From Couch to Greek Warrior in Six Weeks: Stage Combat for the Morbidly Sedentary
Rep. Company member Janna Rosenkranz talks about the challenges of doing battle onstage in our production of Troilus and Cressida.
I couldn’t have been more surprised when I was cast as Ajax and Cassandra. The later character, Cassandra, is the type of character that comes easy to me in that I know what it feels like to be a woman whose voice is not always (for poor Cassandra never) heard or counted. Ajax, on the other hand, through me for a real loop. I had nothing, internally, to really explore for Ajax, so I took a very simple outside approach with him and played up his cartoon like Football Joe/Meathead characteristics. (No insult is intended towards football players named Joe or Meathead). It also must look ridiculous, as I’m the complete physical opposite of the men I’m fighting, however, as that lends itself to the fact that Ajax is a joke, and is made fun of by virtually everyone in the play.
With the help of our wonderful directing team, Angela and Francis Boyle, I was able to find some specifics to help with Ajax’s character, but besides the acting challenges, there was a huge physical challenge. I’m a 48 year old, overweight, Netflix addicted, un-athletic woman! I’ve taken some stage combat (around 15 years ago) and once even took a fencing class (in my last year of college for a required PE credit), and done some minor combat with PCSC in Henry IV, 2 and Macbeth, but I’ve never had to really have a serious stage fight before, and now I was faced with three serious fights. I was lucky to already have acted with the three men I’d be fighting with, Scott Wright, Killian Goodson, and Zachary Johnson. I knew them and trusted them. I was also extremely lucky to have Francis as our fight coordinator and Steven Schwall as our fight captain. I felt a kinship with Francis and Angie immediately and Francis was very clear with his instructions. Trusting your fellow artists is half the battle. I thank them all for their professionalism and camaraderie.
Facing my fears of anything movement related was a huge part of my challenge. Over the last ten years or so I’ve become a very careful mover, watching every step for fear of what my husband calls “tipping over.” Basically, I’m a huge klutz (I take after my Jewish mother) and I fall. A lot. Like a lot. During PCSC’s production of The Merchant of Venice I fell down a set of stairs and caught myself with my face. I had a huge lump on my forehead and two black eyes as a result. In Henry IV, 2 I had one tiny fight during an excursion and I think I managed to mess it up in every performance. I did better in Macbeth, but only had one or two parries and a duck. I still am not quite sure how The Powers That Be at PCSC would even trust me with a sword, let alone cast me as a character who is in three fights!
Learning and rehearsing fights is like learning a new dance, there are beats, positions, intentions; basically lots to think about when you are fighting. I’m lucky to have a muscle memory of dance and gymnastics from my childhood; I’ve even been told I still sometimes move like a dancer, despite my more recent commitment to the good fight against gravity and being a highly ranked officer in the eat masses of carbs army. Like dance, you start getting the fight into your body and get some muscle memory established. Of course this means loads of repetition. The fight choreographer and captain (Francis and Steven in our case) model the moves of the fight beat by beat, and then the actors repeat what they did beat by beat. Since we’re doing live theater, we, rehearse the fight before each show with our fight captain observing. Since anything can happen during the fight, the more practice we get, the more we have the moves in our muscles, the more predicable the fight will be and the more we can deal with adjustments on stage.
We are currently in our final stages of rehearsal before we open and although I’m still nervous about my combat, I’m very excited. There is so much I don’t know and so much I learn every time we do fight calls and runs. The most important thing is that NOBODY gets hurt in any way, shape, or form, but for me, this experience has been so much more than just some fights in some play, it’s become a new source of mental, physical, and emotional confidence and self-assurance.
The confidence that PCSC showed in me helped me gain more confidence, both in myself as an actor and in my own body. My appreciation for my body has also risen exponentially, and of course getting in a little better shape doesn’t hurt anyone. Both roles were great acting challenges and I am honored and appreciative that everybody at PCSC trusts me with helping them tell the stories of these wonderful plays.