From the costume shop, to hair and makeup, set designers to stage directors, it’s pretty well known that there are many people behind the singers of an opera that make a production possible. We’d like to introduce one behind-the-scenes role that you may not be as familiar with – a fight director.
Prince of Players has two specific scenes that involve punching, kicking and theatrical suffocating, so we enlisted the expertise of local fight director Christopher Elst. We sat down with Mr. Elst to learn more about the responsibilities of a fight director and to discover how he was involved in Prince of Players.
Florentine: Explain the role of a fight director.
Elst: With any theatrical performance art, the goal is to create a clear and affecting story. The best way to do that is to make the rehearsal and performance spaces a place where the artists feel safe to take risks. So, safety creates story. A fight director provides the specific skills needed to use the natural instincts of the actors to choreograph a scene that affects the audience, while also being able to anticipate problems that might arise to make the process feel unsafe or seem unrealistic.
Florentine: How did you become interested in this career?
Elst: It all started in high school with a Madrigal Dinner where I was one of the fencing fighters. During college, I had my first opportunity to work as a performance fight instructor. At this point, I was realized my training was pretty limited, so I started pursing it more professionally.
Florentine: What kind of education or training did you go through to become a fight director?
Elst: I am a Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors, an Associate Instructor with Dueling Arts International, and an Apprentice Intimacy Director with Intimacy Directors International. All of these represent about 15 years of professional training in learning techniques and how to teach them effectively to others.
Florentine: What scenes are you working on in Prince of Players?
Elst: In one scene, Kynaston is attacked by a couple of ruffians, so I worked with the cast to choreograph some grappling, punches, falls and blood effects. In another, Kynaston and Margaret Hughes are performing the Desdemona death scene in Othello, with a modern sense of realism. I worked with Keith Phares and Kate Royal on how to share weight and create a believable suffocation effect. I also helped with general utility grabbing and holding to ensure that everyone felt comfortable.
Florentine: What other performing arts organizations have you worked with recently?
Elst: This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on several productions at Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre and In the Heights at the Milwaukee Rep. All said, my fight direction credits are around 15 for 2018. I was also recently asked to renew my role as fight director for From Here to Eternity, a new musical with lyrics by Sir Tim Rice, as it is presented to be brought to Broadway.
See the fight scenes of Mr. Elst in person! Purchase your Prince of Players tickets today! Call 414-291-5700 ext. 224 or buy online here.