A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Nick Harrison, Deck Chairs, Golf Clubs & Rapiers
Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nick Harrison - Fight Director
Bard on the Beach

 Somehow Shakespeare has been part of my life since I was 15.

It began in 1957 when we lived on Calle Guillermo Shakespeare in Colonia Anzures in Mexico City. We lived almost at the corner with Avenida Marqués de Lafayette. When I accompanied my mother in a taxi home she would give our driver our address as shah-kes-peh-r-eh. I had to do something similar once in Atlanta when I told the driver I wanted to go to Ponz di Leeon Street.

A couple of years later I suffered a terrible Romeo and Juliet at the University of Texas at Austin. Imagine an actress, who would wear bobby socks out of costume, saying (most nasally):

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Shakespeare was much improved when I went to the Vancouver Shakespeare Festival (Vancouver’s Ur-Bard on the Beach) in 1984. It was a production of Richard III and Christopher Gaze played the nasty, slightly mad, hunchbacked Richard.

As Richard put away people into dead bodies I became confused when they would appear again minutes after their presumed demise. I was not aware then of a tradition (Scottish perhaps?) of having actors play several parts within a play. This tradition can be shocking, but gratifying, too when you just happen to have seen two Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will, directed by Dennis Garnhum, (and henceforth just Twelfth Night) and Hamlet, directed by Kim Collier, within two days of each other. It can be even more confusing when in one Jennifer Lines plays a most feminine if bereaved Olivia (in Twelfth Night) to become a manly, but still a woman Horatio, friend of Hamlet, Jonathan Young.

This casting of actors in many rolls is only made possible by what the industry casually calls the fast dressers. Actor Emma Middleton explained how fast dressers saved her from possibly appearing nude on stage here. I had often wondered how actors playing double rolls (and double principal ones as Jennifer Lines has done in the past and particularly Jonathon Young in this year's Bart) managed not to blurt out the wrong lines by confusing one play for another. Jennifer Lines wrote this.

One of the least visited pages of the fine and complete Bard On The Beach programme is the last page, page 78.

This page with the initial appearance of a possibly bloated bureaucracy (do you need all these people?) makes sense if you remember that recurring photograph of an American interceptor with its lone pilot surrounded by a battalion of support staff. That’s just the way it is if things will happen without a hitch as they invariably do on Bard on the Beach.

You will not find fast dressers in that list but you will Head of Wardrobe Sydney Cavanaugh and Assitant Head of Wardrobe Amy McDougall and Jessica Oostergo (and there must be more that pitch in). These are the people who dress, undress ( I forgot the wig crew Sean malmas and Ami Ofek), add moustaches, remove them, etc and etc with a rapidity that would astound most of us. Makeup must also be involved as in the quick reddening of Malvolio, Allan Zinyk (he looks like a poached shrimp in the last act of Twelfth Night).

Thanks to actors now being allowed (or forced via contract?) to move furniture inside a set some of the stuff of in the production has been made easier. I don't think that anybody could have ever made Laurence Olivier move anything in a stage (not cinematic) Hamlet.

There is one double casting, Jonathan Young as Feste the wise fool in Twelfth Night and as Hamlet (the son not the father!) that troubled me in a fascinating thought of – what if?

In 1957 Christopher played his first Stratford Hamlet. He also played simultaneously in Twelfth Night and in a scene in the latter, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, where he is supposed to fall and create laughs. Plummer fell and broke his foot. His subsequent appearance in Hamlet, is now hilariously goes by the name of the Hop-a-long Hamlet.

Twelfth Night has lots of wonderful action, coins are tossed into receptacles held by actors, records (those black reproducers of sound that preceded CDs and cassettes) are Frisbee-ed across the set (Pam Johnson, design) and always caught (at least in the opening night I was privy to last Saturday) and duels involving golf clubs instead of swords, foils and rapiers. But best of all was a scene between Sebastian, Daniel Doheny and Feste, Jonathan Young involving a deck chair. If you must ask see the show. Sebastian attempts to sit on the chair and after a few attempts manages to but in the end, Feste, with a deft turn of his right foot lifts up on the chair elevation adjuster and Sebastian comes crashing down and falls on his rear end. Is this dangerous for the actor? Probably. Worse still is history repeating itself, Plummer style, and Young not taking his foot out in time and have it broken.

Nothing happened and touch wood, nothing will because, Fight director Nicholas Harrison and his fight captain (Harrison’s term) Davic McCormick are in charge. And yes that deck chair incident, not a fight is still on Harrison’s lap. Below, once I finish this long musing by this complete theatrical amateur, you will find Harrison’s explanation (it is long but worth reading) on what his job entails and, very important prevents from happening.

Theatre has lots of tradition that might escape the usual theatre goer. As an example if you like to show up at Bart on the Beach early, to savour the candied pop-corn or enjoy the vistas of our city, you just might listen to some loud shouting. Before every, and I stress every, performance of a play, and not only the heavy duty fight scenes with swords (or golf clubs) but any movement that may pit the actor with danger, the fight director or the captain has to be present. This tradition has parallels with dance and ballet where the choreographer (or representative) has to be present at every performance. In theatre, the director, by contract has only to attend opening night (and I surmise the dress rehearsals, etc).

Harrison and I have a small history that has preceded my writing about his now. Some years ago actor Kenneth Branagh came to town to promote his film Hamlet (and particularly the long version of it). I decided I wanted to photograph Branagh with a dirk or rapier. This is when I first contacted Harrison who has a fine collection of flashy human dismembering and killing devices.

Here is Harrison’s explanation of what he does and before I step of my blog's stage let me add tht Twelfth Night, and Hamlet are both marvelous and entertaining productions. But I suspect a chair, underneath and outside of that marvelous view of Vancouver might just provide a just as entertaining view of the world in a much more accelerated mode!

Introduction to What I Do
Nick Harrison

A few years ago I received a telephone call from an actor who was playing the title role in a production of Hamlet at Presentation House in North Vancouver. He thought he had hired a fight director for the play. Unfortunately for him, the fight director had very little formal training, nor was he affiliated with any professional stage combat association. During an unfortunate fight rehearsal, the ‘fight director’ attempted to demonstrate an elbow to the stomach and ended up elbowing the lead actor’s face, knocking out his front teeth. The ‘fight director’ soon left the production and the terrified cast. I was contacted to clean up the mess that had been left behind.

While I wish I could say that this is a rare anecdote in the field of stage combat, sadly similar stories have become commonplace. In 2011, an actor rehearsing a play in San Francisco sustained multiple fractures in her arm and shoulder as a result of “improvised violence.” In this case the theatre company neglected to hire a fight director because the artistic director of the company despised the artificiality of staged violence (Garcia).

Unfortunately, some theatre artists still retain the misconception that fight directors are not capable of staging realistic depictions of violence on the stage. Some are not even aware that there are professional organizations devoted to the teaching of stage combat and the safe training and accreditation of actor combatants. Actors are often asked to stage fight scenes themselves, or in some cases the director, who may have limited experience with staged violence, attempts to create an interpretation of violence that compromises safety and creates fear among the theatre artists and the audiences who attend the performances. Even more common is the employment of dance choreographers. Although they may be trained in modern tap, jazz and ballet, most have little experience with staging violence. Some dance choreographers believe that they have the ability to stage violence because they have an understanding of human kinetics and are familiar with creating movement. Though there is some similarity between dance choreographers and fight directors, each is limited by his or her capabilities and training.

The Canadian Actors Equity Association does not discriminate between its members wishing to work under various contracts. For example, actors wishing to direct may be engaged under a director’s contract. The CAEA has maintained a position of neutrality in determining criteria for specific artistic qualifications of their membership. This position allows for any member to work as a fight director on professional Canadian stages. For example, actors, directors, and dance choreographers can apply to work as fight directors without proof of proper training. While engagers are encouraged by the CAEA to hire accredited fight directors, producers have the discretion to hire whom they wish.

Acting schools throughout Canada may offer a term of stage combat as part of their movement curriculum. Few, however, offer any more than that. The University of Calgary offers its BFA acting students stage combat classes throughout their program (“Jean-Pierre Fournier”). The result is that actors may leave the program with a good understanding of the basics of stage combat. Some leave the program with basic or intermediate certification in stage combat through Fight Directors Canada (Fournier). Most other universities in Canada with Fine Arts programs offer their students movement courses that include an emphasis on dance. Movement is an important part of any actor’s training. However, Stage Combat is also an important part of any actor’s training. It allows actors to learn the way their bodies move, and the discipline of control. Since conflict is an important part of any story, physical representation of conflict is often required. Actors trained in the ability to create illusionary violence fare much better in this area than actors who have not had adequate training. Scenes of violence staged by non-professionals present a greater degree of risk of injury to those involved.

In order to appreciate the importance of professional fight training and stage combat in Canada, we need to first look into the history of the practice itself and how it has developed into the current model. Since the professional fight director is a relatively new concept we must find where the roots of the current methodologies began.

To date there has been no in-depth study into the organization and development of stage combat in Canada. Several informative and useful manuals of the practice of stage combat have been compiled by various fight directors in Canada and the United States. Dr. Kara Wooten successfully completed her PhD dissertation focusing on the terminology and safe presentation of physical conflict [“Developing a Course in Stage Combat: A Manual for Instructors and Students”, May 2000 Texas Tech University]. Her dissertation includes a brief overview of the history of violence in the theatre and the emergence of the fight director. Her main objective is to create a manual of stage combat, providing instruction in the techniques of the craft. In essence, her dissertation provides practical instruction to students of stage combat within the Society of American Fight Directors.

In addition to the several excellent sources of practical stage combat theory, including Jonathan Howell’s Stage Fighting, Dale Anthony Girard’s Actors on Guard: A Practical Guide for the Use of the Rapier and Dagger for Stage and Screen (1997), J. Allen Suddeth’s Fight Directing for the Theatre (1996), and William Hobbs’s Fight Direction for Stage and Screen (1995), there are a few sources that may have been written with good intentions, but are potentially dangerous to untrained performers seeking instruction in the field. Claude D. Kezer’s Principles of Stage Combat (1995) is an example of such a book. In a brief eighty-two pages Kezer attempts to address stage combat and safety, but his illustrations and techniques demonstrate a very dangerous approach to the craft. He insists, for example, in contrast to professional fight directors who concern themselves with safety that stage weapons must be sharp in order to maintain an effective stage illusion (49). I believe that stage weapons must be dull in order to minimize risk of injury to performers on stage. Though he has no formal stage combat training himself, Kezer credits his ability to the training he received in the military.

Throughout the theatre’s long history, there have been many innovations in realizing truth on stage. The concept of ‘Realism in Theatre’ has led to developments in acting styles, stage construction and dramaturgy. Great pains have been taken in modern theatre to create realistic interpretations of period costume, properties, architecture, and music. In addition, numerous books have been written on these subjects. Some books have been dedicated to the technical instruction of realistic stage combat, too, but they are limited to approximately forty. Of that number, only two have been written by Canadians. To date there is no written work that focuses on the history and organization of the fight director within Canadian theatre.

One important element of the mise-en-scène that is often neglected is the interpretation of staged violence. Many Canadian theatre companies do not attend to the detail that historically accurate interpretations of swordplay require. The reasons for this failing are two-fold. First, due to the vast geographical expanse of Canada, the costs of procuring qualified stage fight directors can be significant. Secondly, the concept of professional fight directors in Canada is relatively recent, having been established within Canada only in the mid to late twentieth century. In addition, rehearsal periods for most Canadian theatre companies are limited to an average of two to three weeks. During this time actors are being pulled from blocking rehearsals for wardrobe fittings, voice work, and fight rehearsals. Fight directors, costume fitters, and voice instructors must negotiate through stage management their time requirements in order to get the actors ready. Due to this time constraint, fight rehearsals are often reduced to the minimum required to reduce the risk of injury during performance, and to create the illusion of weapon proficiency. In this regard the fight director assumes the role of a technical instructor – teaching the basic levels of combat to the actors engaged in the fight scene, rather than being able to work more creatively with actors on the interpretation of the fight itself. Often the fight director has to combine basic techniques of stage combat with some creative interpretation within the time allocated to him or her.

This basic approach to stage combat has been established in the methodology of many fight societies including the British Academy of Dramatic Combat, Society of American Fight Directors, Society of Australian Fight Directors, Society of Canadian Fight Directors, Fight Directors Canada, and the Canadian Academy of Dramatic Combat. While generally accepted as a ‘universal’ approach to stage combat, the modern system is an over-simplified and distilled combination of saber and foil techniques carried over from the late nineteenth century. These fight organizations are primarily concerned with safety and proficiency in regards to fights on stage. This system, though basic, allows for actors from various regions and countries to speak a common fight language when working together. With only the basic training given to actors, sword technique runs the risk of being distilled into only simple attack and parry positions that are applied to all bladed weapons. Swords from various cultures and time periods, then, are denied their unique performance function. Rapiers, smallswords, longswords, gladius, dussacks, backswords, claymores, kindjals, katanas and other unique weapons become simply fight props and lose their distinct identities. Individual fight directors can offer insights into the uniqueness of the weapons through their own study and interest. In this regard, the education of the fight director in historical developments of bladed combat is paramount to preserving individual sword historiography and function.

Few fight directors are well-enough acquainted with the history of stage combat prior to the last century and that alone necessitates the importance of researching the past. In order to fully appreciate the importance of stage combat in Canada, we must look to its origins. Many fight directors are not familiar with historical styles of swordplay and therefore do not know how to stage period violence. The art of stage combat can only improve and develop if we have a better understanding of the origins of the modern techniques. Once we become aware of the developments of stage combat, we will be able to continue to further the art.

Stage combat is, simply put, an illusion of violence. An actor on stage is engaged in stage combat when he or she performs the simplest grab or shove. The Society of Australian Fight Directors defines stage combat as a “movement based art form” that requires the study of various martial skills and actions requiring control to be safely executed on stage or in front of the camera (Safdi). It has its roots in practical martial applications and study. However, on stage, the artists are performing the illusion of conflict, no matter how real or dangerous the conflict may appear. Stage combat broadly ranges from shoves and slaps to punches, kicks, falls, rolls, stabs, choking, grappling, fighting and battling – with or without stage weapons - with one or more other artists on stage. Though the ultimate aim of stage combat is to appear real, in essence it is always an illusion created by two or more artists with the control to perform the illusion through a series of movements that have been carefully rehearsed and recorded and with the ability to reproduce this illusion safely, performance after performance. However, the real skill in stage combat is in understanding the mechanics of the reality before performing the illusion.

Next, we need to address what a fight director is. Different titles are used interchangeably for fight director. Fight Master, Fight Arranger, Action Arranger, Fight Choreographer, Fight Coordinator, Fight Coach, Fight Instructor, and Maître des Armes are all examples of titles that essentially define the person who is responsible for creating the illusion of violence on stage. In Braun McAsh’s book, Fight Choreography, he jokingly defines his role as fight director as “being paid to arrange for people to be beaten up or killed” (10). He goes on to define his role as a teller of violent stories. McAsh, like other fight directors, is a practitioner of illusionary violence. While the result of the choreography appears dangerous and life-threatening, the approach to designing the violence must be safe for the performers. Fight directors are the people responsible for the violence on stage and the safety of the performers and audience during rehearsals and performance.

Fight directors are also ultimately responsible for the types of weapons used on stage. In the past twenty years, there have been significant changes to the types and availability of weapons used on stage. In the past, choices were limited to only a handful of reliable armourers. Perhaps the most famous of the previous generation was Alan Meek. British Fight Master B.H. Barry introduced Meek’s work to the United States because he believed Meek’s work to be the best (Ballard 19, 66). Meek’s weapons have been used in many theatres in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. In addition, his work has been seen in several films including Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, The Princess Bride, and Mel Gibson’s Hamlet. Essentially, a theatrical weapon must be stronger than its historical counterpart. A stage weapon must withstand the rigors of rehearsal and performance without breaking down. Blades must be made of high quality metals, and the entire weapon must be able to be stripped apart for maintenance and periodic replacement. Not too long ago, the choices for stage blades were limited to surplus bayonets and fencing blades and theatres had access to only a limited number of armourers including Alan Meek. Some theatre companies made their own stock.

Most fight directors prefer to know the history of the weapons that they use in stage productions. It is important to know how long a weapon has been used, when the blade was last changed, and where it originated. The terror of watching a blade snap off a sword and hurtle towards the audience is something that can be avoided if stage weapons have been well made and cared for. For this reason, most fight directors today have their personal preferences of stage weapons. The fight directors interviewed in this study have consistent lists of what they look for in stage-grade weapons. The weapons have to be made of quality steel or high quality aircraft grade aluminum. Blades have to be constructed with proper tangs and quality parts. They avoid weapons bought cheaply in China or India, and they look for simple, durable construction. Interestingly enough, the fight directors all have sources within Canada that manufacture and supply their weapons. In one case, the fight director also manufactured his own weapons for stage use.

This study will focus on the development and organization of stage combat within Canada through tracing its influences to England and the United states from the late eighteenth century to the creation of the Stratford Festival in 1953. For the purpose of this study I will focus my research on the developments of stage combat through the use of bladed weaponry upon the stage. I will also address the growth of stage combat in Canada post-Stratford and trace its development through to the present day.

Very few books focus on the history of stage combat and there are none at this time that focus on the development and history of the subject in Canada at all. Books focusing on the history of stage combat in general include Old Sword Play; The Systems of Fence, Cold Steel; The Art of Fencing with the Sabre, and The Sword and the Centuries by Alfred Hutton; Schools and Masters of Fencing: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century by Egerton Castle and Richard Burton’s Book of the Sword – all of which were published in London during the late nineteenth century. The twentieth century has provided more works on the technicalities of fencing and practical manuals for stage combat in general. Of the many manuals that are currently in publication, only one has been written by a Canadian – F. Braun McAsh’s Fight Choreography: A Practical Guide for Stage, Film and Television.

The New York Times archives provide a great many noteworthy articles on the subject of stage combat at the turn of the twentieth century, and I have found the information invaluable. The various articles illustrate a thriving arts community in America during the period and provide the names of several fencing masters working closely with theatre companies around New York. Some of the articles are dedicated to reviews of public fencing exhibitions that include demonstrations of numerous period weapons and Japanese martial arts contests. In addition, there are articles describing the training of leading actors and actresses in the art of swordplay.

It is the aim of this study to recognize the role of fight director as a legitimate theatre artist with as much artistic merit as directors, dance choreographers, and playwrights. The fight director must take on many roles while committed to a production. They may include antiquarian, instructor, advisor, choreographer, weapons expert, Maître des Armes, and styles coach while working in close concert with several other artists including directors, conductors, designers and actors. This work is further aimed at creating awareness among the members of the theatre community as to the seemingly disparate functions of the modern day fight director within the context of theatrical productions.

For the purpose of this study I have conducted several personal interviews with Canadian fight directors from across Canada including J.P. Fournier (Alberta), John Nelles, Steve Wilshire, Daniel Levinson, John Stead (Toronto), James Binkley (Newfoundland), and F. Braun McAsh (Vancouver). These fight directors have been instrumental in the development of the art of stage combat within Canada and continue to develop their craft through the fight societies they belong to, including the Society of Canadian Fight Directors (McAsh, Stead), Fight Directors Canada (Fournier, Levinson, Nelles), and the Academy of Stage Combat in Canada (Wilshire, Stead, Binkley).

Interviews were conducted either by telephone or in person, prior to which each interviewee was sent permission forms as well as a set list of questions approved by the University of British Columbia’s Behavioral Review Ethics Board (BREB). I have included the list of interview questions in Appendix B of this work. Interviews were recorded for reference in the writing of this work and used in accordance with the policies outlined by BREB. Every fight director who responded to the request for interviews was included in the study. There were no exclusions.

The fight directors included in this study are experts in the field of stage combat. J.P. Fournier is a certified Fight Master (FDC) and instructor of Stage Combat at Mount Royal College. In addition he has staged fights in theatres across Canada including Stratford, The Citadel, Vancouver Playhouse, Manitoba Theatre Centre, and Alberta Theatre Projects. Daniel Levinson is a certified Fight Master (FDC) and the owner of Canada’s oldest stage combat school, Rapier Wit (Toronto). He is currently one of the Fight Directors at Stratford. John Stead (SCFD, ADC) was Fight Director at Stratford for nineteen seasons and the Shaw Festival for thirteen. Steve Wilsher (ADC, BADC) has been in the entertainment industry in Britain and Canada for over 38 years. He has over 500 fight credits to his name and is a senior instructor with ADC. John Nelles (FDC) is a fight director in Canada and has served for over ten years on Canadian Actors Equity’s Directors and Choreographers Committee. F. Braun McAsh (SCFD, IOSP) has choreographed stage fights at Stratford, The Shaw Festival and the National Opera Company in Canada. He was also the swordmaster on the TV series Highlander for four seasons.

In Chapter Two (“Fighting Back the Years: A Brief History of Stage Combat”) I explore the origins of the modern practice of Stage Combat in western theatre traditions, tracing its roots as far back as the House of Angelo in the mid-eighteenth century. I examine the influence of the house of Angelo upon London’s theatre scene in the nineteenth century is examined, tracing its migration and practices to New York in the same century. The chapter then looks at the influence early cinema had upon stage combat when it became a popular medium in the early twentieth century.

Chapter Three (“Battles Staged by: The Influence of Douglas Campbell and Patrick Crean”) focuses on the organization of the Stratford Festival and argues that the first professional fight director in Canada was Douglas Campbell. Archival research at the Festival aided in the writing of this chapter. The rich descriptions of the fight scenes in newspaper reviews provide proof that the fight director was getting publically noticed and credited with the spectacle of violence within the plays. Though Campbell was the first fight director, it was the arrival of Patrick Crean in 1962 that really established fight direction as an art in Canada. Archival reviews, interviews and a never released documentary by Lesley Walker-Fitzpatrick in the nineties about Paddy Crean were instrumental in the writing of this chapter.

Both Chapter Four (“The Fine Print: The Acceptance of Fight Directors as Professional Artists in Canada”) and Chapter Five (“The Need for ¾ Speed: Establishing a Fight Syllabus in Canada”) explore the emergence of the two major fight associations in Canada, and the inherent problem that the FDC and the SCFD faced in creating a syllabus in order to teach future generations of fight directors in Canada. These chapters detail the rigorous training that must be undertaken by those who wish to become better actor-combatants or even fight directors themselves. The policies that have been established require students to apply themselves regardless of their opinions of opposing fight organizations. Interviewing subjects proved difficult due to the political nature of the conflict between these organizations. However different the politics are between the fight associations, the fight directors with whom I spoke agreed on the necessity of quality training in Canada, and the need to educate the theatre community about the important role fight directors have as mentors, artists and teachers.

Chapter Six (“To Fight or Not to Fight: Contextualizing Hamlet’s Duel From a Canadian Fight Director’s Perspective”) focuses on the role of the fight director as artist/ dramaturg/ instructor and choreographer. Interviewees were encouraged to share their experiences and challenges in staging the fights within productions of Hamlet with which they had been involved. Hamlet presents a great challenge for fight directors due to the several objectives that need to be met for the play to succeed. Through an examination of the text and interviews with Canadian fight directors, the chapter provides insight into the artistic and technical demands on fight directors in preparation for performance.

Chapter Seven (“Hitting all the Right Notes: Exploring Four Methods of Fight Notation”) explains the varying methodology of fight notation instrumental in archiving a fight director’s work for reference. Several methods are utilized, and this study examines the various ways of creating a methodology for archiving from the stage to the page. The chapter culminates with an examination of Patrick Crean’s fight notation for the complete first act fight between Valvert and Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac from a 1972 production in Fort Bragg, Florida. I discovered this document among papers in my personal library. Crean mentions in his memoir, More Champagne Darling, that he never felt the need to change the fight in Cyrano as his choreography was perfect. His notation provides a colorful example of the fight director as instructor, choreographer and even co-author. His notation often reads more like a novel than a fight plot. There were no copies of his notation in the Stratford Festival archives in any capacity. Since this document is likely the only complete notation that survives by the late Mr. Crean its inclusion is especially important.

Chapter Eight (“Conclusions”) summarizes how far fight directors in Canada have come in establishing their worth as artists, and the need for fight directors to continue working together to garner the respect of their theatrical peers and further the development of stage combat in Canada today. There is a need for fight directors to revisit the accomplishments of antiquarians such as Hutton and Castle in order to realize that fights can be not only viscerally exciting on stage, but also achieve a degree of historically accurate representation. In this age of creating spectacle on stage there is no need to sacrifice historical integrity for theatrical excitement. I will argue that the two can coexist on stage if the fight directors commit themselves to their art.

I intend to prove that the modern origins of stage combat in Canada are traceable back to the house of Angelo in London during the eighteenth century. Fights once learned for specific parts were passed on from actor to actor and this practice continued as artists came to North America to work. In New York fencing in the various salles became the popular method of depicting swordplay on the stage, and it was antiquarians Hutton, Castle and Burton that pushed artists to reexamine the historical styles. The creation of the Stratford Festival and the arrival of the two pioneers of stage combat – Douglas Campbell and Paddy Crean – established fight directors and stage combat as artistic entities within Canada. I will demonstrate this by examining the fight within Hamlet and the complex systems of notation that fight directors use today to record fights on the stage.

Air Guitar In Social Media
Friday, June 28, 2013

In many of the Art Bergmann concerts and those of others in the Vancouver alternative scene there was a young man I used to loathe. He had this purse-of-the-lips surly expression of a little boy who had just slid, slowly, his finger on the icing of your birthday cake just about when you were ready to blow out the candles.

This young man liked to play air guitar. I particularly disliked him because he was the drug dealer for many of those on stage. With his profits he took vacations in Mexico.

But the real reason I disliked this young man is that I could almost imagine seeing how energy from Art Bergmann’s insides, through his guitar was being sucked by this man as a sort of space psychic vampire of Colin Wilson fame.

I never did dare do what I really wanted to do which was to sock him in the mouth while telling him, “Learn to play the guitar.”

In some respects I note this sort of activity in social media.

Art Bergmann - Yellow Pages
Thursday, June 27, 2013

In May 1989, my Clematis Montana ‘Rubens’ was in bloom. Art Bergmann arrived on his 10-speed, all suntanned and sweaty in a muscle shirt. He had never looked so good. I served him some iced tea and then asked him to pose under the clematis. It occurred to me that he looked like Julio Iglesias, but with hair.

The reek of rotting onions was overpowering as my daughter Ale, 14, and I climbed the stairs of a warehouse on Railway Street and Gore one late evening of another May, in 1984. A makeshift recording studio had been installed on the fourth floor. Bergmann and friends, the cream of the alternative scene rock bands of the day (among them my friends Gord Nicholl, Randy Carpenter and Nick Jones) were recording 10 songs. Carpenter had called me with the tip that my favourite Bergmann song Yellow Pages – “Sticking knives into our backs and giving it a twist” – was on that evening.

Not having grown up with rock ‘n’roll, I belatedly shared with my daughter the teen thrill of hearing a great song, over and over. It was fun watching Bergmann play guitar and Carpenter and Jones on back-up vocals. The recording engineer Cec English, seemed to be impervious to all the excitement as he methodically and unemotionally flicked switches. Only later did I find out that he was in great pain. The night before, he and Bergmann (fuelled by an over-consumption of Jim Beam) had kicked a police car outside the Oasis Club. English had a broken foot.

Later in 1984, I photographed Bergmann at the “Snake Pit,” a house on East Broadway and Renfrew that he shared with Tony Baloney and other musicians. One of the resulting photographs (here in Vancouver Sun article) is from what I would call Art’s “wasted Keith Richards period.”

But I prefer to remember him as he looks on the cover of the CD Vultura Freeway, available not at audiomonster.com and soon in music stores. Those 10 songs that I had heard back in 1984, until now available in on the original cassette, have been lovingly brought back by local rocker Chris Houston and Audio Montser’s Greg Corcoran. When Houston asked me some months back if I had “happy photos of Art,” I thought of Bergmann under the clematis on a hot afternoon.

Borrowing from the title song Vultura Freeway (up there with the Clash’s London Calling for a song meant for driving fast on a hot summer day), “It’s not summer but hot today,” you can bet that it will be hot tonight and Friday when Bergmann performs at the Marine Club

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Vancouver Sun
June 8-15, 2000

The Little Black Ribbon
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Olympia, Edouard Manet
One of the problems of having a daily blog, particularly one that is based in a Vancouver of the 21st century is that we still have a conservative view of the arts.

Those who go to ballet refuse to go to modern dance. “I don’t understand it,” they say. Those who go to the Vancouver Opera will not attend baroque operas or anything by Glass.

Those who might enjoy the 19th century repertoire of the Vancouver Symphony (to be fair that is not entirely true) will not attend Early Music Vancouver concerts. They would not consider the Turning Point Ensemble’s series of concerts. And one of the wonderful intimate residential concerts of the Microcosmos String Quartet where they have been playing quartets by Britten and Bartók would possibly be out of bounds for many. Those who might enjoy lobrow art at the Smash Gallery would not step into the VAG.

Black Velvet, Andrew Wyeth
This cubbyholing of the arts seems to be a conundrum for those few newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV programs of our city.

That problem transfers itself, or at least I perceive it as doing so, to my blog. I like to shoot undraped females but I find that when I did this in the beginning of my 2006 entries there were a few city web sites (particularly botanical ones) that dropped links and RSS feeds. It seems that children or their parents might be offended.

Yet in a museum like the Metropolitan in New York there are no warning signs preceding entry to the room of Nicolas Poussin’s Rape of the Sabine Women that tells parents to shield their children’s eyes.

So while it is okay to pose in small bathing suits on so many magazines with skin that is fixed to surreal perfection the sight of a nude photograph (not so much as a nude painting or sketch) is enough to damn one to a web-based oblivion.

Black Ribbon in the Malibu - Willoughby Blew
 And so I limit my photograph entries into pictures that most would use that distasteful word to describe them, “Alex they are tasteful.” I long for a different blog where I can post what I want without feeling any restraint. But that will not happen as far as I can tell. And most that read or glance at the pictures of my blog will have to use their imagination and extrapolates.

A case in point is that nobody will be offended if I place here Edouard Manet’s 1863 Olympia and Andrew Wyeth’s 1972 Manet inspired version in drybrush, Black Velvet.

I took some pictures of Bronwen wearing that black ribbon around the neck. If I were to run that photograph here I have no idea who might complain to me. So instead I am running a curious painting by South African artist Willoughby Blew that I think has a remarkable likeness to my photographs in the Malibu. What do you think?

Red, Green & A 20
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quite a few years ago, sometime in the very late 80s I was banged on the head outside the Retiro train station in Buenos Aires and most of my cameras were stolen except for a Pentax MX I fell on. My camera insurance paid for the replacement equipment with Nikons as my Pentax equipment was old and no equivalent more modern models were available.

I would have long retired that venerable MX except that the lens on it when I fell on it was an excellent 20 mm wide angle. When used properly you would never know that this is an extreme wide angle. The lens has a maximum aperture of f-4 so with my aging 70 year old eyes focusing is mostly guess work on my part. My friend and camera repair man Horst Wenzl keeps the MX in good mechanical shape.

With the loss of my studio three years ago I have used my studio lighting (some of it quite portable) less and I have sort of liberated myself with the use of my two Nikon FM-2 and one Nikon FM. I sometimes use the very heavy Nikon F-3 but I always have that MX handy because of that remarkable lens.

Of late I have become awfully excited about taking pictures with those three Nikons, the MX and then just to complicate my life I use my medium format Mamiya RB-67 ProSD loaded with a wonderful 3200 ISO Fuji Instant Film.

To light make the task less complicated my 35mm film is Kodak T-Max rated at 800 ISO and Fuji 800 ISO colour negative. I still use my two exposure meters as one is set for the Fuji 3200.

What that means is that in all but impossible lighting situations I use all those cameras hand held with no cumbersome tripod.

Earlier in the year I experimented with different 35mm b+w films including my favourite and venerable Tri-X. But my tests have shown me that the T-Max at 800 is much smoother on skin (perfect for portraits and nudes) than the Tri-X.

With all that technical stuff in my back pocket and out of the way I can concentrate on the more exciting stuff.

Pentax MX 20mm
Fuji 800
Of late that has been Bronwen Marsden in my Chevrolet Malibu parked inside the garage with doors closed. I use one or two lights. They are both quartz units rated at 3200 Kelvin. One is a Fresnel movie light with slight control on its dispersal. The other is a very large scoop light.

I load two of the Nikons with the T-Max and the Fuji 800 colour. In the last two Malibu sessions with Marsden I put colour in the Pentax MX in the second session and T-Max in the first. I am wondering if I should buy a used MX so I will not have a problem of choice.

You might chuckle if you have gotten this far to imagine watching this arthritic redundant human moving around inside a Malibu with three 35m cameras and one large Mamiya with various lenses and two exposure meters.

Technically there is one problem that has no easy solution. The colour Fuji is balanced for daylight and is able to more or less adjust to artificial light. The wrinkle is that the Malibu’s windows and windshield are tinted. Since the first shoot I have learned to lower the side windows (which eliminates some of the nice shots that I had in the first instance that also had window reflections). Since the colour film reacts to the hot lights by becoming redder I must remove red when I scan the negatives. You remove red by adding cyan and a bit of blue. The tint of the windshield adds green. So when I make the pictures less red they get green. And when I attempt to remove the tint they become redder!

For our two sessions we have not had any planned shoot list or concept. And yet it has all somehow moved in the direction of an edgy and tension filled images that made me think of film noir. John Lekich rose to the occasion (in one day!) and produced a wonderful essay. Bronwen Marsden, herself did the same with an intimate exposé of a teenage experience in her mother’s car inside a garage with closed doors.

I firmly believe that these photographs are some of the best I have taken in a very long time. All I can figure out is that by returning full-circle to my shooting technique of the late 70s that adventure, that excitement of youth, with a little help from that Pentax 20 have returned. And of course it would not at all be possible without the striking presence of Marsden.

Now if I only had a bigger car it wouldn’t be so painful.

A Brilliant Concert In The Works For Canada Day
Monday, June 24, 2013

From left, Adam Drake, Gary Cramer, Stephen Drake, Rick Hopkins

When I found out that Art Bergmann was going to perform at the Wise Hall on July 1st I became quite excited. Bergmann will serve just fine to take me away (at least for a while) from my current kick of listening to every Handel opera I can find at the Vancouver Public Library.

I have written many blogs on my appreciation of Art Bergmann’s passion for the music he composes and plays like no other that I have ever seen.

There were two camps of Johnny Thunders (ex New York Doll and now dead). There were those who went to his concerts to find out if that would be his final performance. Thunders liked to mix drugs like heroin with expensive cognac. Those fans, ambulance chasers if I ever saw any, were there to see him carried away. On the other camp, of which my friend Les Wiseman and I were proud members, the expectation always was that no matter how drunk or out of it Thunders might be he would often play brilliantly, perhaps for a few minutes. This short brilliance exceeded that of others showing off with long guitar solos.

Art Bergman was no Thunders and in most of the times I ever saw and heard him he was brilliance and virtuosity from beginning to end.

A few years ago he came to town from his home near Calgary for a concert at the old Richards on Richards. Alas we had to content ourselves with just Bergmann’s singing. He was much too ravaged by arthritis and a terrible back to hold a guitar and even attempt to play it.

This time around I am happy to report Bergmann will be playing his guitar. We can all guarantee that even if he is not up to par (that arthritis) the brilliance and passion will compensate for it.

But better still I have more wonderful news to report. Supposing we could find a Bergmann double, a virtuoso doppelganger, a man, a younger version of Bergmann, a man who can communicate with his double in the same language, what would you say?

That man I have been told by others and by the doppelganger himself is Stephen Drake. In the years that I have photographed Drake and heard him play I may have been to blind in my memory of Bergmann to notice similarities.

But I have found out that the rehearsals for Monday’s concert featuring Kevin Lucks on bass, Adam Drake (Stephen’s brother) on drums plus Bergmann and Stephen Drake on guitars are of a solid band that may not have been able to play in a larger venue like the Commodore as there are no like bands that could play with what must now be considered one super band.

I have also heard a persistent rumour that one of Bergmann’s most popular early songs, Hawaii is on the play list. Most will consider this a catchy, quick punk rock song that features the f-word and which no radio station of the time could play (is that the case still?).

But to me the song Hawaii of which I wrote about  here is the quintessential Vancouver song and Bergmann got it right. If there is another Vancouver song I do not know what it could possibly be.

Back to the doppelganger, Stephen Drake, who according to bassist Kevin Lucks (Brilliant Orange) is at his highest playing standard should help keep Bergmann on the right track.

When I first met Stephen Drake and his brother Adam (who is playing drums on Monday) they were The Works, that band that played with Gary Cramer. The combination was billed as Gary Cramer and the Works. A little know fact is that Gary Cramer’s previous band, Brain Damage had a song, Eat Your Brain in which the lyrics were written by a then unknown man called George Bowering.

Both Les Wiseman, who wrote his In One Ear rock column for many years for Vancouver Magazine thought this one of the best bands ever.

I could have never know that as I was raw and an amateur in the appreciation of rock music. I had to go along with Wiseman to interview Gary Cramer and the Works as I was instructed to take a photograph for the article. You can see the sequence of five pictures and how the one I pick to enlarge was the very one that appeared in the magazine. To be frank I was new in the game and I really did not know what I was doing.

I have photographed all manner of band in studios and locations. If I were asked which is the picture that is my favourite it has to be this one. There is a promise in their faces; an exuberance in Gary Cramer’s face. Everybody is just perfect. They all moved into place.

Somehow I think that such a perfection of movement into place is in store for those of us lucky to acquire one of the only 250 tickets available for the Monday show.

Still Life
Sunday, June 23, 2013

I never thought I would see the day that I would resort to taking a still life with my camera and or scanner. But here you have an example. In one there is a framed pseudo Daguerreotype of a very young Ale (my oldest daughter now in her 40s) in a lovely Mexican gold frame. Then there is that cute, small and most efficient still working Pentax MX with a superb, beautifully corrected 20mm lens, my mother’s antique Sterling silver hand mirror and the little Mexican mask which, alas has broken teeth. My hands or fingers appear in both pictures. 


Previous Posts
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Niño, Niña & Rosa 'Abraham Darby'

A Microcosmos String Quartet Ear Cleaning

Tango para una ciudad

Y tiene medias de mujer

Buenos Aires - la ciudad junto al río inmovil

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2/23/14 - 3/2/14

3/2/14 - 3/9/14

3/9/14 - 3/16/14

3/16/14 - 3/23/14

3/23/14 - 3/30/14

3/30/14 - 4/6/14

4/6/14 - 4/13/14

4/13/14 - 4/20/14

4/20/14 - 4/27/14

4/27/14 - 5/4/14

5/4/14 - 5/11/14

5/11/14 - 5/18/14

5/18/14 - 5/25/14

5/25/14 - 6/1/14

6/1/14 - 6/8/14

6/8/14 - 6/15/14

6/15/14 - 6/22/14

6/22/14 - 6/29/14

6/29/14 - 7/6/14

7/6/14 - 7/13/14

7/13/14 - 7/20/14

7/20/14 - 7/27/14

7/27/14 - 8/3/14

8/3/14 - 8/10/14

8/10/14 - 8/17/14

8/17/14 - 8/24/14

8/24/14 - 8/31/14

8/31/14 - 9/7/14

9/7/14 - 9/14/14

9/14/14 - 9/21/14

9/21/14 - 9/28/14

9/28/14 - 10/5/14

10/5/14 - 10/12/14

10/12/14 - 10/19/14

10/19/14 - 10/26/14

10/26/14 - 11/2/14

11/2/14 - 11/9/14

11/9/14 - 11/16/14

11/16/14 - 11/23/14

11/23/14 - 11/30/14

11/30/14 - 12/7/14

12/7/14 - 12/14/14

12/14/14 - 12/21/14

12/21/14 - 12/28/14

12/28/14 - 1/4/15

1/4/15 - 1/11/15

1/11/15 - 1/18/15

1/18/15 - 1/25/15

1/25/15 - 2/1/15

2/1/15 - 2/8/15

2/8/15 - 2/15/15

2/15/15 - 2/22/15

2/22/15 - 3/1/15

3/1/15 - 3/8/15

3/8/15 - 3/15/15

3/15/15 - 3/22/15

3/22/15 - 3/29/15

3/29/15 - 4/5/15

4/5/15 - 4/12/15

4/12/15 - 4/19/15

4/19/15 - 4/26/15

4/26/15 - 5/3/15

5/3/15 - 5/10/15

5/10/15 - 5/17/15

5/17/15 - 5/24/15

5/24/15 - 5/31/15

5/31/15 - 6/7/15

6/7/15 - 6/14/15

6/14/15 - 6/21/15

6/21/15 - 6/28/15

6/28/15 - 7/5/15

7/5/15 - 7/12/15

7/12/15 - 7/19/15

7/19/15 - 7/26/15

7/26/15 - 8/2/15

8/2/15 - 8/9/15

8/9/15 - 8/16/15

8/16/15 - 8/23/15

8/23/15 - 8/30/15

8/30/15 - 9/6/15

9/6/15 - 9/13/15

9/13/15 - 9/20/15

9/20/15 - 9/27/15

9/27/15 - 10/4/15

10/4/15 - 10/11/15

10/18/15 - 10/25/15

10/25/15 - 11/1/15

11/1/15 - 11/8/15

11/8/15 - 11/15/15

11/15/15 - 11/22/15

11/22/15 - 11/29/15

11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17

5/28/17 - 6/4/17

6/4/17 - 6/11/17

6/11/17 - 6/18/17

6/18/17 - 6/25/17

6/25/17 - 7/2/17

7/2/17 - 7/9/17

7/9/17 - 7/16/17

7/16/17 - 7/23/17

7/23/17 - 7/30/17

7/30/17 - 8/6/17

8/6/17 - 8/13/17

8/13/17 - 8/20/17

8/20/17 - 8/27/17

8/27/17 - 9/3/17

9/3/17 - 9/10/17

9/10/17 - 9/17/17

9/17/17 - 9/24/17

9/24/17 - 10/1/17

10/1/17 - 10/8/17

10/8/17 - 10/15/17

10/15/17 - 10/22/17

10/22/17 - 10/29/17

10/29/17 - 11/5/17

11/5/17 - 11/12/17

11/12/17 - 11/19/17

11/19/17 - 11/26/17

11/26/17 - 12/3/17

12/3/17 - 12/10/17

12/10/17 - 12/17/17

12/17/17 - 12/24/17

12/24/17 - 12/31/17

12/31/17 - 1/7/18

1/7/18 - 1/14/18

1/14/18 - 1/21/18

1/21/18 - 1/28/18

1/28/18 - 2/4/18

2/4/18 - 2/11/18

2/11/18 - 2/18/18

2/18/18 - 2/25/18

2/25/18 - 3/4/18

3/4/18 - 3/11/18

3/11/18 - 3/18/18

3/18/18 - 3/25/18

3/25/18 - 4/1/18

4/1/18 - 4/8/18

4/8/18 - 4/15/18

4/15/18 - 4/22/18

4/22/18 - 4/29/18

4/29/18 - 5/6/18

5/6/18 - 5/13/18

5/13/18 - 5/20/18

5/20/18 - 5/27/18

5/27/18 - 6/3/18

6/3/18 - 6/10/18

6/10/18 - 6/17/18

6/17/18 - 6/24/18

6/24/18 - 7/1/18

7/1/18 - 7/8/18

7/8/18 - 7/15/18

7/15/18 - 7/22/18

7/22/18 - 7/29/18

7/29/18 - 8/5/18

8/5/18 - 8/12/18

8/12/18 - 8/19/18

8/19/18 - 8/26/18

8/26/18 - 9/2/18

9/2/18 - 9/9/18

9/9/18 - 9/16/18

9/16/18 - 9/23/18

9/23/18 - 9/30/18

9/30/18 - 10/7/18

10/7/18 - 10/14/18

10/14/18 - 10/21/18