To fight or not to fight, that is the question. The answer, at least when it comes to A Palpable Hit: Shakespeare Fight Night? Put up thy dukes! The brainchild of local theater vet Daniel Berger-Jones, A Palpable Hit, which plays at the Cambridge YMCA from Nov. 25 through Dec. 11, is an original theatrical experience that pits some of the Bard’s most famous badasses—from Mercutio to Joan of Arc—against one another mano a mano.
For collaborators, Berger-Jones tapped a crew of Boston actors and choreographers, including BU College of Fine Arts’ Movement and Stage Combat prof Angie Jepson, who choreographed the majority of the show’s fight scenes and stars in a couple of skirmishes as well. Jepson, who first found a love for stage combat during her undergraduate studies and made it her focus throughout her MFA acting program at Brandeis, says that the fights audiences will see, while pantomimed, are extremely demanding. “I guarantee you we will all have some sore muscles during this process,” she says.
Any type of choreography is a nuanced business, but combat choreography has an added challenge: making sure the battles look as real as possible without leaving the actors actually bruised and bloodied. To that end, all the brawls in A Palpable Hit are predetermined, though there’s always a margin for the unexpected. “While many safe techniques are incorporated into the choreography, there is still always the potential that something could go wrong and someone could get hurt,” Jepson explains. “For this reason, we run through the fights in a fight call before every performance.”
Jepson turned to past productions for inspiration, particularly ones of Romeo and Juliet, one of her all-time favorite plays. “I’ve acted in Romeo and Juliet four times, and I’ve choreographed the fights for it six times,” she says. “Each time I approach a play again, I have new ideas on what I want to do, based on what I liked, or didn’t, from the previous production. Research of the time period and research about the weapons being used goes into my work as well.”
The fierce fights (some to the death) include matchups between “heavyweights” like Hamlet and Laertes, “welterweights” like Hermia and Helena and “rookies” like Young Siward and Macbeth, but if you ask Jepson, there’s one Shakespearean bruiser who would be most likely to kick butt in a real-life brawl. “Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet,” she says. “I think he is a trained fighter who initiates fights and isn’t afraid to do so. I think [he would have stayed] alive in Romeo and Juliet if it weren’t for an accident that happens within a previous fight.”
On eyeing your target: “If I’m trying to sell that I hit someone in the face, but the path of my arm actually goes over their head, it won’t look right,” Jepson says. “So I teach actors how to look at their target before they execute a move. It is my belief that your hand—or sword—will go where you are looking!”
On taking a punch: “Have a safe distance from your partner so that you don’t actually get hit. Then, you want to watch the path of his/her fist very closely so that you can turn your head at the moment the fist passes your face. The timing of that is crucial in order to sell the move. You then find a place on your body, hidden from the audience, where you can give yourself a small hit to make the sound effect for the move. This is called a knap. Then, you just sell it. Play the pain of what you imagine the impact to feel like!”
On throwing a punch: “Commit to the move by using your whole body. You want to bend your knees, have a wide stance and put all your energy behind the motion of your arm. Add in a sense of aggression and the audience will believe it!”