Thursday, September 19, 2013

"So You Want to be Zorro" by Geof Alm

This is a reprise of an article Geof Alm wrote for Freehold's e-newsletter. Great to revisit it!


"So you want to be Zorro!"

Actually I did, and I think I still do!

I think I came by my love of stage fighting very legitimately. I have pictures of me standing by the Christmas tree in my Zorro costume, complete with hat, cape, and sword with a piece of chalk on the end. (My mom loved that!) In fact, much of my childhood consisted of role-playing, in one way or another. Although I grew up in what is now Shoreline, we were fortunate to have eighty acres of woods behind my house. Those woods were perfect for playing army, superheroes, sword fighting-with the dreaded ferns as our enemies, so what I am doing now seems like a natural progression.

My formal training began when I attended the Drama Studio London In the late 70's. Stage Combat was a required part of the curriculum, and I was very excited. The day my teacher walked in, a dashing man with a red goatee and moustache, I was hooked! For the people who know me, at least I have the whiskers part! OK, maybe a little greyer. His name was John Waller, and he was an armourer, falconer, bowman, and choreographer of the Black Knight fight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." A gracious man who was very supportive of his students.

My main memory of that experience was failing my fight test. We both touched each other with our blades at the same time, and that was a disqualification. I was crushed, I was going home in a week, and I had worked so hard. John was able to scramble and arrange another test, so we trooped in, and who was behind the table, one William Hobbs, choreographer of The Three Musketeers (Michael York version), and the preeminent fight director of that time. I knew who he was, and now I was really nervous. We went through with no flubs this time, and afterward were told that he couldn't pass any of us, we looked too tense and dangerous, and not in a stage combat way. He put us through some drills and ended up passing me and another guy. It was a hard, but great lesson. You must have a solid basis for your technique to be successful. I heard this great musician say that it's 80 per cent technique, and 20 per cent art, and I believe this to be true. Something that looks effortless very rarely is.

My association with The Society Of American Fight Directors began when I returned home, and began to seek work as an actor. When people found out that I had some stage fighting experience, they would ask me to choreograph, and I knew I wasn't qualified to do that. I needed more training, and soon met David Boushey who was teaching some weekend workshops. David had founded the SAFD and was the top fight director in the US. He had such a love for what he was doing, which was infectious. He recommended that I participate in the National Stage Combat workshop being held that year in Memphis. I saved my pennies and went, and had a fabulous time. I couldn't believe that there was a bunch of people that did this kind of thing, and were so generous with their time and knowledge. The workshop was three weeks, and at the end I had earned my basic actor-combatant status.

The next year they were offering the first teacher training workshop, which I applied for and was accepted, and became a Certified Teacher. This was 1987. Consequently I received my status as a Certified Fight Director, and soon after that, I was awarded the rank of Fight Master.

Stage fighting, for me, has been my way into physical theatre. It has taught me to act with my whole body, given me a focus career wise, and connected me to so many good people. I am grateful to the teachers who mentored me, and continue to do so, the students whom I have had the pleasure to teach, and an art form that continues to nourish and excite me.

I strive to be a student, teacher, and as they say in Martial arts - a white belt - one who embraces the wonder of "I don't know" And as for Zorro . . . Maybe I'm closer to Anthony Hopkins than Antonio Banderas, but it's all good!

Geof Alm teaches Stage Combat at Freehold. Geof is a certified fight director and teacher for the Society of American Fight Directors. he has worked at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, INTIMAN Theatre, Seattle Children's Theatre, ACT, Seattle Opera, Seattle Shakespeare Company, The Group Theatre and many more. Geof teaches nationally and in the Northwest including at the University of Washington's Professional Actor Training Program.

For more information on Geof's upcoming fall Stage Combat class at Freehold starting October 12th:

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