I sat, legs crossed, on Parker’s office chair, one hand holding my place in the script, the other supporting my head. Ian was lounging at a nearby desk, calling out which characters were in each scene of Romeo and Juliet. For several hours we had been attempting to put together a rehearsal schedule for the rest of the production.
This was not as easy as we had imagined.
Based on the previous year’s schedule, we calculated how many pages we could block (which just means to decide the movements of actors on stage) in a three hour class period. We also had to choose scenes that had fewer characters in them to do in the evenings at extra rehearsals.
Well. There go my evenings.
Of course–as these things are wont to happen–as soon as I had finished, I realized I would have to reorganize: one student would be gone for several days, and those were the days I had scheduled his scenes to be blocked.
Then Parker came in and asked if we had decided when Ian and I were going to have morning rehearsals for the fight scenes (Ian’s responsibility) and the dances (mine).
And there go my mornings too.
Not that this was unusual: evening rehearsals inevitably crop up every year, and last summer I had spent my mornings accent coaching (we had a Welshman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, and a French army. Great Dickens, that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke).
So, I typed up a new rehearsal column–9:00am-noon–and wrote “dance” and “fight” on alternating lines. Those two words, repeated, sat starkly on the bright screen and seemed out of place together. Those two activities, though, dominate the parts of our rehearsals that aren’t blocking.
It usually happens that our cast is bigger than the number of named parts. Rather than being a nuisance, Parker’s creativity makes this fact a boon: he puts around ten to twenty students in the role of the Chorus. The Chorus gives insight into character’s inner thoughts and allows for some really cool effects (In our Winter’s Tale, a few years ago, our Chorus got to walk out of a TARDIS!). The students in this role also fill a number of small roles and act as “extras” in various scenes.
So, this year, we have twenty-one students in our Chorus. That’s a lot, but it allows us to have an impressive opening scene full of street fights and, later on, a lively group of guests at Capulet’s ball. There will be epic battles. There will be Regency dances. There will be lovely sonnets.
That means that the majority of the cast must be taught to sword fight and perform Regency/Victorian dances.
And overseeing these lessons is the job that Parker has given to his two assistant directors.
For Ian, this means teaching proper stage combat methods (safety is priority) and historical techniques. Since we use real, combat-worthy (but not sharpened) blades, it is very important for everyone to be trained in both safety and craft.
Ian is certainly the man for the job. He has the advantage of years of proper training from his father and the experience gained from his own combat routines in various plays. He’s learned the footwork, the history of swordplay, and all those fancy french terms for swinging one’s blade (spoiler alert, although a term like “moulinet” may sound fierce, it means “windmill”).
My job, though, entails choreographing several historically accurate dances and teaching them to the students. Sadly, unlike my comrade, I have neither training nor experience in the subject I must teach. Honestly, all I have is some ballroom dancing basics and a love of period dramas. But, thanks to a surprisingly available group of historical sources (check out http://regencydances.org/steps.php), my favorite Jane Austen films, and several helpful students who have more experience in this area, two of our dances are already choreographed! The hard part, I fear, will be teaching over twenty students how to chassé and jeté assemblé (funny, both swordplay and dance take many terms from the French) with abandon–feet lightly skipping down the ball room as dancers intertwine with one another in their dizzying patterns.
But, dear reader, such activities are fitting, are they not? Parker keeps reminding us that this is a play about hate, as well as love. The violence sprung from rivalry is embodied in swordplay, while Romeo and Juliet’s passion is kindled in the dance. So, the juxtaposition of those lines of “dance,” “fight,” “dance,” “fight,” on my spreadsheet may have seemed odd, but that is exactly what this play does–put the most famous love story of the English language in the midst of murder and soul-crippling hatred. And just as it is the grace and agility of the dance which give a swordsman his deadly skill, so it is passion of these Italian families which allows them to love madly, even as their pride and fury destroy that love.