Fight Workshop with Mike Mahaffey

Fight Director Mike Mahaffey

Right after Thanksgiving break, several Whitman theatre students–aspiring certified Actor Combatants had the valuable opportunity to work with Fight Director, Certified Teacher and Whitman alum Mike Mahaffey for 30 hours of focused, unarmed physical training. Ruby Daniel, theatre major and participant in this fight workshop was happy to share with us her experience.
Nhi Cao: Can you tell me a little bit about the workshop?
Ruby Daniel: We’re getting certified as actor combatants by Mike Mahaffey. We’ve been working since Sunday (11/26) on different unarmed combat techniques such as punches, kicks, and falls. We spent our long Sunday which was from 9:30 to 10pm, with breaks, learning mostly those kinds of skills, and since then we have been introduced a combination which will be tested on our test day. We were focusing on making it look real, reactions and redirection of energy, like using your body to fully commit to the movement in a safe way and not hurt your partner. This requires you to fully move and actually being 6 inches away from their face when you hit them, or being off-center when you kick them so that you’d never actually hit them but also fully use your energy. We also work with contact and non-contact hits, on some you do actually hit your partner, we began working on those by hitting something else first, and then working with redirection of energy to make sure you’re touching your partner in a safe way. Other skills we practiced while working on this are communication, checking in, and being able to engage as a performer and combatant.

Theatre majors Ruby Daniel and Kristina Roy during a fight scene

NC: What are your most favorite moments during the workshop?
RD: We’re choreographing a 24-move fight on which we will be tested. Mike has us do the choreography slowly a lot of the times, sort of like tai-chi, and I really love doing in that because it engages your breath. I could feel the energy and movement slowly working into my body.
NC: And what do you find most challenging?
RD: It requires a lot of endurance and stamina, since you’re still using a lot of your body and be fully engaged. It’s kind of a marathon to be consistent since your goal is to hit all of your moves every single time and to be as safe and convincing as possible, and you don’t want to tire yourself in the beginning. Keeping my energy has been difficult but it’ll be worth it on Saturday. We are going to perform a scene with our partner, and within the scene we fight. This performance is open for the public and then we’ll have a master class working on new skills, and finally find out if we pass or not.

Theatre majors Donovan Olsen and Teal Kurnie during a fight scene

NC: How does the workshop help you connect to your body?
RD: I find it super important to be in touch with your body and what your body can do, how you can use it as a performer. This workshop has given me the opportunity to help me solely focus on that–we worked on acting and reaction. At the same time, this workshop is very physical, and normally it is the opposite, you have text and you add action in later, so this is really a masterclass in how you express violence, how to do it safely, and what can you put in your toolbox that you can use as a performer.
NC: Does your body surprise you ?
RD: Yeah! There are times that I didn’t know my reach was that long, or didn’t expect something to look such ways, and there are times I tried and was able to do things I didn’t think I could do.
NC: Thank you so much for your sharing and I hope the audience would enjoy your dedication.

End Note: As of Saturday, December 2nd.  All 8 students in the fight choreogrphy workshop are now certified as Actor Combatants.