Entries tagged with “Steven Schwall”.

Steven Schwall (Duncan, Porter, Murderer, Caithness) is not only an actor in Macbeth, he’s also the Fight Director. Here are his thoughts on choreography for this production.

Hi, I’m Steven Schwall and I am designing the violence for Pigeon Creek Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This production has a number of parameters which take me outside the “traditional” methods of fight choreography. I’m here to share my experiences with you.

To start with, Pigeon Creek is an original practices company. This poses several conditions which force the fight choreographer to adapt. Thrust staging (or full round for that matter) always complicates things, because it is harder to stage the violence so that it looks real without being real. Universal lighting makes it even more difficult to accomplish. So there is a lot of viewing from several angles and adjusting to keep it visually true.

The short rehearsal periods mean having to force the issue of training. The easiest aid in this is applying the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. The most fabulous choreography in the world will look stilted and fake if there isn’t sufficient time to rehearse it. Also, brilliant choreography will not necessarily make a fight. The object of the fight is to physically dramatize the conflict and if we lose sight of the conflict, we lose the story. Simplicity is key.

Cross gender casting creates another problem. Pigeon Creek not only casts men in female roles, but women in male roles. While I have nothing against female actor/combatants – I know several who can kick my butt – many female actors are not involved in martial or sporting activities as much as their male counterparts, so they might be unprepared for the movements that they are going to be asked to make. This translates into a longer learning curve, so keeping the movements simple gives them time to learn and embody this new movement method

And then there is the design concept. Traditionally, the fight arranger works with swords, knives and guns. The weapons are designed to balance and flow, and have smooth edges. The steampunk concept has forced me to design weapons that fit into that style. Regular weapons would not have looked “right” and taken our audience out of the world of the story. The new weapons I have created for the play function similarly to regular weapons, but not always, so adjustments are continually made to the techniques of wielding them so that they look natural.

Lastly, this production is ensemble directed. That means there is no one decision-making authority. While this is very freeing for actors, who can develop their characters as they see fit, as the fight arranger I do not necessarily know what choices they have made. So I can design a fight, but if it flies in the face of a character’s trait as the actor has developed it, the movements will not ring true. So I must be flexible in my approach, and ask questions of my actors to be sure that the fight I am giving them tells the story in the character they have developed. A couple times in the process, an actor has come to me and asked if a change can be made in order to fit with the character they are attempting to portray. If I refuse, I become a totalitarian tyrant who is placing his own work above the good of the whole project. In ensemble direction, even someone in a directoral role must also be willing to take direction. In the end, it is the actors, and not my work, that must shine. We all work toward the good of the whole.
So, keeping flexible, keeping it simple, and being a part of the solution are the keys to functioning in this slightly unusual set of parameters. And that in itself is a learning and growing experience.

Steven Schwall as Antonio

Hello, this is Steven Schwall. I am playing Antonio, the merchant, in the upcoming Pigeon Creek Shakespeare production of The Merchant of Venice. This is my second production with Pigeon Creek, and the members of the company are starting to treat me like a “veteran”.

This is another ensemble-directed piece, but the personnel are different from those in Henry V. Every ensemble has its own dynamic, but the one thing I am beginning to notice is the overall principles remain the same. There really is a consistency to this company’s approach, and even though the personnel change, the principles remain the same.

I really can’t comment upon the rehearsal process, as I have been involved in wrapping up another production that is keeping me from rehearsals, but the interesting thing I have found about this work is that the title character (which is me) is not as important as one might think. Sure he is pivotal to the plot, but more as a catalyst around which things move than a protagonist or antagonist. Antonio is an object, not an action. This means that I must, in my own work, provide my fellow actors with substance with which to work. This will be a far greater challenge than I originally thought, but I am glad to be surrounded by such a supportive group.

The other thing about this work is that it is another of those mixed genre plays of Shakespeare’s (commonly called “problem plays”). It has some of the trappings of comedy – disguises, mistaken identities, and a happy ending (for most). But at the same time, it is moralistic like a tragedy, dealing with anti-semitism, greed, and justice.

I would encourage you all to come out and see this production. If it turns out like previous Pigeon Creek productions, I am sure you will be in for an evening of thought-provoking, entertaining theatre.