This post is by TJ Marchbank. Fight Choreographer and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and a brand new Coeurage company member!
As we move into closing weekend of Romeo & Juliet I’ve finally had a chance to sit down, take a deep breath and ask myself the same question friends have asked me, “How the hell did you do it?” Only this time, I finally have the perfect answer to a simple yet extremely difficult question.From the moment Jeremy asked me to play Tybalt, along with doing the fight choreography, numerous wheels in my head began to go rapid. The acting wheels began turning in a way they have been waiting to turn for almost 13 years. I FINALLY get the chance to play Tybalt. A role that I have been longing to play since I was 13. A role that I have pretty much been off book for since I was 16. A role that has been in my grasp so many times, and yet each time the production had failed to happen. So you can imagine my excitement, and maybe even a little doubt, that this time it was real. Knowing the ups and downs of this character for over a decade obviously kept me prepared from day one. However, at times there was difficulty in letting go of who I thought Tybalt was for so many years and allowing myself to make new discoveries. I think, in a way, my anticipation hindered me from making full choices and living inside the character. I would look at other cast members finding so many good moments, whether they be big or small, and it almost made be jealous. Jealous or not, seeing all that beautiful work coming from my fellow actors was inspiring. It opened my eyes and let me see how great this production was going to be, and it drove me to be better. So, I cleared my head and my slate and started fresh. I allowed every line, every movement, every moment be what IT wanted to be. I found more value and growth within Tybalt than I ever had before, by simply being inspired by the people I was sharing the stage with. Listening to the cast was the best research to have, although watching Michael York didn’t hurt either.
The second set of wheels turning in my head were my fight wheels. I get to fulfill a dream role, GREAT, but I also get to choreograph the fights?! Um….YES! I don’t want to speak for all fight choreographers out there, but I think it’s safe to say that “R&J” is on the top of everyone’s “to do” list. At least top five. It’s number three for me, right behind Henry IV, who is second only to Cyrano de Bergerac. As you can imagine I had so many ideas. So many stunning moves that would put everyone on the edge of their seat! Then we began rehearsals, and most of that changed. I didn’t just want to “wow” people. I wanted to create fights based off of the characters. Mercutio doesn’t fight like Tybalt, and Paris doesn’t fight like Romeo. They all came from different backgrounds. Every fight then became about each individual fighting style and they fit together pretty well. First challenge, accepted and conquered.
The next was a little harder. Not all my fighters had training, so along with teaching them the choreography, I had to teach them how to fight in general. At first this worried me, as it would worry anybody, but then week, after week, after week, everyone was improving! Those men, went home every night and worked and worked and worked, and it showed! In 4 weeks time every single one of them was a fighter. They not only knew the choreography, but the specific targets, footwork, they knew how to correct a mistake within the fight without stopping and starting over.
The last challenge was the space. Take it being extremely small already and then add in a few extra small set pieces, and you’ll get a fight choreographers nightmare. Especially, when staging them in my head, the space seemed a lot bigger. However, I didn’t want the fights to lose out on being great and I especially didn’t want everyone’s hard work to go to waste. So I stood there, looking at the space and instead of asking, “What can I do in this space?”, I began making what I wanted out of these fights fit. Come hell or high water, they were going to fit! There were some slight adjustments, but only for the better and at the end of the day they all fit. We created some really great fights, that were completely safe for actors and audience, despite the tiny space. I say “we” because none of that would have been possible without the amazing, hard working fighters in the cast. They were patient, driven, and the best team of fighters anyone could have asked for.
Long story (stories) short, none of this amazing experience would have been possible without the amazing cast I have been privileged to share the stage with and nothing would have even happened if it weren’t for the amazing vision and direction of our fearless leader, Jeremy Lelliot. It will be sad to say goodbye to this show after Sunday’s performance, but I look forward to sharing this experience with my fellow cast mates these three final times, and will always remember the amazing journey we all took part in to create such a phenomenal piece of art. So, how the hell did I do it? With the help and inspiration from my fellow players.