Lincoln Center Theater
 
 
 
Backstage Blog

by Brendan Lemon

Oh, They Remembered: The Actors Reminisce

Jan 2, 2013

'Tis The Season

Dec 14, 2012

Zach Is Back (And Others Are, Too)

Nov 29, 2012

A Russian is in the House

Nov 9, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get There

Nov 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Versus War Horse

Oct 19, 2012

In Demand: Hair and Make-Up

Oct 11, 2012

Three Generations Watch the Show

Sep 28, 2012

Ariel's Back at the Beaumont

Sep 18, 2012

War Horse's Closing: What to Feel?

Sep 7, 2012

The Actors Take a Vacation

Aug 27, 2012

Mister Klein is in the House

Aug 7, 2012

Checking in with Sanjit

Jul 28, 2012

The Parade in the Lobby

Jul 19, 2012

Kings of Infinite Space

Jul 2, 2012

Merv Has Something to Crow About

Jun 21, 2012

War Horse Takes the Field

Jun 15, 2012

Sailors go to War Horse

May 30, 2012

Facing a Student Audience

May 16, 2012

The Man Behind War Horse

May 8, 2012

Anniversaries, First Nights, and Andy Murray

Apr 20, 2012

A Bonnie Blue Easter

Apr 9, 2012

Where are the Women?

Mar 29, 2012

Catching up with David Manis

Mar 26, 2012

What People Really Say Backstage

Mar 8, 2012

The Story of Andrew and Albert

Feb 24, 2012

Bellying Up to the Barr

Feb 15, 2012

The Guy with the Goods

Feb 7, 2012

What the New Billy Does Between Shows

Jan 23, 2012

Some Actors Say Goodbye, Others Say Hello!

Jan 12, 2012

Waiting for the Next Wave

Jan 5, 2012

Greetings, Friends!

Dec 21, 2011

Which Way to War Horse?

Dec 5, 2011

What War Horse Actors Line Up For

Nov 18, 2011

Eleven Eleven: For the USO

Nov 14, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

What They Say in the Returns Line

Oct 26, 2011

The World of Isaac Woofter

Oct 19, 2011

How Elliot Villar Survived His Injury

Oct 11, 2011

WAR HORSE: Reading Suggestions

Sep 28, 2011

Herr Hermann on His German Officer

Sep 22, 2011

September Brings Showers - Of All Kinds

Sep 9, 2011

Richard Crawford Makes Some Thunder

Aug 24, 2011

The Stage Manager Speaks

Aug 15, 2011

"Making War Horse" airs this week on WNET

Aug 8, 2011

Houston is in the House

Jul 28, 2011

WAR HORSE in Summer Attire

Jul 22, 2011

Keeping it Clean with Lynn Bowling

Jul 11, 2011

Ariel Heller Hits the Target

Jun 27, 2011

Alyssa Bresnahan: Life with Mother

Jun 21, 2011

In the Winner's Circle on TONY Night

Jun 13, 2011

Mad About Madeleine

May 27, 2011

Lobby Talk: Audience Members Speak

May 20, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

The Week After Opening

Apr 22, 2011

WAR HORSE on Opening Night

Apr 15, 2011

Is WAR HORSE Sentimental?

Apr 8, 2011

Helping Out a Buddy

Mar 28, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

The First Preview

Mar 17, 2011

Seth Numrich: Boy with a Horse

Mar 7, 2011

What Shall We Call Mr. Millar?

Feb 28, 2011

Can I Bring the Kids?

Feb 18, 2011

New Kids

Feb 10, 2011

Keeping War Horse Moving

Feb 3, 2011

What Happens at Lunchtime

Jan 31, 2011

A Gathering of the Troops

Jan 20, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

The Voyage Begins

Jan 10, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

Thomas Schall is having quite a season. He's worked on four Broadway productions: The Merchant of Venice, A Free Man of Color, War Horse, and The House of Blue Leaves - all as fight director. But if you ask Schall, who is also an actor, to explain what a fight director does, he replies, "It depends on the needs of the play. I'm there to serve the vision of the director."

Such admirable modesty is belied by the vast range of skills that Schall brings to his work. Like any actor who has taken a course in stage combat - Schall's formal training came at Catholic University and at Virginia Commonwealth University - he was educated in broadsword fighting, rapier and dagger, and knife play. If that sounds as if most of his experience is in Elizabethan England, he replies, "One-third or less of my work involves Shakespeare." But it is true, he continues, that "I got my start in a Broadway production of the Scottish play, starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson. That was a pretty complicated experience, to say the least. The original fight director left, and I - I had been fight captain - took over."

Moving forward in the history of weaponry, Schall explained, "A fundamental part of my job involves gunplay. I train actors how to handle firearms." For War Horse, whose mostly young actors had relatively little experience with guns, Schall had to school them in how to fire blanks. "Some people think that blanks offer no real dangers, but there have been cases of actors" - Brandon Lee, Jon-Erik Hexum - "who have been killed by on-set accidents with blanks." Schall added: "Actors have to understand how dangerous the weapons can be." For safety's sake, the War Horse guns are handled in a chain of custody: a specific props person loads the firearms, and passes them to the actors before use. The guns are kept under lock and key otherwise.

The thrust stage of the Beaumont offers additional challenges for a fight director. "You're working with an audience who can see things in a 270-degree surround," Schall said. "That means you have to be especially precise about exactly where an actor is firing a gun. It's a particular challenge to be sure it isn't pointed straight at an audience member. That's rude."

To create maximum effect, Schall said that weaponry onstage must involve more than visual angles. "You are trying to create a visceral impact for the audience, which engages as many senses as possible." As an example, Schall pointed to the moment in War Horse when Ted, the father character played by Boris McGiver, employs a whip. (I won't spoil it by saying on whom.) "The sound preceding the impact is probably more important there than the visual," Schall said.

Schall, who was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, and grew up around the country near naval bases (his father was a Navy pilot), doesn't want to discount visual things entirely, however. "With War Horse, we certainly wanted to make sure that the weapons looked right," Schall said. To that effect, the production's guns are all World-War-One-era vintage weapons retrofitted to fire only blanks.

The British pistols are Webster, and the British rifles are Lee Enfield. The German rifles are Mausers, and the pistols are Lugers.

"We made a great effort with this show to be historically accurate," Schall said.

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.

 

Comments

[1]

  • The British pistols were manufactured by WEBLEY, not WEBSTER

    Chris, May 8, 2011