“I know something of a woman in a man’s position. Yes, by God, I do know about that.” – Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love, one of the most regionally produced plays this season, provides a chance for exciting fight sequences – a skirmish of swords between blowhard actors, a fast-paced chase sequence with quick hand-to-hand combat, and a dangerous rapier and dagger duel. As fight captain for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, I was given the chance that most female combatants my age don’t usually receive. With the help of our fight director and a talented ensemble cast, we were able to create dynamic, entertaining, and safe choreography.
Within a production, fight captains take on the significant responsibility of ensuring the safety of their fellow cast. In my case, that includes assisting with choreography early on in the rehearsal room, running Fight Call with the stage manager before each performance, recording and cleaning choreography throughout the rehearsal and performance process, and sometimes even teaching choreography to an understudy or swing. This role is essential to execute the fight director’s vision in the safest way possible, providing a liaison between the actors and stage management.
I’ve been fortunate enough to receive several years of training with my mentor, David Reed, a professor at the University of Central Florida and a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors. Under his invaluable guidance and help from Fight Masters own Scot Mann and Drew Fracher, I have recommended passes in unarmed, single sword, sword and shield, smallsword, quarterstaff, rapier and dagger, and knife, and I am currently training with broadsword to complete my certifications. My intention in my training is to complete the SAFD’s certified teacher program and become an instructor and choreographer within the next five years. When I began my training in stage combat, I instantly felt a connection and a passion for choreography, but noticed something very early on, especially in workshops: men overwhelmingly outnumbered women.
Out of the Society of American Fight Directors’ 18 recognized Fight Masters, only one is a woman (K. Jenny Jones, who is based in Ohio). We all know gender has nothing to do with ability, so why aren’t there more women in this field? The theater has always been a place of pushing boundaries and challenging tradition. Despite the countless hours I’ve spent honing my craft, instructing a cast of fully grown men as Fight Captain was still an intimidating prospect.
Working on Shakespeare in Love, I found inspiration in Viola De Lesseps, our protagonist. She is bold, defying all odds to get what she wants. She stands in the face of society and conventionalism because she knows she is just as good as the men she watches on the stage. And just like Viola, I have a deep love for the craft and, when I walk into the theater as a Fight Captain, I must be bold. Viola, as an actor, also has a great support system around her. When things come to a head in Act Two, Viola can shine because the men around her know her worth. One way to encourage change and diversity in this industry is to take a lesson from these men: employ more women. In my training, I have seen hundreds of skilled and talented female stage fighters who just need to be given the chance to shine. Much like I was given a chance at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, regional theaters around the country should seek out female talent to make equality the new normal.
Whether you’re a stage fighter, a choreographer, a designer or an actor, all women can take away a few things from Viola’s story in Shakespeare in Love. Work with the knowledge that we must work twice as hard to get half as far as our male counterparts and still press on, ask loudly for chances to shine, even if we’re intimidated by the odds, be willing to unapologetically take up space, and demand better of those that employ us and challenge the status quo. Most of all, we must honor and acknowledge the women that came before us who made this possible. The theater is a place where supportive and uplifting people surround us, and for many of us it is our home. There is room for us here – so take it.