Here's another TACIT Shakespeare. -- since '98 they've done one every winter term, starting with Henry V. Director Shirley Marneus selected 12th Night for the 2002-2003 season, and she soon approached me about directing fights for scenes III.4 and IV.1.

I'd read the script before, for a class on Shakespeare with Shirley and Professor Jenijoy LaBelle. Very quickly I recalled my daydreams of comic imbalance betwixt Viola, Toby, and Aguecheek, compared to the dashing swordplay of Antonio and Sebastian.

The Actors:
Dana (Viola) was a tyro, both to acting and stage combat, but proved an earnest learner. Had we decided to make Viola and Aguecheek actually trade blows, I'm sure she would have picked things up quickly. I'd met Noah (Aguecheek) during Love's Labours Lost, in which he'd played a delightfully simple-minded Constable Dull. Doug Smith (Sir Toby) was an old friend and TACIT regular. He proved well worthy of this, his first significant role that I'd seen him in. Though I was initially concerned that he might not handle the combat, he worked hard and performed admirably.

Adam Burgasser (Sebastian) was an accomplished stage combatant and TACIT veteran, whose advice and confidence I was grateful to have. Another veteran, Steve Collins (Malvolio), provided us with an unofficial fight captain, giving tips at key moments throughout the process.

Meanwhile, newcomer Maziar (Max) Motahari joined us as Antonio; fairly athletic, the movements of fencing took him some time to adapt to. This ran opposite to high school student Nate (Officer #2), for whom it all came a bit too easily. I had to find a way to balance Max's hesitating development with Nate's looseness as they fought in III.4, and then take advantage of Max's intense urgency as he crossed blades with Doug.

The Fights:
The cornerstone fight, Max and Nate's smallsword duel, was intended to bring to mind old swashbucklers like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Basil Rathbone. Back and forth with flying blades, the combatants declare their lines calmly, with supreme confidence. "Antonio, I arrest thee in the name of Count Orsino," states Officer Nate, followed by Antonio's haughty, "You do mistake me, sir!"

When she saw the fight in its full glory, Shirley bellowed out, "It's just like Errol Flynn!" and I couldn't have been a happier man.

The greatest challenge, though, was developing a fight in which small, compact Adam was harassed by and then thoroughly best a significantly larger Doug. Our first choreography resembled a frantic WWF wrestling match, including Doug lifting and spinning Adam in the air, bear-hugging him, and generally treating him like a rag doll, until swords were drawn. As hell week began, Shirley opined that the current scene detracted from Sebastian's heroic qualities. An emergency revision was called for. Trim the wrestling, add a disarm, a shove, and some minor blows to Doug by Adam, and we had a much improved scene.

The Weapons:
For setting the play, Shirley chose the Napoleonic era, which translated to small, light courtswords; soon thereafter in history, the sword fell completely out of use and favor. Indeed, most duels at the time were by pistol rather than sword, which made the lack of pistols and muskets on stage mildly disconcerting for those of us familiar with the period. But all's one.

TACIT decided to buy a quartet of smallswords from American Fencers Supply. We were late in ordering the weapons, so choreography and rehearsal happened with my heavier stage rapiers; when the new swords arrived, the actors had quite an adjustment to make. Initially they were pretty concerned, but in the last two rehearsals, they found their footing and distance. Opening night, they all performed their fights with aplomb and flair.


And that's 12th Night in a nutshell.