Stage. Combat. When placed next to one another, these words often conjure images of dramatic clashes and intense battles; of swords crashing together and of high-flying martial arts.
But for Adriano Gatto, combat and comedy are not mutually exclusive.
“Often when we think of stage combat or stage violence, we assume it’s going to be serious, dark and visceral,” Gatto said. “As proven time and time again, from Commedia to Vaudeville to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it can be humorous as well.”
Gatto serves as the stage combat director for Chautauqua Theater Company’s One Man, Two Guvnors. The show will be performed at 4 p.m. Thursday, August 8 in Bratton Theater, and runs through Sunday.
According to CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba, One Man, Two Guvnors is the company’s largest show to date. The ever-changing set, the live music, the dynamic practical effects and, of course, the precise stage combat all pushed CTC to its limits as the company set out to make this show its best one yet.
“It’s a mountain to climb, but it’s delightful,” Borba said.
The show makes use of a wide variety of stage combat and choreographed movement — from dramatic slaps to the face to lifts and throws, and even an elaborate and odd sequence where the lead character, Francis, actually fights himself.
Gatto said the workload was certainly taxing at times.
“(I was given) a list of all fight/physical moments in the script pre-production, totaling almost three full pages long,” Gatto said. “With that amount of physical demands, we have a tremendous responsibility to keep the momentum of this story moving.”
But as arduous as some of the work was, Gatto said the experience was a positive one.
“I recall an audience member during previews saying, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s so physical, they must be exhausted.’ ” Gatto said. “I love hearing the audience reaction when the physical work lands just right.”
To get physical comedy on its feet, a show needs to have more than just a committed fight director. The actors, those actually executing the tumbles and spins, have to be on board, too. According to Gatto, the cast of One Man, Two Guvnors was all-in from day one.
“Everyone in this rehearsal room was focused entirely on the task at hand: the story,” Gatto said. “And we laughed a lot. There were definitely some moments that were quick to build, and others that took considerably more time.”
Working to hone and perfect the timing and execution of stage combat takes time and repetition, Gatto said. While the audience only gets to see the polished final product of smoothly flowing slaps, crisp kicks and precise punches, many hours of work went into nailing the choreography.
But without the physical work, Gatto said, the show wouldn’t function nearly as well, or be nearly as funny.
“Why do we fight? Because words are no longer accessible to resolve the conflict,” Gatto said. “Why do characters break out into song or dance? Because they are continuing the story in another way, beyond words. Particularly with a show like One Man, Two Guvnors, it can communicate more information and more details to the audience in terms of the story, the characters and what propels them both.”