Every year, TACIT puts on three plays -- since '98 they've done a Shakespeare during the winter term, starting with Henry V. In the fall of '01, they announced this year's show would be Love's Labours Lost, one of the Bard's more obscure romantic comedies. I'd seen it performed at by an outdoor group somewhere near the La Brea Tar Pits and had enjoyed it -- somewhat. What can I say, it's an odd play, with an odd ending.
Reading through the script, I came upon a scene where I was sure the worthy Bard had put in a fight and his transcriptors had failed to write down They fight. The moment occurs between the "fantastical Spaniard", Don Adriano de Armado, and the "most simple clown", Costard, who struggle over the course of the show for the affections of the country maid, Jacquenetta. I pictured anything from a pantomime of a true duel to a drag-down dirt-slinging slugfest, and when I mentioned my ideas to Shirley, the director, she immediately signed me on as fight choreographer.
The show was to be set nominally in the Roaring Twenties, complete with flapper dresses, train stations, and vaudevillian comedians. It would be a challenge to choose the right style of fighting to fit in between the Bard and the big band.
The two actors presented me an interesting challenge. Fred Farina, Caltech alumnus and staffer, was cast as Adriano, and he played it with incredible zest and vocal dexterity, a passionate Spaniard to the end. The role of Costard went to graduate student Luigi Warren, who delivered a Cockney vaudevillian with such punchy verve that I kept expecting him to bring out a dummy and start playing ventriloquist right there on stage.
Both men had distinct "carriages", which became clear from the start as I taught them the rudiments of stage combat. Fred -- an experienced dancer -- moved smoothly, gracefully, getting into the basic rhythms with ease. Luigi, on the other hand, naturally moves in bursts, and it showed in his advances and lunges. If he were fencing, that could be good, but as stage combat is more akin to dance choreography than actual fighting, the disparity between the two men made controlling distance a unique problem.
Initially, I'd planned for a small sword fight with a disarm followed by some full-body Marozzo-like wrestling and a throw or two. After settling with Shirley that perhaps swords were not the direction to go -- in fact, I'd become enamored of the idea that Adriano fancied himself a bare-knuckled boxer of the turn-of-the-century style -- and then seeing how the two men *really* moved, all that changed.
The initial pass with swords became a classic "John Wayne" punch from Adriano followed by a duck and a shove. What was going to involve a kick/throw, allowing Adriano to regain initiative in the fight became Costard leaping atop the Spaniard and smashing his head into the ground not once, not twice, but three times, as one of the lords bellowed, "Great, Great, Great!"
Just about the only piece of the fight that remained intact was the groin kick to Costard. As Luigi staggered back after our first run-through of the fight, Fred noted how tempting it was to run up and pick up Luigi on his shoulders and spin him. I concurred. And so the fight concludes with that, a delightfully chaotic end.
Of course, it wasn't just that simple. You still have to get Costard off of Adriano's shoulders, and you have to fit the lines to the fight, but these are secondary concerns to the structure of the fight itself. Some things -- like "Great! Great! Great!" -- came up as we choreographed, while others -- that groin kick again -- were planned around a particular line -- "(Costard) is moved!"
In any case, I hope that's given you a sense of how we choreographed the fights for Love's Labours Lost. The rehearsals themselves were a breeze. In fact, we cut down on a few of them because Fred and Luigi advanced so well with the fight, once we completed choreography. I was terrifically pleased with their work ethics and dedication to the principles of Safety First. The show itself went very well -- turning what I always considered to be a so-so Shakespeare into a rather interesting story -- and the fight added a nice bit of excitement to a lengthy final scene.