The Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy held a two-part workshop in stage and screen combat this past weekend. Taught by Galway McCullough, the art form - and it is indeed an art - is, in the words of the teacher, “telling a seemingly violent story safely.”
McCullough was assisted by Andrew Kenneth Moss. Both men traveled to the Basie from New York, where they instruct and direct for Combat Incorporated. The organization’s motto is fight without fear, but the first lesson McCullough imparts is safety above all things.
“Safety,” he said. “Is our primary concern and story telling is right after that. We are magicians of violence.”
The first part of the workshop, designed for male and female actors alike, taught the basic techniques of safe unarmed hand-to-hand combat. Incorporating basic strikes, falls, slaps, chokes and hair-pulls. The second day’s focus was on stage combat within written text, utilizing choreographed moves. The workshop included separate classes for kids and adults, but McCullough acknowledged that age is a general criteria for the level of instruction that is taught. Attention span and aptitude are the guides he uses for deciding who learns what.
“If I'm working with super sharp kids who are focused and really want to learn then we might actually cover the same ground in the same amount of time as with adults,” he said. “The speed at which I teach is always dictated by my students.”
In line with the school’s current Shakespearience theme, McCullough’s workshops also included a study of the bard’s work. As part of the Performing Arts Academy’s 10 year anniversary, the school is celebrating by honoring and examining the work of William Shakespeare.
McCullough’s instruction included a dissection of the language and textual features of the First Folio Shakespeare. He said within textual anomalies and misspellings of Shakespeare’s first “printing,” there are clues to how the playwright wanted his actors to pronounce and deliver their dialogue.
Many of Shakespeare’s works include a fair amount of full-bodied physical direction, as well as choreographed stage fighting. For that reason, McCollough suggests it is an essential aptitude that an actor must learn and hone in order to be employable as a Shakespearean actor.
McCullough, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, had his most notable (to date) stage appearance in Caligula, playing Andre de Shields, at the Classical Theatre of Harlem. He received Certification with Recommendation from the Society of American Fight Directors in 1992 and 1993. In 1993 he also was awarded the Best Male Actor Combatant Award at the National Stage Combat Workshop. He was recently decapitated at the end of a sword fight in a film featured at the Cannes Film Festival.
McCullough teaches, choreographs and performs wherever his next gig takes him. Last fall he choreographed the fights for a North Plainfield High School play for Violence Prevention Week. His most recent stunt coordinator work was performed and shot in Little Falls, Berkeley Heights and Watchung. Last summer he taught a week-long workshop in Vermont. He’s performed fights in tours all over the United States.
For more information regarding the Performing Arts Academy’s on-going workshops go to: http://www.countbasietheatre.org/education.
To learn more about Combat Incorporated check them out on the web at: www.combatinc.com.