A clamorous dance of blades
Lucinda Kidder, foreground, joins others in a workshop on sword techniques overseen by Jeff Lord, fight director for the Hampshire Shakespeare Company.
By KATHERINE LENARD
Thursday, January 16, 2003 -- AMHERST - Walking past a room at Amherst Regional High School any Thursday night in January, you're likely to hear the clamor of men and women grunting, swords scraping and clanging, and perhaps even fierce cries of "Kill him!"
Within these peaceful walls, 10 men and women of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company are working to recreate 11th century English battles made famous in Shakespeare's "Richard III."
Shakespeare's classic play tells the story of the tyrannical duke who murders anyone and everyone hindering his power-hungry plan to become king.
In most productions, battle scenes in "Richard III" take place off-stage. However, in the version Hampshire Shakespeare will perform this summer, director Dean Acheson will bring them to life right before the audience.
"I want the audience to empathize with Richard. I want them to try and see why he is doing it," Acheson says.
To make the murderous battle scenes believable and historically accurate, the company has launched a month-long workshop in Broad Sword Stage Combat for actors who will audition for "Richard III," as well as other plays involving stage combat.
Fight Director Jeff Lord, who is leading these weekly classes, playfully calls his technique "dangerous ballroom dancing."
Chris Nauroth, an actor at the workshop agrees: "It's like a dance, but if you screw up, instead of stepping on your partner's feet, you're gonna hurt them."
Dancing characterizes it well, save for the swords, the grunts and the vicious stares combatants often give each other. The combat has a visibly rhythmic, graceful, even dance-like feel.
The seven actors at a recent workshop, clad in sneakers and loose clothing, prepare for class by stretching on the sidelines. Moving with their partners, they skillfully shift weight back and forth. They adopt distinct poses. In the "dance," as one partner moves his right foot forward, the other moves her right foot back, and vice versa with the left.
Indeed, these actors are not only studying stage combat, they are learning choreography designed to both entertain and achieve historical accuracy.
Lord argues that just as costumes and sets meant feel authentic, so should combat. He recommends his students watch films with accurate combat scenes (of which he believes there are few, except for works like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). He asks that they delve into history, a call participants are answering.
"It's great because this is based on something real, and we're into the history of it, so it's really exciting to do the actual historical technique," says Stephen Eldredge, another actor attending the workshop.
The training is a good investment, the actors say, cultivating skills they can tap in future auditions.
"It's a technique that will be useful for other plays. It will make me marketable," says actor Alan Dallmann.
Lord says he especially enjoys working with actors. "Actors are very passionate and very driven," he says. "They are used to the idea of training and you can bet that they're going home and practicing."
The stage combat training, the director believes, will bear fruit come summer.
Acheson suggests that the movement and action of Shakespeare's plays are part of what has made them so popular. "There's no reason," he says, "why Shakespeare can't be wonderfully entertaining."
Auditions for "Richard III," which is being produced by Sarah Wilson, will take place at Amherst Regional High School Feb. 1 and 2. They can be arranged by calling 253-2212.