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.

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