This week, I had one of the best part time jobs in the world... teaching stage combat to a bunch of kids in a summer program. I had done it last summer and like last summer it was challenging and fun and over waaay too fast.
Eleven kids, eight to twelve years old and five three hour sessions, to give them some knowledge of stage combat and physical comedy.
They were total kids... silly, spastic, charming, needy, unbelievably creative, completely exhausting. Awkward, beautiful, fragile, clumsy, glorious kids.
The first day of the session I asked them to write their names on pieces of paper, so that i could take mugshots of them and hopefully get some idea of their personalities and imaginations. Best idea I've had in a while...
I had kids who knew each other, kids who hung out together, kids who'd never met before. It's amazing how fast they make friends with each other. I came in that first day and started tossing around some basketballs, hoping they might play. I shouldn't have worried...
Just five days. just fifteen hours. Much less if you take out the non-negotiables, like the final performance and "recess" and "snack" (what kind of word is that?). Not much time to build an ensemble that will have something to show off to the folks with on friday morning!
We did some theatre games... sound and body balls... there was that awkwardness that comes from wanting to have fun, but not wanting to stand out, which usually results in crashing the exercise. Or sometimes they wanted to stand out by hijacking the game or by checking out of it all together. All you can do is change tactics fast so you don't let everything turn into a struggle that someone has to win (and try to remember what tactics worked for which kid!).
They loved to learn to slap, were a little uncoordinated when napping against there own body, some were directionally challenged (well... if she hits you THIS way, why does your head go in the OTHER direction?) But they really liked pulling hair!
But nothing, NOTHING, is better than wacking your friend with a sword, even one mocked up out of pvc pipe and duct tape! When they got their swords , these kids became superstars!
We had a brief scare... I turned my head for a moment and came back around to find a boy with a piece of tooth in his hand and a different smile on his face. No blood though! The kid who hit him was crying first. Then the kid with the tooth lost it! Well, the damage was done, there was no injury to treat, so I had him sit down and watch me teach the others the basic sword drill. After a few moments, I turned the drill over to my assistant and asked the boy is he'd like to try it with me. He got up raised his sword and got down to business, memorizing the combo in a flash and seemingly forgetting the accident.
The next morning he came in running with a smile (still chipped) and he went to work. I paired the kids together and had them come up with Pirate names and a scenario that would lead to a swordfight. I told them someone could die, they could decide who... just tell me a story!
It was amazing... knights, pirates, wenches, rastafarians, a silent ninja fought a chatty samurai and my wounded warrior turned into Errol Flynn, somersaulting into the scene and finishing his opponent with a figure-eight flourish,
After "Snack", it was hand to hand scenes... Fighting pizza men, pigeons at war, some guy beating up his talking walrus because it wouldn't do the dishes... really. if you were the world's only talking walrus, would you take a position as some guy's housekeeper? The creativity was flowing and all i could to was try and focus it! They wrote their own scenes, cast extras if they had to and went for it. It was a struggle, but I did get the talking walrus to ditch the light saber (it was mimed). Some things are just too much of a stretch, y'know?
The last morning arrived, we had a dress rehearsal... one run through in the gym. The scenes were solid. A few adjustments to blocking, a few dozen reminders that just because you're not in the scene doesn't mean that no one can hear you... Then we hit the stage... they were great... not perfect... but alive and up there without a net. They threw their slaps and almost all went in the right directions. they forgot their props and kept going, they screwed up blocking and made it work! They found laughs no one expected, especially me. Fighting pigeons, dueling knights, a talking walrus. Who knew?