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.