and effectively will help increase your emotional range as a performer in any medium in which you find yourself performing.

Overall Physical Fitness

Acting can be hard work. The fitter you are, the better able you will be to face the demands of a role or an audition.

Deepen Your Ability to Analyze a Scene

Understanding why and how characters engage in physical violence gives us opportunities to apply dramaturgical thought in a pragmatic setting (I call this fightaturgy). What would cause your character to cross the line and assault someone? How would your character react to that kind of violation? How will that incident inform other interactions? In what cultural context does the play take place, and does that dictate how the violence will take place at all?

Stage combat is an element of theater and film wherein so many other elements combine, and yet it’s often relegated to “supplemental” training. Many performers find that getting trained in this facet of acting will yield dividends in every aspect of their lives as theater artists.

 

Meron Langsner

Johanne d’Arc article

Our production of Johanne d’Arc was featured in the Jackson Free Press!

Article