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An Interview With Fight Fest Curator Timothy Haskell

An Interview With Fight Fest Curator Timothy Haskell

by Karen Tortora-Lee on November 24, 2009 · 1 comment

in Brooklyn, Festivals, Interviews, Karen's Interviews, Off-Off-Broadway, Theatre

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Life isn’t all fun and games – every now and then you’ve gotta take a swing at someone … even if it’s only in your mind.  And face it, once you’re off the playground, it usually is all in your mind.  (Take THAT Mister Tourist with your 3 kids and your huge knapsack blocking the subway door!  YES, you CAN transfer for the #2 train at 14th. Now quit asking everyone and get outta my way!)  So what’s a gal to do?  Sure, you can go lose yourself in a movie with a multi-million dollar budget, but when you know all that punching and kicking and brawling is probably being handled by stunt doubles who know how to play to the right camera angles, it’s hard to really feel that emotional satisfaction.  You want to put yourself in a story where you can not only imagine yourself as the hero, sucker punching and bitch slapping your way through Act One, but where you can actually see guys falling to the ground and feel the vibration of it in your seat.  You want to go to a festival that fills the pow-wham-socko void that I know I’ve been feeling.

Well, you’re not the only one.  The Brick Theater, Inc. in association with Art Meets Commerce has heard your silent plea and starting December 1st they will be presenting Fight Fest – a rock ‘em sock ‘em good time that, in some opinions, gives this cheery holiday season exactly what it needs – a place where you can vicariously shake out that punch that’s been rolling up your fist all day.

I got a few minutes from Timothy Haskell — curator of the Festival as well as director of Last Life (which was written by Eric Sanders who gave me a scary good time last winter at The Wendigo).  You may have seen Timothy’s name plastered all over those Nightmare: Vampires posters this past Halloween season.

I couldn’t wait to ask Timothy some questions about what Fight Fest was all about … but first …

KTL: First of all, I just have to tell you that during the last few months, that poster for Nightmare Haunted House scared the hell out of me.  Before we get into Fight Fest, can you tell me a little bit about that project?

TH: Nightmare just completed its sixth year. It started in the LES in 2003 at CSV [The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center] on Suffolk Street. This past season it moved to NOHO at 623 Broadway.  It is a big, theatrical, truly scary Halloween attraction.  40,000 people walked through it this past season.  Every year it is themed differently, this year it was Nightmare Vampires, next year will be Nightmare Superstitions.  It started off as a very small, very theatrical spook house that ran for only 7 days.  It has become increasingly popular and now runs for 37 days from the end of September through the first week of November.  The sets, props and special effects are much more lavish now, but the spirit of it is the same.

KTL: Fight Fest – what a great idea for a festival.  In the past year I’ve gotten a lot of head-shots in the press kits and actors are always featuring “stage combat” prominently on their resumes.  It’s to the point where I look for it first, now —  or when I see 2 people sparring I always think “ahh … Stage Combat”.  Is that what Fight Fest is celebrating?  Or is it really something else totally?

TH: People are incorporating stage combat into their productions more and more now because it adds a level of excitement to the theatre that audiences are craving.  I have always said that most people would rather spend their money on a bad action movie then a good play, so bringing some of those populist ideas to such an intimate setting brings in a  whole new audience that gets excited by such things.  It has become very important for actors to have these skills whether it be for the movies or for the stage, but the fight directors have been largely unrecognized.  These productions don’t exist without them.  This festival in many ways is a celebration of this new, electric, populist theatre that people are very excited about, as well as an opportunity to acknowledge all of the brilliant fight directors who are the driving forces behind them.  I know with my production, the very clever Rod Kinter offers so much more than kicks and punches to  a bunch of fights.  He is telling a story.  Sometimes with humor or sadness, or what have you but it is always incredibly visceral. I couldn’t do it without him, nor could any of these other productions without their fight directors.

last life

KTL: You’re not only the curator of the Festival, but you’re directing one of the productions as well – Last Life (written by Eric Sanders).  So, chicken and egg style – which came first?  Did you want to do the show and then realized you could build a festival around shows like this one?  Or did you decide on the festival and then find Last Life just happen to fit the bill?

TH: Michael Gardner and I have been discussing doing a festival of this nature for a couple of years now. Along with the great folks at Vampire Cowboys we finally said “we are going to do this” and we did.  I decided I wanted to help mount a festival first, but that doesn’t mean that my idea for Last Life didn’t predate it.  I had this show in my head for awhile, but not necessarily to be done in some festival that i was going to produce.  It seemed like the right time to do it, of course, so here it is.

KTL: How hard has it been pulling double duty as curator as well as director?  It sounds like you’d never sleep while getting this all together.

TH: To be honest, this has been a slow burn.  Helping get the word out and building the audience for the fest has been more time consuming as of late of course, but the curating happened at the beginning of the summer, so it has never been too overwhelming.  I am very happy with the shows we have selected and perhaps the most overwhelming thing will be seeing them all because I absolutely plan on doing that.

KTL: Last Life is billed as a “Fightsical”.  First of all – LOVE that.  Just the word alone send rapid fire images through my brain – starting with the rumble in West Side Story.  So one has to ask – is a fightsical a fighting musical?

TH: It’s funny because I coined the phrase a number of years ago when I did Road House.  In fact David Cote from Time Out NY helped me narrow it down (I think I was also thinking brawlpera or brawlsical). at the time no one had really attempted to do a  production with quite so much fighting in it.  There were plays with battles, always have been, but none where the m/o of the production was fisticuffs.  Road House had so many fights in it that it felt like they were cropping up every 5 minutes or so, breaking the dialogue, bridging scenes and characters in very much the same way musical numbers do in a musical.  But in this there is no singing or dancing to be had.  Just bloody noses and broken bones.

Timothy Haskell and Taimak Guarriello (Photo by Ariella Goldstein)

Timothy Haskell and Taimak Guarriello (Photo by Ariella Goldstein)

KTL:  Ahhh.  I see.  Well, when you put it that way, it really makes sense.  So, this fightsical, Last Life,  features Taimak of “The Last Dragon”.  You’ve worked with him on Road House. Did that make him your natural number one choice as fightsical go-to guy?

TH: Not necessarily. I have done several shows since then, most recently with The Jaded Assassin which holds the record for the amount of fight choreography in it (over 50 minutes), but he was just right for this role.  He is very good in these parts, excellent actually, so in that sense I always consider him, but he still has to be right for the part and for his role in Last Life he absolutely is.

KTL: Do you think you’ve hit the wall with the “fightsical” concept … or do you have other mashups inside you that you’re just waiting for the right moment to unleash?

TH: Every time I do one it is completely different.  I am always exploring a different way to tell the story.  This time the style is very real.  This isn’t as much of a comedy as some of the plays I have done in the past.  I am also working with an incredible playwright in Eric Sanders who totally gets what I am trying to do here. This one is brutal and visceral and in-your-face.  We have challenged ourselves to create the realist fights seen on stage, nothing sensationalized.  I think it will prove to be quite shocking. People are ok with cartoonish fighting, and that is what I have mostly done until now, but this is truth in fighting.  No one wins a fight in this play who couldn’t win it in real life and we use that vocabulary to inform the moves.  I don’t always do fight plays. The last play I did was a two-fister, a very serious drama called Stitching. My next play will not be a fight play, either, but even within that genre there are an infinite number of possibilities.

KTL: Last Question – Bonus Round.  It’s an open question – you can tell me anything you want to tell me.  It can be more about Last Life, something about the Festival in general, or you can take this moment to plug your next project or your favorite cause.  The mic is all yours —

TH: I am working on a one-person show called Sex You (I’m Gonna) starring Nathan Phillips opening in January at Norwood.  Come and check it out if you want to see a play I direct with no fighting. But it is still brutal (brutally funny :-))

KTL: Well, I know what a busy man you are, so I really appreciate you giving us a little background on Fight Fest and Last Life.  Thanks for taking some time to answer my questions and good luck with the Festival!

For anyone interested in more information, we’ll be reviewing some of the Fight Fest shows (including Last Life) but you can find out more by checking out the official website for dates and show times.

Hi Timothy,
Thanks so much for being patient.  Here are the interview questions – take as much time as you need to answer them, but ultimately we’d like to get this up before the festival starts.
I appreciate your time, and I look forward to seeing Last Life!
First of all, I just have to tell you that during the last few months, that poster for Nightmare Haunted House scared the hell out of me.  Before we get into Fight Fest, can you tell me a little bit about that project?
Nightmare just completed its sixth year.  it started in the LES in 2003 at CSV on Suffolk Street.  This past season it moved to NOHO at 623 Broadway.  It is a big, theatrical, truly scary halloween attraction.  40,000 people walked through it this past season.  every year it is themed differently, this year it was Nightmare Vampires, next year will be Nightmare Superstitions.  It started off as a very small, very theatrical spook house that ran for only 7 days.  It has become increasingly popular and now runs for 37 days from the end of september through the first week of november.  The sets, props and special effects are much more lavish now, but the spirit of it is the same.
And now, Fight Fest.  First of all, what a great idea for a festival.  In the past year I’ve gotten a lot of headshots in the press kits and actors are always featuring “stage combat” prominently on their resumes.  It’s to the point where I look for it first, now —  or when I see 2 people sparring I always think “ahh … Stage Combat”.  Is that what Fight Fest is celebrating?  Or is it really something else totally?
People are incorporating stage combat into their productions more and more now because it adds a level of excitement to the theatre that audiences are craving.  I have always said that most people would rather spend their money on a bad action movie then a good play, so bringing some of those populist ideas to such an intimate setting brings in a  whole new audience that gets excited by such things.  It has become very important for actors to have these skills whether it be for the movies or for the stage, but the fight directors have been largely unrecognized.  these productions don’t exist without them.  This festival in many ways is a celebration of this new, electric, populist theatre that people are very excited about, as well as an opportunity to acknowledge all of the brilliant fight directors who are the driving forces behind them.  I know with my production, the very clever Rod Kinter offers so much more than kicks and punches to  a bunch of fights.  He is telling a story.  sometimes with humor or sadness, or what have you but it is always incredibly visceral. I couldn’t do it without him, nor could any of these other productions without their fight directors.
You’re not only the curator of the Festival, but you’re directing one of the productions as well – Last Life (written by Eric Sanders).  So, chicken and egg style – which came first?  Did you want to do the show and then realize you could build a festival around shows like this one?  Or did you decide on the festival and then find LAST LIFE just happen to fit the bill?
Michael Gardner and i have been discussing doing a festival of this nature for a couple of years now. Along with the great folks at Vampire Cowboys we finally said “we are going to do this” and we did.  I decided i wanted to help mount a festival first, but that doesn’t mean that my idea for Last Life didn’t predate it.  I had this show in my head for awhile, but not necessarily to be done in some festival that i was going to produce.  It seemed like the right time to do it, of course, so here it is.
How hard has it been pulling double duty as curator as well as director?  It sounds like you’d never sleep while getting this all together.
To be honest, this has been a slow burn.  helping get the word out and building the audience for the fest has been more time consuming as of late of course, but the curating happened at the beginning of the summer, so it has never been too overwhelming.  I am very happy with the shows we have selected and perhaps the most overwhelming thing will be seeing them all because I absolutely plan on doing that.
“Last Life” is billed as a “Fightsical”.  First of all – LOVE that.  Just the word alone send rapid fire images through my brain – starting with the rumble in West Side Story.  So one has to ask – is a fightsical a fighting musical?
Its funny because i coined the phrase a number of years ago when i did Road House.  In fact David Cote from Time Out NY helped me narrow it down (i think i was also thinking brawlpera or brawlsical). at the time no one had really attempted to do a  production with quite so much fighting in it.  there were plays with battles, always have been, but none where the m/o of the production was fisticuffs.  Road House had so many fights in it that it felt like they were cropping up every 5 minutes or so, breaking the dialogue, bridging scenes and characters in very much the same way musical numbers do in a musical.  but this there is no singing or dancing to be had.  just bloody noses and broken bones.
“Last Life” features Taimak of “The Last Dragon”.  You’ve worked with him before on your production of Roadhouse. Was he just your natural number one choice as fightsical go-to guy?
not necessarily. i have done several shows since then, most recently with The Jaded Assassin which holds the record for the amount of fight choreography in it (over 50 minutes), but he was just right for this role.  he is very good in these parts, excellent actually, so in that sense I always consider him, but he still has to be right for the part and for his role in last Life he absolutely is.
Do you think you’ve hit the wall with the “fightsical” concept … or do you have other mashups inside you that you’re just waiting for the right moment to unleash?
every time i do one it is completely different.  I am always exploring a different way to tell the story.  This time the style is very real.  This isn’t as much of a comedy as some of the plays i have done in the past.  I am also working with an incredible playwright in Eric Sanders who totally gets what i am trying to do here. This one is brutal and visceral and in your face.  We have challenged ourselves to create the realist fights seen on stage, nothing sensationalized.  I think it will prove to be quite shocking. people are ok with cartoonish fighting, and that is what i have mostly done until now, but this is truth in fighting.  no one wins a fight in this play who couldn’t win it in real life and we use that vocabulary to inform the moves.  I don’t always do fight plays. the last play i did was a two-fister, a very serious drama called Stitching. my next play will not be a fight play, either, but even within that genre there are an infinite number of possibilities.
Last Question – Bonus Round.  It’s an open question – you can tell me anything you want to tell me.  It can be about Last Life, The Festival in general, or you can take this moment to plug your next project or your favorite cause.  The mic is all yours —
I am working on a one-person show called Sex You (I’m Gonna) starring Nathan Phillips opening in January at Norwood.  Come and check it out if you want to see a play i direct with no fighting. but it is still brutal (brutally funny :-))
Thanks again!
I’ll send you the link when the interview is up.  Oh, and if you have any photos of yourself or of the show that you’d like me to include, please send them along!
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