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Andrew Bryce, foreground, and Anthony Gabriele star in "Don't Dress For Dinner," directed by Carol Hanscom. Performances are at 8 p.m. Oct. 18-19, 25-26 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 27, in the Anderson Center's Chamber Hall.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Freshman fight choreographer assists Theatre production
October 16, 2013Tweet
A conversation between two students in a tap-dancing class provided director Carol Hanscom with the missing ingredient in the Theatre Department’s production of “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”
The 1960’s Paris love-triangle farce, which will be featured on the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall stage at 8 p.m. Oct. 18-19 and Oct. 25-26, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 27, includes plenty of slaps, punches, wrestling and grappling among the six-member cast. In most productions, a “fight choreographer” will assist the cast to ensure that the fisticuffs are done safely and appear realistic. Past choreographers for the Theatre Department, though, had either graduated or moved on.
“I was looking at going into the show without a fight choreographer,” Hanscom said. “It was a scary thought for me. I was worried about the situation.”
Just when the chances of finding a fight choreographer were at their bleakest, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” stage manager Elana Schlossberg found herself talking to a freshman in a tap class they are taking together.
“I asked him: ‘What are you doing here (at Binghamton)?’” said Schlossberg, a junior. “He said that he likes theater and stage combat. A light bulb went off in my head!”
“Stage combat” is something that freshman Nicolas Coccaro is passionate about.
“I grew up in a theater family, so I always had a theatrical background and wanted to be in productions,” said Coccaro, who is from Westchester County. “At the same time, I started doing tae kwon do and martial arts. As I grew up, I saw these intense fight scenes in movies and TV shows. It was such a weird combination of realism and combat and theater and illusion. I thought it was so interesting.”
During his senior year of high school, Coccaro served an internship in New York City with a fight choreographer who worked with a master of stage combat, J. Allen Suddeth. Coccaro spent three to four months developing his skills before designing a dozen fights for a local production.
Schlossberg mentioned her talk with Coccaro to Hanscom, who reached out to the new student and offered him the position.
“This is absolutely not what I was expecting for the semester!” Coccaro said. “I had heard that the (previous) fight director left, so I thought: ‘I guess I won’t be doing that this semester.’” Then I talked with Elana. … It’s been much bigger than I expected it to be.”
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” shows the escapades and shenanigans that transpire when a French couple, their respective lovers and a hired cook spend an evening together. For Coccaro, dealing with physical comedy is much different than traditional stage combat.
“It still has to be real, but it can’t be so heavy that the audience gets drawn in but doesn’t remember that it’s light,” he said. “It has to be real enough to be believable, but still comedic. It’s a farce – it has to be funny. It is two sides getting bigger and bigger and more ridiculous as opposed to playing up to a violent climax.”
Developing that equilibrium and not overacting has been a challenge for the actors in “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”
“It is hard sometimes to find the balance between entertaining for the sake of entertaining and connecting while keeping things truthful,” said Zarina Latypova, who plays Suzanne. “Though it is a farce and people are there for the comedic effect, I think they are in the theater to see the relationships.”
Hanscom called the farce “comedy squared” and said it is a good experience for student actors.
“It is much more physical than normal comedy and there is more emphasis on the situation,” she said. “I thought that ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’ is the kind of show that (students) would get hired for when they are out of school.”
Improving the fight choreography is just as important as developing comedic timing and chemistry, Hanscom said.
“We work on it every night really hard so that it looks good and it is safe for people,” she said. “Hopefully, it will look dangerous, but be safe.”
Coccaro, who plans to earn his fight-master certification next summer from the Society of American Fight Directors, said he is excited about his role with the production.
“It’s hard to come into stage combat and fight choreography without prior experience,” he said. “But everyone is working on it and succeeding. … To be able to help teach, create and perform for people so early in college is amazing to me.”