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Our production of Zorro was the UK amateur premiere, which originally debuted in London’s West End in June of 2008, receiving rave reviews. Zorro, ‘the fox’, was created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley for his novel ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. It was the first of 65 immensely popular tales in which Zorro fought injustice in Spanish California’s Pueblo de Los Angeles.
Since then, Zorro has appeared in films, TV shows, plays, ballets, operas, novels & comic books, and this musical version retells the dramatic story with spectacular sword-fighting and incredible magic – all set to the famous red-hot Gipsy King beat brought to the stage with the authentic colours of traditional flamenco.
One of the challenging parts of Zorro was staging the sword-fights, with students who had no real experience. Fortunately, we had the capable sword-arm of fight director Gary Andrews, who came in on three occasions to teach students the art of sword-fighting for the stage...
Gary Andrews, who has been directing fights at schools and theatres for around 20 years, assessed the students’ ability by teaching them the footwork, guard positions, attacks and parries that make up basic fencing. He then taught them the basic five point numbering system used to annotate moves.
‘Each part of the body corresponds with a number so it makes instruction a lot more accurate,’ said Craig Barden, who plays Ramon in our production. ‘It helped me find confidence in my ability and fluency in my technique.’
‘The system goes clockwise around the body,’ explained Mr Andrews. ‘The right leg is number 1, right shoulder is 2, head is 3, left shoulder is 4 and left leg is 5. So, if I say “attack 2,1,2,4,3” the actors know the sequence and target of the attacks - and defences!’
Students were lucky enough to use Mr Andrew’s professional sword replicas, which helped them get into character.
‘Apart from fighting imaginary monsters in my childhood with a plastic sword, I had never done any sword-fighting before,’ said Harry Harding, who plays Diego De La Vega. ‘It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience which gave me an idea how heavy the swords would be when we do the show.’
Each fight was choreographed taking into account the ability of the characters (Zorro is an expert, the soldiers are less competent) and the story the fight should tell: is it an easy victory, a comical action sequence or a dramatic showdown?
‘We also take into account where the audience is,’ said Mr Andrews, ‘so we show the fight from the best angle to hide all the tricks we use to make it seem real!’
After plenty of practice at half-speed, students found the fight movements becoming more automatic, so they increased their ‘performance speed’ to about 75%.
‘This is usually fast enough for an audience seeing the fight for the first time,’ added Mr Andrews, ‘but performance adrenaline usually adds another 15% or so!’
‘Having practiced the sequences many times,’ said Harry, ‘my muscle memory knows what to do when we fight so I feel very prepared. Mr Andrews was an excellent teacher and he was very laid back when we made mistakes.’
Not a Good Look
‘When I was eight I used to play sword fighting with my cousin,’ said Craig, ‘which resulted in me sustaining an eye injury. Not a good look! Luckily this experience taught me how to get sword fighting right without being an idiot this time!’
Mr Andrews paid a further two visits to Valley Park. ‘I usually come back a week or two before the show opens,’ he said, ‘to polish the fight and make sure no bad habits have developed – or to tweak any moves that are not quite working.’
‘I can honestly say that your students were amongst the politest, keenest and most able I have taught,’ said Mr Andrews. ‘They were quick learners and very focused, and I’m sure that this will lead to a really great show.’