Friday, June 24, 2011

Figment Festival Review

So Figment Festival happened and Hit the Mat was there! It was an interesting experience in which we tried a few things, learned a few things, and proved a few things.

For various reasons, On Friday I was at the event on my own. I led mini workshops in which I instructed participants in a few basic grappling moves and then got them to build very short scenes incorporating these moves. On Saturday, we were able to do one performance of a couple of scenes, and then the rains came and we left before the mats got wet.

Sunday was a better day. The weather held out, and the sun came out. Simon, Faye, John, and Kittie, were on hand to perform and assist in the workshopping all day. We found people with varying degrees of physical skill and experience and were almost universally able to get them to learn the same basic moves and put together and improvised scene. The best moment of the day was when two wandering actors who were going about doing Shakespearean sonnets gave it a whirl. We had them alternate lines of their respective sonnets, combined the techniques with their moves, and came up with with a remarkable piece of theater.

Between this and the work we have done up 'till now, I believe we have proven that the techniques of the grappling arts can be used successfully in a theatrical context. The physical proximity of the actors and exertion necessary for the moves encourages a strong emotional delivery. The techniques are applicable to a wide variety of scenarios. The moves can be taught relatively quickly to untrained performers.

We are taking a few weeks of of our workshops while we plan for the future of Hit the Mat. Watch this space for an update real soon.

Videos will also be posted here in the next few days.

Captain Z

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Some Updates and New Discoveries

OK, lotsa stuff has happened to Hit the Mat since the last performance at the Anachronism Steampunk Event at Webster hall.

One performer had decided that he needed to focus on his MMA because he had a fight lined up. A couple of them had changes in their works schedules and could not make rehearsals. A couple hit the “busy season” in their lines of work, a couple joined the renaissance faire, one moved out of town, and a couple have been having personal issues or simply flaked. Put all this together and rehearsals have been a little sparse. However, this has proven to be an opportunity.

The remaining performers have proven to be the rocks of the company, showing up, working hard, and giving me a great foundation on which to build the future of Hit the Mat. It has also led me to put out new casting calls, which have been bringing an interesting collection of new participants.

It has also enabled me to focus on a small number of performers, rather than having to divide my attention among a large number of people. In the past week the new people who have come to our workshops have had almost no grappling experience at all but a lot more dance and theater. This has forced me (I mean that in a good way) to distill the basic grappling training into its most basic element. I am discovering little details about moves I thought I knew as I try to explain them, or have more experienced grapplers explain them, to these new trainees.

The show is changing, too. Whereas the “Drama Club Tag Team Championships” borrowed lines from famous movies and plays, we are now creating new scenes. We are discovering things that probably were taught to me in a writing or acting class somewhere years ago, but the act of discovery really brings it home.

There is more to this concept (grappling as a theatrical art) than simply applying lines to moves and vice versa...but we knew that already, in fact, that was sort of the point. We have to find the “beats” in the scene, where the shift of power occurs between the characters. We have to figure out what the scene says about the relationship between the characters.

Submission grappling is described as a sport of going from “position to submission.” That is exactly what an argument is. Each side attempts to gain a position that will enable them to make the other person submit to their reason, cause, or emotion. Thus, we have chosen to embrace the challenge of finding the moves and sequences of moves that best represent a particular argument.

We have been challenged to find uses of grappling techniques in non-fight scenes. The easiest direction to go from there is comedy, in which the techniques are expressed as accidental engagements between two people. A scene in which two people are trying to change a light bulb has proven to be a small gem of grappling slapstick, incorporating BJJ takedowns and sweeps and pro wrestling lifts.

When creating scenes from scratch through improvisation, we have discovered that an argument is not necessarily about the initial cause of the disagreement, it may be about something deeper in the relationship. It is in the moment where that deeper reason is revealed that there has to be a significant move, or a change in the pace and intensity of the fight (either to step it up or even slow it down or stop it entirely) to signal to the audience the change in the stakes of the scene.

Just yesterday at our rehearsal, two brand new people who never did any grappling in their lives but had plenty of dance and acting experience put together a scene and found, in the techniques, moments when they could use the position in which they found themselves to break the attitude of fighting and express the intention and emotion of their line, and moves that gave the opportunity to justify a line. Specific examples: One actress progresses from takedown to full mount, postures up, gestures to her outfit and says “I am in fashion!” Her scene partner then swept to wind up in full guard saying “last year!” The first actress expresses indignation my pulling her partner’s arm down and swinging her leg in front of her partner’s neck for an attempted gogoplata, and her opponent notices: “Is that my shoe?”

One thing I would also like to try that we have done far too little of is explore the relationships of bodies in time and space ie: groups of people on a stage moving and interacting through grappling techniques. Sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint, perhaps in narrative form, perhaps on a form that is more abstract. Yes, something a lot more like dance.

So we now have one week to go before the Figment Festival. Our presentation will be smaller, tighter, and more original that our previous performances were, and we will be inviting the Figment attendees to join us in learning new grappling moves and creating scenes of their own.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hit the Mat team triumphant at Metrodash!

Yes! We successfully completed all obstacles at the Metrodsh. Here is some video to prove it!

Now on to Figment Festival, June 10-11!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Metrodash Challenge Video

Here's a little promo video I made for the fundraising challenge "Hit the Mat" is running.

See the previous post for details on how to sponsor Captain zorikh and the Hit the Mat team.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Metrodash Challenge!

Hit the Mat is raising funds by seeking sponsors for its' cast members' participation in Metrodash.

Metrodash is a 30-station obstacle course designed by Navy Seals to be run in the Meadowlands, NJ, on Saturday, May 14. The event will benefit the Navy SEAL Foundation.

You can help the Hit The Mat Company by sponsoring one or more of our team members. Simply pledge a certain amount of money per obstacle that they clear, and submit the total within 14 days after the event.

Here's the way it's going to work: Send an e-mail to saying what your sponsorship level will be. You may pledge a certain amount per obstacle or simply a flat amount.

For example:

I would like to sponsor Captain Zorikh's run in "Hit the Mat" for $1 per obstacle."

This would oblige you to pay $30 if I clear all the obstacles. Within 14 days of the event (by May 28) send in your contribution by PayPal or make other arrangements through Captain Zorikh.

Of course you may send in your contribution before the event, in whcih case, if you send $10 or more, you will receive a Hit the Mat T-Shirt.

Thank you for your support!

Hit the Mat at Figment Festival!

Hit the mat will be participating in the Figment Festival on Governor's Island June 10-12, 2011!

More details coming soon!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Anachrosnistic Grappling Performance!

So we were the opening act of the Anachronism Steampunk Event at Webster Hall on Sunday April 10.

We entered with a cast that was shy a few members, for various reasons, so we switched some roles around and shortened the show a bit. We had to eliminate "Hamlet" and "Princess Bride/Buttercup," and "Romeo/Tybalt/Mercutio." Almost every other scene was performed with alternates in at least one role. But since we had been working on these scenes with the alternate performers they came off well, some even better than they had at the Wicked Faire. Of particular note was "Who's on First," which, because of the particular physical skills of the alternate performer, wound up a much more physical scene. The alternate for "On the Waterfront" actually shows potential for an interesting new angle on the scene.

I sang a song before the performance (since the theme of the party was "Return to Candyland," I did my "M&M Song"), and after the performance we held a few challenge matches and exhibitions. The crowd ate the whole thing up. Once again, they cheered and laughed at all the right moments and made us look forward to our next performance at a Steampunk event.

In all, it was a good performance experience to continue building on, and proved the flexibility of the cast and the show, as well as its popularity with the Steampunk world.

Here are the highlights of the performance...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

After Wicked...

...we went right back to work. Drilling of our "routine moves" took a back seat as we started tweaking and tuning our scenes.

The cast was kind enough to give me their thoughts about the show. There were ideas about the order of the scenes, costumes, and potential future performance venues. Many of these ideas will be enacted upon and all will be considered.

I submitted the show to several comic book conventions and arts festivals. I have not heard any confirms yet, except for the Anachronism Steampunk event at Webster Hall on Sunday, April 3.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wicked Faire Premiere

On the weekend of February 19-20, we had the “sneak premiere” of “Hit the Mat” at Jeff Mach’s Wicked Faire.

Through the course of the rehearsals, the show evolved into what I have come to call “The Drama Club Tag Team Championships.” Members of the cast had submitted scenes from plays and movies, and we choreographed grappling routines into them. The idea was to have, as much as possible, the meanings and intentions behind each line expressed by the moves.

We got to the event bright and early. So early, in fact, that nobody at the event who knew what was going on was available. When we got things sorted out, it turned out that they had put in a small conference room, one the size of a standard small hotel room. Far too small to perform in. They were nice enough to work with me, though, and found us a spot in the lobby under a stairway where we could set up and be busy all day. Thus was the “Warriors of Doom Wrestling Corner” established again.

After a run-through, I had lectures and performances to give, and the cast held down the location by holding “challenge matches.” I was able to give a demonstration of “grappling for fun and safety,” and the mats were kept busy almost nonstop. One fellow, who had challenged all three Warriors of Doom two years ago, challenged us again.

Then came time for the show. Technically, it went off without a hitch. It was a no-tech show, using only the house lights and no amplification. The audience was close enough, seated on the floor and standing around us, that lights and sound really weren’t an issue. However ambient noise was. There were other performances going on in the lobby, and the sound of them occasionally blasted over our performance. We soldiered on, though and did the best we could.

As the director of the piece, I saw a million little things that I that can be done better, but the cast threw themselves into the work and the audience was with us every step of the way. They laughed at all the right moments and cheered at the most skillful of the moves. Afterwards, comments from the audience were exactly what I wanted to hear. They enjoyed the show immensely and said that the moves made the scenes more dramatic, more meaningful, even more understandable, especially the Shakespeare.

The next day we found out that we had to move our performance location. We were given a nice big room and moved the mats into them and set up chairs like a real performance space. We spread the work of our performance and by the time our afternoon show came around, we had a good-sized audience.

This show went even better. Some flubs that had occurred the precious day were fixed, and the pace was better. The morale was high and we concluded the weekend with a very good feeling.

Part of what made the shows so successful was the fact that Armond Cecere had brought his mats for us to use. We were able to lay them down, doubled up, which gave us a nice padded surface to fall down on. Sadly, it seems that the promotional photos, videos, T-shirts, and other stuff that he had brought to sell disappeared out of his bag before we left!

Having seen the show twice, there are a few things I might adjust about it. The order of some of the scenes may be moved around. There is definitely work needed in certain parts of the scenes that are not realizing their full potential. But none of this discounts the amazing fact that in just a couple of months a diverse group of people, with truly diverse levels of skill in the grappling and theatrical arts, was able to realize the idea of making a grappling arts stage show a successful reality.

We had been offered an opportunity to perform again at the Alternative Living Expo near Philadelphia, but between the number of cast members who would not be able to make it, the work that I wanted to do on the show, and other things that occurred that weekend, we passed. There are other events coming up, though, at which we will definitely be performing.

In all, I must say that I am pleased with the start this show has gotten and look forward to where it can go.

Here are some highlights from the shows at Wicked Faire…

Monday, February 28, 2011

Highlight video from Wicked Faire!

Here's of video of highlights from the "sneak premiere" at Wicked Faire!

Full report coming soon!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cast for Hit the Mat

Here's the cast for "The Drama Club Grappling Tag Team Match"...

Referee – Captain Zorikh
Hamlet – Sasha Strenger
Guildenstern – Luis-Miguel Torres
Rozencrantz – Mike Zartman
Wallace – Armond Cecere
Man in Black – Michael McCann
Buttercup – Ginger Baker
Questions 1 – Eric Sobel
Questions 2 – Melvin Glover
Mortician – Ginger Baker
Cart – Michael McCann
Customer – Jacqueline Hart
Dead Person – Jenna Hellmuth
Inigo – Michael McCann
Man in Black – Melvin Glover
Vizzini – Everyone
Lichas – Joy Kelly Smith
Hercules – Armond Cecere
Shirt – Jenna Hellmuth
King Arthur – Melvin Glover
Black Knight – Luis-Miguel Torres
Darth Vader – Mike Zartman
Luke Skywalker – John Loobie
Charlie – Sasha Strenger
Terry – Eric Sobel
Costello – John Loobie
Abbot – Joy Kelly Smith
Tybalt – Michael McCann
Mercutio – Luis-Miguel Torres
Romeo – Simon Munoz

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wicked Faire this weekend!

I'm too busy to say much, just that we will be performing this show at 7:30 PM on Saturday and at 2:30 PM on Sunday in Ares' Playground, the Warriors of Doom Wrestling Room at the Wicked Faire!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hercules and the Shirt

Here was a little something we came up with in rehearsal...

This is part of a story about Hercules. I think we can tweak it a little more, but I am very pleased with how the cast dove into the concept.

Hercules is played by Armond Cecere, Lichas (the narrator) by Joy Kelly, and the shirt is Jenna Hellmuth.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Introductory remarks

Here's the little introduction I gave at the opening of the first casting call ofr "Hit the Mat"...

Wow. My traps look bigger than I imagined them to be...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Overdue Production Report part 2

That Saturday, then, we had a surprisingly light turnout, and so I simply paired up the six people who were there and set them to work on specific scenes in the script. One pair did “Questions” from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” another did a scene between Buttercup and the Man in Black from “The Princess Bride,” and the third pair did a segment of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine.

The “R&G” pair was between a pro wrestler and a middle-aged amateur grappler, both of whom have limited theatrical experience and familiarity with Shakespeare…and none with Stoppard. I set them in the grid and instructed them to find occasions to engage and confront each other. After a few turns of that, I let them incorporate grappling moves into the scene. They came up with a funny and exciting bit of theater, and the more they read through the lines, the more they started to understand the scene. The moves, in fact, started to express the ebb and flow of the scene. Then on a break, I discussed Hamlet, Shakespeare, and “R&G” with the pro wrestler, who had never studied Shakespeare before. They then went back to working on the scene, and came up with a whole new physical interpretation of it. This new version gave new dimension and insight to the scene. It was not all about the grappling, there was use of levels and seemingly random movements that expressed the absurdity of it.

The “Princess Bride” scene became an almost dancelike grappling scene between the two characters. You could feel the emotion, the anger and romance, in the scene in every move.

“Who’s on First” was interesting. I am used to, and expect, and hope for that scene to be done in the rapid-fire, machine gun manner of the original broadcast (which I have on tape and listened to often when growing up). I originally envisioned it as a series of chain wrestling moves punctuated by pro-style throws and slams. Instead, it started with an almost Beckett-like sense of existentialism, and then evolved into a physical expression of confusion and exasperation.

You know, I thought, is there anything truly wrong with re-interpreting Abbot and Costello, like the way we so frequently re-interpret classic theater and opera? Who says that there is only one way to do “Who’s on First” that is entertaining? I have wanted to do that routine as a fight scene for years, and though someone else is acting in it, I am thrilled that they are doing it in a way that I never imagined…and I am even more entertained.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Overdue Production Report

OK, I have been remiss and not filed a production report in a while. So I will review.

Sifu Alex Richter at City Wing Tsun has been awesome enough to give us a good deal on using their studio for rehearsals on Saturday. A BJJ specialist I was hoping would work with us was supposed to come on the past two weeks, but unavoidable situations has kept him away. This has forced me to change the plan for those rehearsals on the fly. However on both occasions, this gave us the opportunity to find some new things I had not imagined.

On the first of these days, certain cast members who had missed a couple of rehearsals were given the opportunity to catch up on the techniques that we had learned, and we were able to add a few more steps. I was then able to see if the whole cast could do the moves in unison. A video of this will be up soon.

We then played a game of “freeze-tag-team-match,” in which the actors were to improvise scenes and combine grappling moves with the dialog. This proved to be a valuable and fun exercise. Thinking of the move and the line at once proved to be a challenge, but a fun challenge.

The following Wednesday we had a read-through. Many of the cast members had submitted scenes from various plays and movies. I assembled them into a sort of script that has come to be known as the “Drama Club Tag Team.” It will be the lead-off scene in the show.

The cast jumped into the lines with encouraging enthusiasm. Some of them seemed unfamiliar with some of the dialog, due to their limited theatrical experience, but none of it seems to be an insurmountable obstacle. It was a good jumping-off spot for the consideration of who will play which role.

We also learned a couple of submission moves from standing and applied them to the grid exercise.

Explanation of that video...

After instructing the cast in certain basic moves of submission grappling and doing grid exercises, I wanted them to get used to the concept of using these moves in some sort of scene. I set them up into pairs and had them come up with short scenes in which they would use the moves to express the intention of what they said. They came up with some pretty entertaining stuff. I especially liked the "jelly donut" scene.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Here's a little video from our first "post casting call" rehearsal...

Explantion coming soon!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Second Casting Call

For the second casting call, a whole bunch of new people showed up, including four women, two MMA fighters, and several new lightsaber enthusiasts (Force bless ‘em). We began like the first one, with warm-ups, rolls and falls, the takedown, and training in the same basic BJJ routine.

Mark Greenfield, founder and creative director of the Faux-Real Theater Co was there. He is the man that got me back into theater about 11 years ago, and who’s version of Oedipus Rex gave me the creative breakthrough I needed to really see how this show could be done.

He led the workshopping of the grid this time, taking it places I had not imagine. In addition to incorporating the takedown, he added different speeds, added salutations, and added what I call the “centipede.” In this, when a player took down another player, that player joined his “army.” Working this in the grid, that led to long lines of “centipedes.” When two leaders faced off, the winner of the takedown would gain the other’s army. On those occasions when two facing actors could not decide who would win, another actor took the initiative of stepping between them and calling odds or evens.

Interestingly, the most experienced MMA fighter, one who professed no theatrical experience, stayed away from the other players until the very last moment, when it was one long centipede against him,. When we talked afterward he said that the point of fighting is always to attack. This is a concept I understand but had not considered making use of. I look forward to his contributions to the show.

At present, the cast is slightly bigger than I think I will have room for at Wicked Faire, but for the most part they are an enthusiastic bunch, and seem to be willing to “rough it” a little bit to do this show there. This is very encouraging.

Promo illustration

Here's an illustration I just completed. It will be the program cover and t-shirt design.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Casting Call notice

For the record, here was the second casting call notice that was send out for "Hit the Mat:"

“Hit the Mat,” a stage show that uses the grappling arts to tell stories and explore the relationships of bodies in motion, seeks 7-10 performers (at least three female and three male) for performances at the Wicked Faire on February 19-20. Casting call will be held on Wednesday, Jan 12 from 8:30 – 10:30 PM at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St, Manhattan.

The casting calls will be workshop-style, including basic grappling instruction.

People with experience in the grappling arts (bjj, submission grappling, freestyle, folkstyle, collegiate, Olympic, and Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu, sambo, aikido, pro wrestling, etc) are encouraged to attend. Beginners with strong movement skills and fearless attitudes are welcome. Free training will be part of the rehearsal process.

Grappling is the fastest growing martial art and combat sport in America today, and forms of wrestling have existed in almost every culture in the history of mankind. This performance seeks to show how the grappling arts are as effective a movement vocabulary for theater arts as any dance or stage combat technique.

The show will be a 30-minute collection of skits connected by various movement study exercises built around the grappling arts. Its premiere will be at a renaissance/fantasy-sci-fi/steampunk convention for ages 16+ at the Doubletree in Somerset, NJ (

Transportation to the event, a small food allowance, and lodging will be provided; profit-sharing and other income-earning opportunities are available in connection with this project. Further performances in the very near future are expected.

Please submit headshot, resume, and related experience.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Casting Call

On Saturday we held the first official “casting call” for “Ht the Mat,” the grappling arts stage show. We had a wonderfully diverse collection of skills, backgrounds, and types, including a pro wrestler, and actress/storyteller, a dancer, three lightsaber enthusiasts, a heavyweight, a BJJ blue belt, and an average guy/actor.

This went better than I expected. Though most of the people there were pretty much beginners, they all took to the instruction I gave them quite well and dove into the improvisational section with enthusiasm.

The format was similar to the workshop held in December. We started with a period of warm-ups and instruction, followed by improves and theater games. This time, there being no grappling expert present and because I had my own idea of how I wanted the cast to be exposed to the techniques, I lead the warm-ups and training.

After some basic and sport-specific calisthenics and stretches, I had them pair up, matching the more experienced ones with the beginners, for the most part. I then guided the attendees through a routine of BJJ moves, from takedown to side mount to full mount to hip/elbow escape etc. The attendees took to it well, considering the diverse level of skill among them.

We then took a break a shifted into the “grid” exercise. This involves the actors moving along an imaginary grid on the floor, forcing them to deal with each other should the happen to come face-to face. I added to this exercise the takedown that we had learned. This added a element of competitiveness to the exercise, and also some humor.

I noticed one person helping another one up after someone else had taken them down. I decided to add that as a choice. I then decided to make two of the actors, a pro wrestler and an experienced theater actress, generals of opposing armies, and gave them the task of recruiting an army. I had in my mind the idea that they would take down the other people and then herd them to their side of the floor, but left to their own devices, they each used distinctively different methods. The wrestler used his charisma and power to attract his soldiers, while the actress used a more supportive, sympathetic approach. Once the sides seemed even and lined up against each other, I set them at war. The forces advanced against each other, engaged in the takedown, and then, without prompting, all but one couple continued with the routine they had learned earlier.

After this we discussed how the actors felt during this exercise, and that gave me some good insight into how further to use the Grid in the show.

Finally, we workshopped a story one of the actors had brought in. This actor is a storyteller who has a story from India about two wrestlers,. This is one of those meandering tall tales, with adventures, animals, and impossible situations, like the throwing of elephants, and old woman carrying two wrestlers in her hands, and a bundle of 4000 camels. We attempted to use grappling moves to act out the story, and had great fun in the process. We ended with a group move to simulate/represent one woman putting her arm around the entire group. I think this piece has potential to use in the show.

One of the most interesting things I noticed was how the dancer's natural movements went counter to much of what we were trying to teach her as a grappler, even such basic things as forward and backward rolls. She had a natural grace and inclination to stretch out the line of her body. After spending some time trying to break through that, I thought that it might be interesting to see how to adapt her natural movements to the physical vocabulary of grappling.

Everybody seemed to have a wonderful time and was on-board with the project. I can’t wait until Wednesday when we will have our second casting call. I expect a bunch of different people and will have Mark Greenfield of the Faux-Real Theater Co. there to help me with part of it.