|The fist of Hector.|
For the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival I have been fortunate to direct Henry VIII and Timon of Athens, plays in which people just talk the whole time. Talk or sing, or do some freaky dancing.
The first time I directed Shakespeare it was Romeo & Juliet for Guerrilla Theater. I was twenty-six and come up with this brilliant concept that we weren’t going to celebrate or sensationalize violence, and so decided that just as Tybalt and Mercutio came at each other the lights would black out, and when they came back up Mercutio would be mortally wounded. Ditto when Romeo and fights Tybalt; blackout, lights up, Tybalt dead on the floor.
No combat choreography. I am a genius.
|"There lies Tybalt slain."|
(Guerrilla Theater Co., 1994)
Since then I have met several fight choreographers, and have commissioned a few fights. When we produced a modern Hamlet on a stage the size of a postage stamp, we did a stylized knife fight, Hamlet and Laertes each holding onto the end of a strap. Yes, it was compared the rumble in the video for Beat It. For Sarah Morton’s Hamlet at Beck, which was period appropriate, she and choreographer Joshua D. Brown fought with rapier and dagger, like it says in the script.
The first and really only time I had been introduced to the play Troilus and Cressida was when we took a college trip to Stratford in 1990 to attend master classes with the RSC. Company members Ciarán Hinds (as Achilles) and David Troughton (Hector) performed for us a fight to the death. Their choreographer, inspired by Nestor’s description of Hector cutting down his opponents (“there the strawy Greeks … fall down before him, like the mower's swath) provided them with twin short blades. They made quite a clang.
35mm camera, sound out of sync.
For the director choosing a modern interpretation of a classic drama, for example one set during the Trojan War, is what to do about the fighting. People like to see fighting, it adds excitement and emotional impact. But we no longer fight with swords, we fight with machine guns. On the battlefield, we often drop bombs from pilotless drones and create improvised explosives. These are neither easily staged nor dramatically compelling. What to do?
There are a few key moments in our production of Troilus & Cressida which have been staged by Josh and his partner Kelly Elliott, including a fist fight between Hector and Ajax, some clever work with handguns, sexual assault, and a brutal death by knife. Scored briefly with the recorded sound of explosive devices, we hopefully will evoke a moment of chaos, confusion, and insurgency.
Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presents "Troilus & Cressida" opening June 15, 2018.