Fight Call: Like a beautiful little dance


A classic ice cream parlorEverybody in theatre has personal rituals that they follow. Actors, individually and as a group, have warm-up exercises that they follow religiously.  I have pre-show routines that help me feel confident that all the speakers are powered up and that all the critical sound cues are operational.  And then there are the rituals of setting up wireless mics, attaching them to actors and making sure they sound the same as they did the day before.

Looking back at the previous season at MMAS, one of the most intriguing rituals I was introduced to is the Fight Call.  The term fight call comes from the ritual of pre-performance run-throughs of elaborate choreography involved with staged fight scenes. This is now a common practice in many productions.  There always seems to be one or two scenes that involve elaborate physical movements, sometimes with props, sometimes with dialogue and/or singing.  The actors involved go through the scene each night as part of their warm-up ritual.  I had the pleasure of being directly involved in a fight call for the first time as part of our production of Our Town.

Our director (Adam Joy) wanted to use a large number of realistic sound cues to enhance the often-mimed actions of the actors.  During a pre-production review, many of the ideas that I thought were “obvious” candidates (bacon and eggs in a skillet was a particular favorite) were not of interest to the director.  But interestingly,  one sequence that I never even envisioned from reading the script became a critical part of my work on the show and was my personal introduction to the magic of the fight call.  There is a beautiful scene where Emily Webb and George Gibbs pledge their undying love while sitting at the counter of an ice cream parlor.  The actress playing the stage manager (Dori Bryan-Ployer), who in this scene becomes the shop owner, turned the making of a pair of ice cream sodas into an amazing bit of choreography.  To make this mimed sequence believable, the two of us needed to get the timing of all the little mimed details perfectly synchronized.  This became our nightly fight call.

Our Town scriptThe detailed “ice cream soda” sequence:

  • Hinged counter open/close
  • Water in glass on/off
  • Water glass on counter
  • Glasses on counter
  • 2 scoops ice cream / into glass #1
  • 2 scoops ice cream / into glass #2
  • Pump syrup into glass #1
  • Add seltzer
  • Pump syrup into glass #2
  • Add seltzer
  • Shake sprinkles on top of glass #1
  • Shake sprinkles on top of glass #2
  • Place soda glasses on counter, in front of actors

 

Audience loved this scene and actually applauded during several performances.  Months later,  I continue to look back fondly at this particular collaboration, not only for the final outcome but for the original creation and for my first real experience with our nightly fight call.

I would love to hear from you regarding your own experiences and observations about fight calls.

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