Parkers Chapel Theatre students learn art of fight choreography

PC Advanced Theatre students Karley Koon and Lorali Barnes practice a simulated slap on Friday at Parkers Chapel High School. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)
PC Advanced Theatre students Karley Koon and Lorali Barnes practice a simulated slap on Friday at Parkers Chapel High School. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)

Parkers Chapel High School's theater department was the scene of some (artfully simulated) violence on Friday as students learned the techniques of fight choreography.

Students in the theater classes of instructor Tracye Couture spent time last week learning from Olivia Willcox, an actor, fight director, and combat teacher who trains under The Society of American Fight Directors.

On Friday, a group of students practiced scenes that involved simulated physical striking under Willcox's direction before presenting the scenes to demonstrate their grasp of the techniques.

"The overall goal, I'd say, is to introduce them to a part of theater they didn't know existed and to teach skills to tell a compelling story through violence -- safely," Willcox said.

During the lesson, Willcox emphasized safety and consent from fellow actors participating in the scene. Students simulated slaps, punches and falls, learning to correctly "sell" the physicality while remaining safe.

In scenes, students combined short stories -- two sisters fighting over a "borrowed" jacket, an argument over line breaking turning physical -- to combine the newly-learned techniques with dialogue.

"A punch, a fall -- it all has to be choreographed so no one gets hurt. [The students] are doing great, and some have never touched this before," Willcox said.

Couture said she enjoyed watching the teamwork of the students and the complexity of the techniques build throughout the week.

Willcox has previously worked on productions including "Newsies" at the South Arkansas Arts Center. She is based in Shreveport, graduated from Louisiana Tech and has worked on Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, films and many regional theaters. Currently, she teaches stage combat classes, works on films for the Louisiana Film Prize and co-founded More Than OK Studios, a production company "that brings the joy and hope of theatre to nursing home residents around Louisiana."

Couture used Willcox's job and biography as a teaching moment for students.

"You should take a lesson from a professional taking the time to come and teach students - it's important," Couture said. She added that the demonstration should also serve to show students the possibilities of future professions.

Willcox, who has worked in New York City and across the country, said that working in smaller towns is "where [her] heart is now."

"I just love reaching the places that don't have the same resources as bigger cities," she said.

PC's Thespian Troupe #8889's showcase and spring induction ceremony is coming up, set for Thursday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. with free admission at PCHS's auditorium.

photo PC Advanced Theatre students Alyssa Purifoy and Ashlyne Castleberry perfect their fight choreography on Friday at PCHS. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)
photo Parkers Chapel theater students last week had the opportunity to learn from actor, fight director, and combat teacher Olivia Willcox, fifth from left. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)

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