The second part of the audition was more interesting but perhaps less fun than the first few hours. Those of us who remained were split up into groups, and we were taught a lengthy stage fighting combination.
One of us was supposed to portray Peter Quill, or, as I knew him, six-pack Chris Pratt from Guardians of the Galaxy. The other person was supposed to be Quinn’s former mentor turned bad guy. I actually still don’t know who this is, even though this is the character I portrayed, but I’d like to think he was the sort of person to wear an eye patch? I could google it, but eh.
They taught us about four moves at a time, and then we had time to rehearse with our partner. I was far less information at any given time than I would have received at a dance audition. I had no problem picking up the movement or memorizing the pattern – I doubt any trained dancer would have struggled with this, though.
Unfortunately, I am not trained in stage combat. So when we had a movement like a supposed knee to the chest, I wasn’t aware, for example, that the correct technique for this movement was to meet your knee to the bottom of your partner’s rib on his side (and of course he’s supposed to act like he’s getting kneed in the stomach – just like in dance, it’s your job to make your partner look good).
One of the teachers had to come over and yell at me a few times. Being the product of some old school ballet teacher-student-power dynamic, I wasn’t really phased. He kept yelling that I needed to show off my technique. I knew it wouldn’t have been appropriate to tell him hey man, this is my first day here and my partner’s suggestion was to actually knee him gently in the stomach, so I’m doing my best but that wouldn’t have helped anything nor would it have been news to him.
Even though they only taught about four moves at a time, they ended up teaching a lengthy combo. I would occasionally get confused at which chunk went where, as I am also prone to do in normal dance class, but they gave us so much time to practice that I figured it out.
They gave us a LOT of time to work. I wonder if this is because these other people aren’t so used to picking up movement quickly, or if we were just supposed to practice over and over. It was an unusually long time to the point where you’d get fatigued from practicing those four moves over and over, and there was a lot of time to over think things. I honestly think I would have benefited from less time to work.
Another aspect of stage fighting technique that I lack is the stage choke. To make it look like you’re choking someone, in this combo, we were to push them hard against the collar bone then slide our hands up to this jaw so it looked like we had their neck but we didn’t. Again, the teacher had to spend awhile
yelling teaching me how to do this, since they didn’t really go through it in depth in the demo. I wish I had a chance to watch another girl do it, because the way your hands have to overlap around their jaw without touching their throat looks really easy when you have big hands. My fingers were spread as much as I could get them and I still couldn’t get both sides of this dude’s jaw.
Otherwise, the movement was about what I expected. Punching through just next to their head, bringing up a forearm to block, that sort of thing. Exaggerated dancing.
I’ve been told more than once that I’m a bit of a violent dancer – what can I say, I like to thrash – but it was genuinely difficult to put my hand on someone as if I was harming them. All my training has gone against this. No doubt that it was fun, but walking that line between enough power and too much was definitely toed.
The reactive movement was fun, but eventually it was exhausting. If you had to pretend like you got punched in the face, you would throw your head back and twist your body away – just like any head-initiated move. Reacting to blows were all just exercises in initiating movement from a specific body part. Those were fun, but I did have the worst case of the DOMS/whiplash the next two days.
I thought it was interesting the way they demonstrated the fight. They stood in the middle of the room, did it a few times, and sent us off to work. I wondered if I would have been able to pick up the movement if I wasn’t a dancer. My partner kept getting confused, and he would try to do my parts or tell me that I was doing the wrong thing.
I hate to sound nasty, but my partner was pretty much the worst. He had no personal sense of accountability. Like, listen dude, I am a godddamned expert at memorizing movement patterns. I know that I’m Not-Peter. I do this part. I don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do, but I know exactly what I’m supposed to do (maybe my punching isn’t perfect, for example, but I knew that I had to punch with my right hand across his body, that sort of thing).
He had done the stunt school the three weeks prior, so I was sort of surprised at the way he acted. I mentioned the knee-to-stomach move earlier and how he wanted me to actually knee him in the stomach. I was like, look, I know that I’m no expert in stage combat. But I’m preeeeeeeeettttttty sure you’re not supposed to actually hit your partner, even if your body is coming in contact. It’s creating an illusion, following trace forms, and reacting. Of course, he didn’t trust me, maybe because I was a little too graceful to be taken seriously (not saying stunt people aren’t graceful – but this dude had obviously formed an impression of me).
He was the same way with the choking bit. He said I should just put my hands on his throat, which I knew wasn’t right even before the teacher came over.
That hyper-masculine attitude is detrimental in not only amateur stage combat, but in dance, and you see it in dance all the time. On one hand, yeah, if you accidentally get hit by your partner, don’t milk it and be a baby. But it’s literally not efficient to cause physical harm to someone. It’s not healthy for their body or their performing career, and it’s not an efficient way to move. Yet this dude kept insisting I be rough with him rather than helping me create the illusion that I was being rough with him.
This hyper-masculine complex brings to mind another anecdote. Once, long long ago, in a partnering class at an intensive in some far away state, we were doing pas de deux material. We were trying to do that shoulder lift. I think most people at this modern intensive were uncomfortable with this concept, as it was strength based rather than physics, pelvis-beneath-pelvis based. One of the girls in class was a bit larger and there was no way in hell her short partner would have been able to lift her like this. I had lifted this girl before, but by using my entire body in modern dance ways. There was no way my petite friend could muscle up this girl.
So our male teacher – he was lovely and knew a lot but was certainly NOT equipped to teach a partnering class – says that he can lift anyone in the room. He gets down on a knee and tries to lift the girl.
I think we all felt horrible for her. It wasn’t her fault. It was this stupid teacher who had a real ego problem.
So the hyper-masculine complex is no good for anyone, in any context. In this audition, it prevented us from actually figuring out how to STAGE fight rather than softly-but-actually fight.
Back to the audition.
After practicing this lengthy sequence – which my partner said was longer than anything he’d ever done before, and which was about standard length in dance combo context – we had to do it one pair at a time in front of the Marvel people. They filmed it to show to the main casting director, so we also had to introduce ourselves. I tried really hard to sound normal.
It was really fun to watch everyone fight. Like with dance, people take the same material and manage to make it their own. They would use bits of dialogue or change up the way they paced around each other, prepping for the next section to create suspense. I had to stop watching as we got closer to our numbers, though, because I didn’t want to forget the combo.
Our turn went okay. I felt generally fine with it. By this point, I was grunting and yelling like the best of them, and I was comfortable with most of the material. I did a good job at getting thrown and even threw my partner so hard that his contact lens popped out, as did one of his safety pins. I felt good about that.
I wasn’t expecting to get on to the last round, but I was comfortable with how quickly I’d picked up this new form of movement.
However, my partner kept muttering to me all the mistakes I made after we went. I lost my patience pretty quick after that and told him to cut it out and ignored him the rest of the time. How fucking rude. For one thing, he made plenty of mistakes himself. For another, why the hell would you do that? You’re supposed to support your partner, not gloat at your own superiority. He kept saying that I forgot the last roll – I finally told him that I did roll, I even rolled twice, because he was so slow to remember to charge at me.
I am grateful for my dance training in situations like this. In dance, you’re trained to take too much responsibility for yourself to the point that dancers are often quick to beat themselves up over simple mistakes. Dancers are taught to work well in groups, to nicely point out flaws during the rehearsal process rather than after a show when it’s too late. Dancers are generally taught to be supportive of their group, because we all have a responsibility to the group.
It was very obvious that this guy felt no responsibility toward me. From what I could tell, he had done the stunt intensive but prior to that his only movement experience was working out and taking kickboxing classes.
Anyway, after everyone went, they cut a lot more people, and both my partner and I were among that group. By that point, I was annoyed with him, tired, and ready for lunch – since I’d been there about four hours by that point – so I wasn’t too upset. I am pretty sure my partner blamed me, but he was really no prize himself.
The owner of the gymnastics place caught me on my way out. He had helped train the main Marvel teacher, and he asked me about myself and where I was from. I told him I’d never done this sort of thing before. I know, he said, but you picked it up fast and you’d have a good shot at this again if you trained for it. He told me I should look into getting trained for stunt work, and I thanked him. I tried to see if he approached anyone else leaving, but he didn’t that I could see. Of course, he probably just wanted me as a personal client, but it was still nice.
All in all, even though my partner was hella lame, I had a great time. I really enjoyed stage fighting, and some of the technique I got a peek at were really interesting. If I wasn’t so into dance, I think I’d like to be a stunt person. If I have the chance to get trained, I’ll go for it, but I’m not going to give it priority over dance. I’d advise violent-thrasher-type modern dancers to go for one of these auditions if it’s nearby, or to try stunt work if you’re at all interested.