All female theater group, Babes with Blades has one goal, to expand opportunities for women in stage combat. With their latest show, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, director Brian LaDuca and fight designer Libby Beyreis bring their expertise and intensity to bear on a classic.
Our Town Why set the production in late 19th century Italy?
Brian LaDuca This was a volatile time in Italy, with industry becoming a dramatically strong presence [as Italy moved] towards super power status. In addition, the clergy was on watch because their power was becoming less. Finally, since industry was showing itself to be more influential than in prior years, artillery was becoming more advanced, thus pushing the sword to more of an ornamental piece. Both the handgun and the sword were negotiating the future. This shift is something we are focusing on because it [relates] to the Babes mission of hand to hand combat.
OT What unique attributes does BWB bring to this much-produced show?
BL Obviously the all female casting provides a unique creative structure. I looked at it [as] a way to humanize the characters; each character is a human with characteristics that any living person can embody. In addition, BWB brings a stage combat education that is invaluable. As a director, knowing that at any time a physical confrontation can leap off the stage with a skilled fight is priceless.
OT Speaking of stage combat, Libby, what's the most challenging aspect for the designer?
Libby Beyreis The design of the set can restrict the space available for fighting. The costumes can restrict actors' movements. The script tells us what kinds of things the characters would and wouldn't do, and the actors themselves might be limited by their level of experience. The challenge, then, is to build an exciting fight within [that] context.
OT And the actors?
LB [Actors have] got to rehearse a fight dozens if not hundreds of times to get it into muscle memory, and always have to be mindful not only of choreography, but of surroundings and [their] partner. You’re also fighting at top speed, often with heavy, dangerous weapons. It is mentally and physically exhausting.
OT How is working with an all-female cast unique?
LB I find that how actors take to stage combat doesn't follow gender lines. I've worked with both women and men who were fierce and fearless; and I've worked with both women and men who were uncomfortable with even the pretense of hurting another person.
BL I have never looked at [the all female cast] as a 'handcuff.” Each character is a human with conditions that are not strictly man, woman, black or white.
OT Does gender play any role?
AL One of the aspects of design that's really interesting is how audiences respond to gender. For example, if a man and a woman are fighting, it's hard for the man to come out looking good. If the man's supposed to be the good guy and win the fight, we have to figure out a way to tell a story where he's not just beating up a helpless woman. Or, if two women are fighting each other, some audiences will go straight to "cat fight.” For a show like R&J, that's the last thing we want, so the design and execution of the choreography has to tap into the high stakes present for these characters.
OT Brian, what’s your favorite R&J moment?
BL “Oh, Happy Dagger,” especially in our production. But Capulet's attack on Juliet when she turns down the marriage to Paris is full of ferocity that I love and truly fits my intense aesthetic as a director and creator.
OT Speaking of intensity, Libby, any tried and true moves that always wow an audience?
LB People remember the story and the characters, not individual moves, or if they do remember individual moves, it's because of the story [told] with those moves. A well-executed, strongly acted, simple, short fight is often a lot more effective than a flashy production number
Romeo and Juliet runs March 28th through APril 30th. To learn more, visit http://www.babeswithblades.org
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Our Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez