Fight director helps cast of 'I Hate Hamlet' battle it out

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 30, 2013 

  • WHAT: "I Hate Hamlet"

  • WHEN: Feb. 5-24

  • WHERE: Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Hilton Head Island

  • COST: $44 for adults; $31 for children ages 4-15

  • DETAILS: ww.artshhi.com.

The sound of clanking swords, shuffling feet and the distant voices of three men can be heard down the hall from a darkened rehearsal space inside the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.

Inside the small, sparsely decorated room, actors James Donadio and Ethan Saks, stars of the arts center's upcoming production of "I Hate Hamlet," jab at each other with blunted rapiers, counting aloud as Rick Sordelet studies them carefully from a distance, his arms folded.

As the play's fight director, Sordelet has the task of safely choreographing the fight scene while tweaking the actor's performances.

He must do so as the play's director, Russell Treyz, looks on.

"It's like taking another guy's wife out to lunch," Sordelet quipped. "But I love the process and being in the rehearsal room and helping the actors find the proper pace. If we all do our jobs, it shouldn't look like 'the fight scene.'"

Sordelet, a renowned fight director whose credits include more than 50 Broadway plays and dozens of movies and television shows, was on Hilton Head for three days last week to prep Donadio and Saks for the Feb. 5 opening of 'I Hate Hamlet.' The comedy, about a down-on-his-luck sitcom star who moves into a New York apartment haunted by its former tenant, the legendary Shakespearean actor John Barrymore, runs through Feb. 25.

Sordelet's work is a careful mix of drama and fencing. Footwork and targeting are key and words such as "supination," and "parry" are bandied about as the actors learn when and where to swing their swords, synchronizing their movements.

Saks, a New York City native who considered himself a sword-fighting novice before rehearsals began, said working with Sordelet was "lovely."

"Rick is incredibly helpful and wants to work through everything organically," Saks said, his cheeks pink and still slightly sweaty from hours of rehearsal. "The stage direction in the play is fairly descriptive, so learning the actual swordfighthing from Rick has been a fairly simple thing to do."

Although the actors weren't swinging heavy, razor-sharp broadswords at one another, the risk of injury to the actors if the scene goes awry is no less real, said Donadio, who is portraying Barrymore and is an accomplished fight director and collegiate fencer.

"In these scenes, the two actors onstage have to look like they're fighting each other, but they are really teammates in the fight," Donadio said. "You're working together, and there are moments in the scene where you kind of look at each other and say, 'Are you OK? Yeah, I'm OK. Alright, let's go.'"

As they prepared to break for lunch, the actors worked on a scene in which Donadio must whack his co-star in the chest with the small sword, causing Saks to writhe in pain and crawl across the stage.

After running through the few scenes a few times, Sordelet gently suggested that the young actor ham it up a little.

"I want to believe that you really got hurt," he said. "I want the audience to think you may have actually been injured."

And that, in an essence, is what Sordelet's job is all about -- making sure production costs don't include hospital bills.

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