PEI

Stage fight: How the actors of Kronborg learned to duel

Until two weeks ago, Aaron Hastelow had never picked up a sword. Acting, singing and dancing were part of his repertoire, but sword fighting — not so much. 

'I was positive I was going to poke somebody's eye out'

Aaron Hastelow and Gray Monczka are shown during rehearsals of one of their fights scenes for the Confederation Centre's production of Kronborg — The Hamlet Rock Musical.  (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Until two weeks ago, Aaron Hastelow had never picked up a sword. 

Acting, singing and dancing were already in his repertoire. But sword fighting — not so much. 

Over the next month, Hastelow will have to pull off several choreographed sword fights every week, in front of a live audience. 

I was terrified … I was positive I was going to poke somebody's eye out.- Aaron Hastelow

His new skills will be essential as he steps into the lead role of Hamlet in the musical retelling of Shakespeare's tale of love and revenge, in the Confederation Centre's performance of Kronborg — The Hamlet Rock Musical

Gray Monczka plays the role of Laertes opposite Hamlet.

The show premiered in 1974 and later became the first Canadian musical to play on Broadway.

How to wield a sword

"I was terrified … I was positive I was going to poke somebody's eye out," Hastelow said. "I had never really fought before, let alone in front of an audience."

The swords are real. They are sharp and pointy as one would expect.

Learning how to wield a sword in a way that is safe, yet deceivingly dangerous, is much like learning to speak a new language, said Brittany Banks, the production's fight captain. 

The key is not to poke your partner in the eye. 

Over the next month, Aaron Hastelow will have to pull off several choreographed sword fights every week, in front of a live audience.  (Tom Steepe/CBC)

'Stage fencing'

"Gray and Aaron are fantastic dancers and they're extremely musical so it was astonishing to watch them pick up the sword fighting so quickly," she said.

Banks, along with Anita Nittoly, the production's fight instructor, has worked for the past couple of weeks to get the cast prepared. 

Together, they taught the actors stage fencing. Learning how to duel required about 20 hours of rigorous training, Banks said.

The sword fighting, the movements have sort of become … muscle memory.- Aaron Hastelow

No room for improvisations

In addition, about an hour before the curtain goes up for each performance, the cast rehearses four specific moments in the show, including the production's climax, where Hamlet and Laertes engage in a fight to the death. 

There's no room for improvisation, Banks said. The choreography is important to the safety of the cast. 

Brittany Banks has been helping to get the cast ready. (Sam Juric/CBC)

Curtain call

Hastelow said building trust between the actors is also crucial to making sure things don't go awry.  

"In the beginning we didn't have the connection that we've built up over the past couple of weeks," he said, "The sword fighting, the movements have sort of become … muscle memory."

While the work days have been long, Hastelow said, he's now looking forward to the curtain rising and performing in front of an audience.

The production runs until July 20 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. 

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About the Author

Sam Juric

Web Writer

Sam Juric is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. and can be reached at samantha.juric@cbc.ca.

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