Here’s an excerpt from Ring of Truth: In Studio Theatre’s Sucker Punch, the Sweet Science Is an Art by Chris Klimek
Roy Williams’ script sketches most of its fights lightly, using only few words of stage direction. Not until the climactic bout does the 44-year-old British playwright offer a round-by-round prescription of how goes the war. “Troy lands a strong left hook, followed by a right,” one of them reads. “Leon is breathing heavily.”
Translating that clipped prose into sequences of blows and evasive moves—a pugnacious dance that the play’s stars will perform 42 times for an audience (more, if the show is a hit) and hundreds of times in rehearsals—is the role of the fight director.
It isn’t so much a tough job as it is several. He must build a progression of moves that suits the character and advances the story in a tonally appropriate way. He must tailor those sequences for the space where the play is being staged. If the show has multiple fights, he must make them distinct enough to stave off audience “battle fatigue”. Finally, he must make sure the actors perform the bouts credibly enough to give the audience a pulse-quickening illusion of danger while keeping one another safe.
Despite being a key player on a piece like this one—director Leah C. Gardinerlikens Sucker Punch’s combat quotient to that of one of the fightier Shakespeares—it’s an undervalued profession. There are Tony Awards (and Helen Hayes Awards) for excellence in choreography, sets, costumes, lighting, and sound, but not for fight direction.
That doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, nor does it, unsurprisingly, to Rick Sordelet, who created the fights for Sucker Punch. (I suspect I’m not the first person to point out he has the word “sword” in his name. That’s like being an actor named Javier Motivation.) A trained actor, he earned an MFA from Rutgers University and plied that trade along with fight work before his first big Broadway gig—fight-directing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1993 and 1994—which convinced him to focus full-time on stage combat.
On Mondays, Sordelet teaches stage combat at the Yale School of Drama. He knew David Muse, now Studio’s artistic director, when Muse was a student there, and he did the fights for the director’s Julius Caesar at Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2008.
I’ve written about Rick Sordelet before, so it’s no secret I’d jump at the chance to work with him even though I’ve never met him. I encourage you to read the full article above to better understand the real work of the fight director and the creative decisions of the job.