Theater can be entertaining, surprising, and even gut-wrenching—but to be successful, all performances have to be believable. Meet Geoffrey Kent, one of the Denver Center Theatre Company’s primary fight directors, who orchestrates the swordplay and gun battles onstage.
How much rehearsing does it take to stage a fight?
It depends on the skill set, but more often than not, if I do a one-minute sword fight, it probably took 20 to 30 hours of rehearsal.
Theater is live and mishaps happen. How do you prepare the actors to handle those?
Prop malfunctions are one of many things we think about when choreographing a scene—a gun not firing or a sword breaking in the middle of a fight. In Richard III, we always made sure a soldier died right away and laid there with a sword in his belt, so if there was a problem there was a sword right there. If the gun doesn’t go, there’s always a recorded gunshot.
You stage sword fights, fist fights, murders. Do you have a favorite?
I like swashbuckling—that piratelike, cinematic movie style that was popularized from 1920 to 1950, but you still see it in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean today. Swashbuckling was invented by Hollywood. It’s designed to be acted, it’s designed to go fast, it’s designed to be easy, and it has a sense of humor to it.
Do movies impact your work?
I prolifically watch movies. It’s one of my largest deductions on my taxes. Even though I primarily do stage, it’s a way to communicate with my directors and actors: “This is a Jackie Chan–style fight.” “This is Errol Flynn swashbuckling.” I don’t steal the choreography, but I steal the emotions, the style, the images, the feel.
Have you studied the forms of combat you stage?
All fight directors study other stuff. I study martial arts. You don’t push someone and he just falls down. Where’s his point of balance? It’s a challenge to remain as limber and as fit as the actors whom I’m asking to do things, because there’s nothing worse than a fight director who says, “Roll over that table,” but can’t show you.
You’re also an actor. Do you enjoy being onstage as much as behind the scenes?
I still like fighting onstage. It’s the coolest [thing] ever. You’re like a five-year-old. I have a big grin on my face the entire time.