Speciality time: As a fight director for the past 7 years and have been training in stage combat for about 15 years. I now direct the fighting. I train actors to be safe but also how to use either weapons or throw themselves on the ground safely and do that repeatedly. But I also work with the creative directors, directors, designers about what it is we need to do. Also, the actors and what are their stories are they throwing themselves to the ground for dramatic effect or fighting etc.
Did you always want to get into fight directing?
Not initially, at uni I was training to be an actor and part of that training was stage combat. I met my stage mentor Nigel Poulton who is amazing and he took me under his wing. For me, it is really important for actors to have that training because if they don’t learn those techniques properly, they are often performing those stunts 8 times a week and they will get injuries to knees and hips and arms and even if it’s just a bruise, it’s not good.
Does this apply to film as well?
No. You could be brought on as a specialist, but stunts in film are trained differently and it is a lot more dangerous.
Can you share your fight director training journey?
I met my mentor at uni, and there is a society of stunt Australian directors INC. I am the current president of the society, and we train people who want to become fight directors, as well as the people actually acting of course. I got involved in that really early on when my mentor started training me. I did a lot of training with him both formally and informally, and assisting him with shows and acting schools in movements, and different types of movement.
In 2010, I assisted him at the opera and ballet in the United States which was very cool. The US has a different organisation, and in 2014 and 2015 I went over and did some training with them. It was similar but they do it a tad differently. They also have a big culture for actors to do training in this, whereas in Australia it is more unique. There’s not a lot of us here and we are pretty spread out, we are trying to diversify and get more people involved. Give actors the opportunity to train, and part of the reason I went to the US was to get further training as there is not a lot it here.
Full time, part time or hobby:
I act fairly regularly, but with COVID-19, acting and stunt stuff have frozen a bit. I act in theatre and was supposed to be on tour all year this year, in a very physical version of Animal Farm. It was supposed to do 50 venues around Australian. And also a production of Fantastic Mr Fox. All theatre works. I am hoping this will come back after COVID-19. It’s a big set and big production.
Do you have to travel a lot?
I grew up in Queensland and that’s where I met my mentor, and I get a lot or work out of there. The fight directing stuff is more here. But yes, usually I’m away a lot and that’s the gig, I have almost missed kids births etc. It’s a tough gig and there isn’t a lot of constant work in one spot.
What’s your biggest claim to fame to date?
A few years ago, I did The Graduate with Gerry Hall. She was Mrs Robinson, so she was my big ticket. The most pressure I guess you could say.
What official training did you do?
I did a bachelor of theatre arts at uni in Queensland, with the arts it’s all about experience, so I did lots of workshops with different companies.
In the society, you do a basic certification, then an intermediate one, followed by an advanced one, and then you become a certified instructor and fight director. I did that process. In the US they do it a little bit differently. They have 8 weapons systems you have to train in, and I did 4 of those whilst I was there.
Part of my uni course had voice classes, acting classes and movement classes and all 3 are important, but early on movement stuff appealed to me. I’m really passionate about that because people talk too much, but an audience can pick so much up from just a hand movement. Just simple things. That’s always interested me and then doing the fight training, it tapped into what our bodies are capable of and what we ignore. As a performer everything you do should be a choice not just because it’s a habit you have picked up.
Have you been able to keep the training part going during COVID-19?
My mentor and I have a great relationship, and we have been fencing together a lot. He invited people all over the world to do Tai chi on Zoom during COVID-19 to keep going. It was good to get up every morning and start a ritual.
How has COVID-19 then affected your ability to do your craft?
A lot. My wife is also a dancer. I had 8 months of touring booked and knocked back other gigs. We also produce a tap show she does called ‘Girls On Tap’, we had a tour planned for a month this year. We took it to New York last year and all those dates have been pushed to next year at this stage.
My acting career is on hold for now. Those shows are a large cast, and they need a large audience to break even. The theatres are just losing money. As we are allowed more people back in, unless we can fill the theatre, it will change the landscape. And as long as I have been in theatre people have been trying to do it cheaper anyway. People don’t want to spend $100 on a ticket but that is needed to cover costs. So casts are smaller, crews are smaller, as a fight director people don’t want to budget that in to save costs.
Safety issues mean I can’t really do this through Zoom either. The medium is not what we do. Film and theatre are different like that. I found it hard to think like that. I’m a collaborative artist. I need the collaboration of other artists to do what I do or at least that is what's been my observation, and COVID-19 makes you question... can I do that next year or not? The city has changed. People are moving to regions. People have realised it doesn’t cost as much to live out of the city.
Can you get any government support?
Yes, I can because I’m a sole trader and my wife and I have a creative company. The new changes to JobKeeper though mean you have to prove you work in your business for 20 hours, but how do you prove that when there is no work. It's not really working for those that need it.
Did you feel before COVID-19 that there is a life expectancy on a career in the arts like yours?
Diversification is the only way to be a mid-level artist for a long period of time. Constant work is rare. The amazing thing about the arts is you do always get better and learn new things. My wife is a dancer, is 35 and has two kids, and has had to branch into teaching because she doesn’t want to do the high kicks anymore. So, it’s also about creating pathways for young people as well and using that avenue. It doesn’t mean to leave the arts and get a desk job, you have to just evolve to the stages in life.
Any positives out of lockdown?
Massive positive to be home with the family and enjoy the little kids. The realisation that I don’t create my own things and need to support the industry around me. I have also had to start applying to jobs elsewhere like the bottle shop etc, and studying finance and accounting on the side just in case. The sharp edge of the sword is jobs ask ‘what if the arts get back on track? Will you just leave?’, and I can’t lie, that is my passion and then they don’t call back.
Have you felt that mental health has been an issue during this time?
Really, really anxious and a lot of anxiety, and a lot of drinking early on. I am in a place of privilege as well. I have family that are still working and around to support us. So that part doesn’t worry me. But it does feel like I have been locked away for months. The worry is I will get stuck in something, that at 20 I decided I didn’t want to do. I don’t want to throw it all away out of fear.
If you could ask our country's leaders anything what would it be?
I would ask for acknowledgment. I have sent a lot of emails to my local member since this all started. It costs a lot of money to put on theatre and only certain companies get support. I don’t believe they need to just throw money at the arts, but I think it’s the way it is thrown, some get a lot, but others only get a little bit and it’s not sustainable.
In France for example, an artist who participates in the arts during the year is able to continue the arts and get support. Artists who do say 3 months work are supported financially to keep being in the arts. Here in Australia we don’t acknowledge the arts. There are so many people who work in the arts, but they are contract to contract and job to job. Here they are not supported financially by the government. It's not right because the industry doesn’t work on permanent jobs. Politicians need to recognise them, not just financially, but also bringing it to the foreground with programs and making the arts more thought of in Australia on the whole. We don’t have a lot of money as an industry like sport does. We need politicians to get in and support the arts, like they do to encourage kids to get into sports.
If you had a magic wand what would you do next with your discipline? Where would you take it?
A lot of my discipline is based in western historical martial arts and that’s not Australia, it's about being more Australian centric for fight stuff. Going away from the idea about swords etc but more about teaching actors how to move better.
What are your hopes for the Arts?
Professional arts and community collide more.
I accidentally stabbed my partner during training quite badly one time. But fortunately, 10 years on he is still alive.
I did this show ages ago and it wasn’t famous, but a very memorable moment. It was an improv show play. It was essentially a blind date with another actor you’ve never met until the show etc. 90-minute improvised gig. But it was the scariest and most exhilarating experience. You needed to be entertaining for an audience and it’s not scripted. So scary but great. Shame it wasn’t filmed. There was no faking it, you had to read the audience and the actor opposite you and make it work on the spot.
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