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Louisville play combines conflict with storytelling

An actor holds a shield, preparing to block the sword of another actor jumping toward her.
Breya Jones
Making the cast of "To Battle" feel comfortable with fighting scenes is a large of the production. Rehearsals slot out time for actors to run through their fights and build trust with one another.

"To Battle” takes audiences on the quest of two friends as they journey through their town, discovering adventure along the way.

“To Battle” writer José Pérez IV calls the production a fight play.

Pérez, who also serves as the play’s intimacy and fight director, was inspired by musical theater, particularly how the genre allows for actors to show off many talents.

“I always felt that there is room in American theater for a genre of theater that shows off actor combatants, the stage combat skills that we have and that we diligently train towards,” Pérez said. “I’ve also always just been obsessed with fights and became a fight director pretty early on in my theater training. And so I wanted to make the sort of theater that I want to see in the world.”

The play brought Dara Jade Tiller, who plays Nat, back to stage combat.

“The first show I ever did I was hired as an actor combatant. And I kind of abandoned it,” Tiller said.

Later she worked with Pérez in an Actors Theater of Louisville production that involved combat.

“In a roundabout way, I'm coming back from where I've started. My bones are much older, but the basis of my training is still there,” Tiller said. “And really, catching my muscles back up with training as an actor, because a large part of stage combat is telling the story.”

“To Battle” features several different combat styles. Fights range from silly to serious; some include weapons, while others are hand to hand.

As the fight and intimacy director, Pérez has to choreograph the fights while ensuring all participants are comfortable with what’s happening.

“Consent is really important, and especially working piece by piece when it comes to physical contact, especially any sort of rigorous or intense physical contact,” Pérez said.

For example, when talking through scenes that involve impact—like a stomach punch—Pérez has actors work through several levels of intensity to ensure no one takes too hard of a hit.

Building trust between the cast and crew has been paramount to ensuring actors—whether they are seasoned combat actors or new to the genre—are comfortable with one another.

“I really like that we have steps to make sure that we're always comfortable,” said Adama Abramson, who plays Jo. “We're always building our trust with each other.”

Vic Leon plays Squall in “To Battle.” He said Pérez’s diligence helped him feel comfortable continuing with the production after a prop hit him in combat.

“José [Pérez] did a debrief about sort of what went wrong there, you know, and evaluating it from both sides, between me and my partner,” Leon said. “It's just learning from your mistakes, so they don't happen again, or they're less likely to happen again, because mistakes can happen anytime.”

Both Leon and Abramson became more comfortable with stage combat as the production progressed.

“I feel trust and confidence in myself, because your mind can convince you of anything,” Abramson said. “But when you experience it in your body, you know, ‘Oh, I can do this thing.’”

Creating a space where people can feel comfortable is a goal of the production and of Louisville Hivemind Artist Collective [LouHive], the organization producing “To Battle.”

LouHive is a new artist collective, and “To Battle” is its first production.

Jessica De La Rosa, one of LouHive's founders, is directing “To Battle.”

“I want this community to look on that stage and see there is a place for them,” said De La Rosa. “We have a rich arts community that is committed to telling stories that are important, and we're not gatekeeping that. We want everyone to be a part of it.”

“To Battle” runs April 25-27 at the Lincoln Performing Arts School Black Box Theatre.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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