We’re delighted to have Dr. Nicholas Harrison return to Bard on the Beach for his 16th season as our Fight Director. As a young boy, Nic saw a little movie called Star Wars, an event that would change the rest of his life. Here’s his story on how he became a Fight Director and the opportunities and challenges of this season’s plays.
I endured horrific abuse as a child by teachers and other students. One particular night when I was walking home from skating I was jumped in an alley and came very close to losing my life. I was only 11 years old at the time. When I recovered from that beating my parents enrolled me in karate classes, and it was then that I started my path towards being a fight director. I studied karate, hapkido, aikido and kendo (with a year of wing chun kung fu thrown in). Kendo was the art that I loved most and I ended up competing professionally on the British Kendo team. I competed in various English venues and in Zurich where I ended up ranking in the top 10. Kendo is essentially Japanese fencing. I loved it. I wanted to do it as a child when I had learned that kendo was the base for the lightsaber fights in the original Star Wars trilogy.
I went to England to study acting at the London Academy and fell in love with stage combat. My instructors were the husband and wife team of Roy and Angela Goodall. They supported and encouraged me to stay on with stage combat. I was able to do some workshops with amazing fight directors such as William Hobbs and Mike Loades. I earned my proficiency in fight directing while I was living there. When I came to Canada I didn’t know anyone in the community. I worked as a server at Earls until I finally landed a role in Highlander and worked with Bob Anderson (the man who choreographed the fights in Star Wars and The Princess Bride). I did a lot of small scale stuff around town as well. In 1998 Christopher Gaze called me and asked to borrow a sword for a photo shoot of Bard’s production of Richard III in which he was to play the title role. It was the same sword that Kenneth Branagh used in Henry V (I got it off swordsmith Alan Meek). Ironically, I was then asked to do the fights that season for only that season but I’ve been there ever since, except for 2009 when I was recovering from a leg injury as the result of a film stunt gone wrong.
The most challenging fight has been in Hamlet this year. In 2005 we had done Hamlet in a modern setting under the guidance of Dean Paul Gibson; it was set up as a modern fencing match. Kim Collier’s production was very similar in so many ways. The play of swords was different in that we did end up using small swords and daggers (though in the text it states ‘rapier and dagger’). Jonathon Young and Todd Thomson worked on that fight with me almost every rehearsal. I also was fortunate to have the assistance of David McCormick, a fight instructor with FDC and at Academie Duello. This was lucky for me because I had been in a five-car accident in January and my left shoulder is still recovering and since Todd is left handed, it was fortunate to have an able bodied instructor assisting me.
David and I put together the fight with Jonathon and Todd, and though the specific target areas are numbered for learning and notating fights, Todd and Jonathon remembered the phrases by naming them. For example, one quick exchange they call “ZZ top”, then they have another named “round and round”, etc. Fighters have done this for ages. As long as it helps them remember the tricky sequences. The other plays, such as Twelfth Night, are less intense but also tricky. Comedic fights may also be potentially more dangerous. It all comes down to timing and some broad acting to sell the comedy of the fights.
In the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage tent it is more about the danger of crushing fingers in the trap doors, and realistic slapping. A simple stage slap can have disastrous consequences if executed too hard, or in the wrong place!
For more on Nic’s path to becoming a Fight Director, read his remarkable story Unleashing the Jedi Within: Reclaiming a Stolen Childhood Through the Power of the Force here.
And to see the impressive results of his work with Todd and Jonathon, see our performance of Hamlet!