As it turns out, modern dance gives you a lot of useful tools in a stage combat audition.
The risk + physicality of modern/contemporary dance made the transition easy. I wasn’t too surprised – after all, I chose to get into this style when I learned I could get really really good at falling.
So when I heard about an audition to be a stunt person in a live, touring superhero show, I was all over that. I’ve even written a former post on here about why I love to dance – it’s because it makes me feel like a superhero, flying through the air, throwing people, lifting others and getting lifted, falling, dive rolling. And so on.
The audition was held in a gymnastics facility. With the olympics fresh in my mind, I was intimidated as I walked in and inhaled the scent of chalk and sweaty feet. There were perhaps fifty or sixty people in total, and we stood in line, got a number and gave our headshot. Our height was measured and then they took photos of us, one face and one body shot. Then they had about ten ipads set up where we had to enter all of our personal information as well as getting to list any skills we had.
On the list, we were able to check boxes that included
- Stage Fighting
- Fire breathing
- Weapon work (swords, nun-chucks, etc.)
- Wire work/Aerial experience
- High falls
Being able to fall gracefully from my standing height wasn’t seeming so impressive anymore. In the “other” category I typed that I was a modern/contemporary dancer specializing in floor work and high risk partnering because I think that’s true.
We were sent to one of the sprung mats to warm up. I met a few nice people, but only two of them were dancers. Over in another corner was a large group of gymnasts, presumably who attended that gymnastics facility. They were doing backbends and other extreme demonstrations of flexibility. I stuck to my own yoga warm up. Warming up on a carpeted surface felt weird.
The Marvel people came in and explained a little about the show, and then they warmed us up with a quick jog and some jumping jacks. It was easy and meant to intimidate the people who weren’t in shape, I think, because there was nothing somatic about it, or anything that actually prepared us for what was to come. They split us up over a few of the mats and showed us some shoulder rolls and some dive rolls they wanted to see.
This was a sprung gymnastics floor. It was like being on a trampoline. I’m used to doing those same shoulder rolls/dive rolls on a non-sprung marley floor. Piece of cake. It was very easy and more fun on the trampoline-like floor. I was having a good time.
They had us grab a parter and practice throwing them, just by grabbing them around the shoulders and throwing. I had the time of my life being thrown. This was the point at which most of the people started to utilize sound effects.
And by utilizing sound effects, I mean screaming in agony when they were thrown. It was all acting, trying to give the illusion that we were in an actual fight, but it was still disconcerting to me, but also hilarious.
Having been trained to exhale and NOT make any noise when dancing, even when doing a dive roll or being thrown, I couldn’t get myself to yell or grunt at this point. The teachers kept yelling that we needed to be in performance mode, but I told myself that my first goal was going to be to 1. not injure myself and 2. to pick up and do the movement well.
After a few rounds of this, with our same partner, we had to grab their arm, twist it in a karate sort of way, and then flip them. I was much better at being flipped than flipping. This was also where I learned that I could flip onto my back with ease. Again, thank you trampoline-floor. You were the real star here.
We were then split up again and had to spread out, and we were taught a few punch-jab-kick combinations. This was where I finally started to yell, because it felt more natural. When we were told to return to our “fighting stance” at the end of each combo, I found it very similar to the west coast second position squat that I like to talk about. Thank you NWDP for getting my pelvis/spine under control.
I was sweating profusely at this point, but I wasn’t tired. There was no air conditioning in there, and I always sweat like a man, so I wasn’t too worried. One of the Marvel people told us that if we were sweating a lot already, this probably wasn’t the right job for us. To that I say that I get pit stains when I’m sitting stationary at a desk, writing with too hard a fervor, or when we’re still in the warm up portion of a yoga or dance class. Listen here, Marvel-man – I just sweat a lot. My body is hella efficient at cooling off. My exhaustion level rarely correlates with how much I sweat.
That’s not important, though.
Up until this point, we were all moving at the same time, and the Marvel people were walking around us, observing. The main instructor told me “great” when he saw me fall onto my back at one point, when we were supposed to pretend we’d just been kicked or something, and we weren’t supposed to reach back with our hands to catch ourselves. Piece. of. Cake.
They gave us a water break and cut about half of the people. They cut all the gymnasts and one of the dancers I’d talked to, which was surprising to me. I was still there, though.
I made more small talk as they divided us up again, and found that the vast majority of the remaining potential superheroes were all students at the stunt school that had just wrapped up the day before. One of the guys told me there were only about four people there not from the stunt school.
So I was feeling good about myself. Sweaty, but good. This was a whole new adventure.
Part II to come.