Jan. 25, 2012
Stage combat director, former Northwest student shares experiences with theater students
Northwest Missouri State University theater students on Jan. 23-24 learned the performance arts of pulling hair, strangling, throwing punches, dragging someone across a floor and even dying from a man who has taught television, film and Broadway actors for nearly a decade.
Brad Lemons, a stage combat director based in New York and a former Northwest student, visited the University Monday and Tuesday to share his experiences and techniques with theater students in a variety of courses. He also worked in rehearsals with cast members of Northwest’s upcoming production of “Oklahoma!”
No Northwest students were harmed in the process of Lemons’ instruction. They did, however, gain valuable insight into the role their bodies and movements can play in generating emotions from an audience. In his teaching, Lemons takes an objective-based approach that emphasizes creating story and character-driven fights rather than teaching standard combat techniques.
“It’s a lot easier than people think it is,” Lemons said. “We’re just play-fighting. It’s about acting. It’s about telling good stories. It’s about having clear and specific objectives. I think it’s also about working together, working with the other people in the scene and the other person you’re fighting against to make the scene work.”
While teaching fight choreography to a master class of students Tuesday afternoon, Lemons emphasized the importance of collaborating with a fight partner. Lemons demonstrated the use of distance, timing and especially eye contact as the foundations to making a fight exciting and dramatic.
By the end of the class period, Lemons had the students tying together movements to form a complete fight scene. While the scenes might have appeared intricately choreographed to an audience, Lemons noted they could be broken down to a series of simple movements, or what he calls events.
“There’s a lot of event in my fights as opposed to flashy choreography,” Lemons said. “The more intricate the choreography, the more it’s bound to be forgotten. What I try to do is keep the moves simple, but I try to come up with interesting ideas of what are good events. Things get hit here, or this happens here. Somebody gets hit in the face with an object. I’m moving action specifically in one way or another so the audience is responding to the overall thing. They’re not seeing the individual moves, they’re seeing a whole framework of movement.”
Lemons’ approach also helps students build a positive self-image, face fears about how their bodies move and achieve their highest potential. In a theater movement class Tuesday morning, Lemons used the simple cartwheel – an ‘actor-batic’ move, he says – as a way of teaching the students to overcome physical fears and take control of their bodies.
“You have to be able to use your body and express your body as an actor,” Lemons said. “All I do is expound on that idea and eventually it becomes a cartwheel. They’re not thinking of doing a cartwheel, they’re thinking purely of doing an acting exercise. They realize it’s not them. It’s not a physical handicap they have. It’s a mental thing that has been put upon them, and they just need to take control of it and do it.”
Northwest students took Lemons’ message to heart and said they appreciated hearing the perspective of a professional working in the theater industry.
“It made me feel good about myself,” Helen Strotman, a sophomore theater performance major from Lincoln, Neb., said after the theater movement class. “It’s nice to take it to a different perspective, and it’s giving us an opportunity to be more well-rounded.”
A native of Sioux City, Iowa, Lemons attended Northwest from 1996 to 1997 before moving to New York, where he studied at the prestigious Circle in the Square Theatre School. With Tony Award-winning stage fight director B.H. Barry as his mentor, Lemons found his niche in teaching stage combat.
“His approach to fighting was exactly the way I needed to work as an actor, and it just clicked with me,” Lemons said. “I was a very physical actor and I understood it. It was one of those things where I connected to the approach, finding the objective, telling the story physically and then adding all the detail.”
Today, Lemons’ credits include working with actors and performers such as Susan Lucci, Dan Lauria, Placido Domingo and Conan O’Brien as well as productions of Broadway’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and TV’s “Law and Order.”
By believing in themselves and staying focused on their objectives, Northwest students can achieve their goals, Lemons said. But it takes hard work, too.
“The world is out there for them,” he said. “It’s difficult and it takes hard work, but it is possible. Being in Maryville is not the limitation. It’s the beginning of a longer road. It’s a good place to learn. It’s a good place to get that sense of what the possibilities are and to know that if they really want to do it, they really can do it. They just have to work at it.”
Lemons’ visit was paid for, in part, by the Fulsom Endowment, which provides funding for Northwest to bring theater professionals to the campus.
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