Former student helps Stratford actors get into their fight scenes

It takes an army of artists working year-round to stage one of the world’s premier theatre showcases, wrote the National Post July 28. Each Wednesday in this space for the next four weeks, we go behind the scenes at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to document the journey from page to stage here and on our new theatre site, Today Katherine Laidlaw talks with Peter Pan’s fight director Simon Fon about what qualities make for compelling onstage fisticuffs.

Fon says last year the festival worked with just one fight director and an assistant. This year, the festival’s artistic director Des McAnuff upped the fight squad to three directors and three assistants, allowing Fon to take on challenges such as the case of the rapier, or double-sword fights that Hook and Pan perform aboard the ship, four swords flicking between them. “I’d never seen [that fight] done before,” he said. “And I thought it would be a great little addition to Hook’s character. He’s got this attachment where he gets to hold two cigars at the same time. So I thought, OK, this is a guy who’s refined. He’s evil, but he’s a refined evil. He’s a gentlemanly evil. He wouldn’t just fight with a hook. He’d have an array of weapons that he could choose from.”

Weeks of rehearsals start off slowly, Fon says. He tries to be encouraging to the actors with less fighting experience, to feel out each performer and see where their strengths lie, a skill the 43-year-old knows first-hand from studying acting at York University years ago. He often films them, giving the tape to the actor for practice later. “Michael Therriault never did a swordfight before this production. He gets his notes from a run. He books himself a room that night and goes through all his notes, so it’s in his body and it’s done the next day. Every day,” he said.

Artistic journey begins at home

Stephanie Nicolo (BFA Spec. Hons. ’09) plans to tour the world, wrote the Aurora Banner July 27. Armed with a fine arts degree from York University, she wants to experience the treatment of art in many different cultures. Add to that a budding career as curator and, one day, the 23-year-old hopes to further raise the ‘art show’ to ‘art’.

“The process of curation is an art form itself,” the Aurora native says. “I want to see art wherever and however it is presented, whether in a gallery or on the streets.”

Nicolo is starting her journey right here in town. Hired through a 2010 Summer Experience Grant from the Ministry of Culture, she is helping with shows at the Aurora Cultural Centre. She helped prepare Points of View, featuring works by the Aurora Collective Artists.