Thomas Azar on Crowd Scenes, Street Brawls, and Traffic Jams.

This is the latest in a series of actor blogs about our upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. For this entry, Thomas Azar (who portrays Benvolio) writes about staging crowd scenes, the choreography of street brawls, and making it all work.Mounting a show is always a monumental undertaking, especially when that show is staged in an outdoor theater. Planning starts well in advance of the first day of rehearsals. When we, the actors, show up for that first day, we are greeted with design sketches and renderings detailing the set and costumes, and the director explains the overall vision for the show. This advance planning is absolutely essential to the production, because it gives the actors a (somewhat) concrete frame in which to work and experiment.

Of course, all of this planning doesn’t stop once rehearsals start. Once the actors are on their feet, things only get more complicated. Have you ever wondered how much time goes into staging big crowd scenes? Let me tell you: a whole hell of a lot. And there is no shortage of crowd scenes in Romeo and Juliet. The play starts with a melee right in the middle of the street, the “ancient grudge break[ing] to new mutiny” before the audience’s very eyes.

Dave Maier, Cal Shakes’ Resident Fight Director, worked with us for a number of hours on staging the multiple fights that happen simultaneously. What starts as an exchange between Tybalt and Benvolio erupts into an all-out brawl between the Capulets and Montagues. Discovering and rehearsing the fights takes quite a while, but placing these fights into the action of the scene takes just about as long. It’s one thing to work through the fight when the stage is empty, but add props, scenery, and (oh the horror!) other actors, and you’ve got a genuine traffic jam on your hands.

Jonathan (Moscone, the show’s director) takes what Dave has created and shapes it into the story of the play. I kid you not, much time has been spent on stuff like, “This chair needs to go here so this actor can cross to here and say this line.” It may seem like a silly waste of time, but such attention to detail is essential in crafting a tale from the chaos that begins the play. So, when you see Romeo and Juliet, please enjoy the big scenes, such as that first fight and the dance party; we’ve put a considerable amount of sweat (and perhaps a little blood, but only a few tears) into making them a lot of fun for the audience.

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