`Oohh, he really hit him'

Bringing realistic fight scenes to the high school stage

November 25, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

The path of true love was never a smooth one for poor, ill-fated Romeo and Juliet. Their story, though filled with tender words, is also rife with discord, often in the form of dramatic sword fights.

Sally Livingston, the drama director at Marriotts Ridge High School, is bringing Shakespeare's most famous romance to the high school stage, but only because her longtime friend Lance Lewman, an actor and musician, is choreographing the fight scenes.

"I would never attempt it without him," she said.

Lewman, of Ellicott City, has acted in Center Stage plays and Off Broadway productions. He has appeared in soap operas, television commercials and industrial films. He does voiceover work for National Geographic productions, and he is in a band, King Lewman, with his wife, Kristan King, which has released several compact discs.

Yet he still finds time to help students with high school productions. In recent years, Lewman, 47, had choreographed fight scenes for plays at River Hill and Wilde Lake high schools and at Dunloggin Middle School. For the past few months, he has been at Marriotts Ridge nearly every day, helping the young actors stage their fight scenes.

Lewman said he learned how to choreograph a sword fight when he was a student at North Carolina School of the Arts. "I was bit by the whole stage combat thing really early," he said. "It was one of my favorite things in college. I just loved everything about it - making it look real when it wasn't."

For high school students, he starts by teaching the basic moves, then shows the young actors how to speed the action. Though every thrust and parry is choreographed in advance, the action looks organic as it takes place on stage.

The pace of the swordplay and the reactions of the fighters and the others on stage help make the scenes look realistic, Lewman said. "We get the basics, then add personality," he said. "When it comes up to speed, it can look amazing."

In the Marriotts Ridge production of Romeo and Juliet, the first fight will move off the stage and into the aisles, he said. "That first scene just says, `Hello, this is a whole different world,'" he said.

The students say they are having a great time learning how to mimic swashbucklers of yore. They watch the famous fight scenes in The Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean with new appreciation, they said.

"Mr. Lewman's a great teacher," said Eric Stishan, 17, a senior who plays the role of Mercutio. "The fight scenes are probably the most fun we've had in the show."

Ben Lutz, 17, who plays Benvolio, agreed. "It's a great experience," he said. "Mr. Lewman is the best. I've had so much fun."

Lewman, who has twin daughters at Centennial High School and a son at Dunloggin Middle School, grew up in Howard County and graduated from Glenelg High School.

He said only 30 students were accepted to North Carolina School of the Arts, and he was among 14 who graduated in 1982. He acted in New York and Los Angeles before moving back to Maryland in 1990.

Much of his work has been in industrial films and National Geographic shows, he said. But he has continued his theater work in Maryland, appearing in lead roles in productions at Center Stage, Harbor Theatre and the Fells Point Corner Theatre. He met Livingston at Center Stage, where she was company manager.

When Livingston became drama director at Wilde Lake High School, she remembered that Lewman had helped choreograph fight scenes while at Center Stage. She asked him to help, and he found that he liked working with student actors. "The kids are terrific," he said. "They're high-energy and they're passionate."

Lewman said he likes teaching fight scenes because they are so important to the success of a play.

"A lot of times, it will ruin a show," he said. "If it doesn't look real, you're immediately taken out of the story. On the other hand, it takes you further in if you think, `Oohh, he really hit him.'"

Performances of "Romeo and Juliet" will take place at Marriotts Ridge High School at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Dec. 2 Tickets are $10.

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