WOOD RIVER JCT. — While rehearsing for the spring production of the musical “Newsies,” Chariho senior Kaine Young, who plays the lead role of newsboy Jack Kelly, enlisted some help from professional actor and stage combat instructor Michael Liebhauser.
“Michael and I worked together one-on-one … for about two hours last Thursday,” Young said. “He taught me the basics and we went over the fights that I had already started making and now I’ve taught everybody their fights and now he’s come to help everybody with their stuff and make it look better.”
In addition to preparing himself for a physically demanding role, Young is learning stage combat choreography as the independent study component of his senior year. He will present his project to a panel at the end of the school year.
Standing on the stage at the middle school auditorium waiting for the class to begin, Young described stage combat as choreographed fighting that appeared realistic but didn’t hurt anybody.
“My independent study started at the beginning of the second semester but I started it a little early, because for 'Newsies,' I’m in charge of the fight choreography," he said. "I started a little early so I’m not worried about time and I really know what I’m doing.”
There are a couple of fight scenes in Newsies, including one involving several actors. Liebhauser said he hoped that after the class, the actors would be able to perform them safely as well as credibly.
Liebhauser, a Providence-based actor and stage combat choreographer, has performed with The Gamm Theatre company and in other productions. “My hope is to give a really broad introduction to the work and to the basic principles of stage combat,” he said. “But more specifically, I’m here for this production, to help make sure that these fights are safe and being done in a way that is going to keep everyone good and protected.”
Liebhauser’s lesson began with a squat-intensive warm-up that elicited groans from many of the actors. Then it was time to learn the fundamentals of stage fighting.
Liebhauser asked one of the actors to volunteer for the introductory demonstration.
“One of the most important things we’re going to deal with is distance, distance and line,” he told the actors. “Imagine that there’s a box and that box extends infinitely in every direction. That is the line of his body. Distance, in terms of stage combat, is pretty much the length of the weapon, plus 6 inches … Unless I do something really dumb, like take a step forward, there’s no way, as I swing, that I will impact this person.”
Rebecca Burns, Chariho High School Theatre Company director and English teacher, said well-choreographed fight scenes were challenging to produce.
“We wanted it to be as realistic as possible, to have actual stage combat choreography to make it look like there’s actual fighting going on on stage and having certain newsies battling certain police officers, so the story would be as clear as possible, and just so the production was as professional as we could make it,” she said.
"Newsies" will be presented on May 3, 4 and 5 ninth middle school auditorium.