As a general principle, I don’t report on what I observe in an LCT rehearsal room. But as I spent some time in one of them the other day, watching Vince Oddo work with the five-member cast, I decided to relax my rule.
Oddo, an expert in various methods of stage fighting, had been brought in to work with the actors of The Royale on boxing. First, he had them loosen up by bouncing side-to-side around the rehearsal room’s boxing ring. Then he instructed them in proper footwork, stressing the need to keep the feet just-so so that they didn’t cross perilously.
Next, Oddo had the cast face a wall-wide mirror and throw punches. As he did so, I was interested in the language he used to describe techniques for various kinds of punches.
Later, I asked Oddo about his method. “I like to use imagery when I’m teaching,” he said. “If somebody has never boxed, you don’t want to get too technical. So instead I say: When you thrust your arm out, imagine you are holding a glass of beer and then pouring the beer on the counter. The result is that people are throwing a hook without thinking that they’re throwing a hook.”
Oddo’s fight training started while working on a BFA in musical theater at SUNY/Fredonia, in upstate New York. “I wasn’t drawn to dance, but I wanted to find something kinetic I could connect to.”
Oddo found what he needed by working with Ted Sharon, currently an associate professor and the Head of Performance at the school. “I trained with Ted in all regular aspects of combat,” Oddo said. “We also did work in more specialized styles, like Filipino knife fighting.”
Oddo got more concertedly into boxing before he auditioned for the musical version of Rocky, which ran on Broadway in 2014. “My wife gave me boxing lessons for Christmas,” Oddo said. “So I trained with Trevor Sambrano, in Los Angeles.”
Learning boxing vocabulary helped Oddo when he landed a place in the Rocky ensemble and became understudy to the title role. “I was the fight captain,” Oddo said. “I would run boxing rehearsals between performances on two-show days.”
Oddo was also the fight captain the following year on the Broadway musical Amazing Grace. “That was a different kind of violence,” Oddo said. “It involved hand-to-hand combat – swords, knives, chains.”
As for The Royale, Oddo isn’t training cast members McKinley Belcher III and Khris Davis, who play boxers, to be professionals in the sport. “What I tried to do was to teach them how to feel more present as boxers. It will be partly up to them and partly up to the production to create the sounds and pictures that suggest fighting for the stage.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.