Women and Shakespeare

S3: E3: Yarit Dor on Fight & Intimacy Direction in Shakespeare

June 23, 2022 Varsha Panjwani/Yarit Dor Season 3 Episode 3
Women and Shakespeare
S3: E3: Yarit Dor on Fight & Intimacy Direction in Shakespeare
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we discuss fight and intimacy direction in Shakespeare, especially in As You Like It, Hamlet, Richard II, & Romeo & Juliet. For more on Yarit Dor's work, check out
https://www.yarit-dor.com/

For a complete episode transcript, check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com 

Interviewer: Dr Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Ms Yarit Dor
Producer: Mr Zeke Tweedie
Artwork: Mr Wenqi Wan 

Varsha:

Dearest loveliest listeners. Hello, and welcome to 'Women & Shakespeare'. I'm your host, Dr. Varsha Panjwani. And, I really should say, welcome back. I'm wondering if you missed us in our short hiatus? If not, then the only acceptable excuse is that you were going through the back catalog and listening - I mean, re-listening to the podcast episodes. If you did miss the podcast, you must know that there were very pressing reasons for staying away.

Varsha:

The first one was that, unfortunately, I was really unwell for half of it. But, I'm much better now. And secondly, I have also been busy behind the mixing deck as it were recording episodes with some excellent guests. So stay tuned as we kickstart the series.

Varsha:

Kickstart is exactly the right word for this moment because our guest today is the fight director, Yarit Dor. Yarit is not only an established fight director and movement director, but in 2019, she was the first credited intimacy director in London's West End and helped to create this role.

Varsha:

Her stage credits include National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Shakespeare's Globe, Almeida Theatre, Young Vic, Royal Court, Royal Exchange Manchester, Bush Theatre. So, basically every theater in London and all around the UK.

Varsha:

Her TV and film credits are numerous and include 'Shadow & Bone', 'Carnival Row', 'Becoming Elizabeth'. She has also supported the development of intimacy coordination in the UK's entertainment industry, through mentoring schemes and contributing to many guidelines on directing nudity and simulated sex.

Varsha:

My students were very curious about intimacy and fight direction in Shakespeare. So they not only asked me to interview Yarit, but also sent their own questions. So without further ado, let me take you straight into the conversation.

Varsha:

Yarit, you are so welcome to 'Women & Shakespeare' podcast. Whenever I go to a theater performance of Shakespeare and I think, "Well, that was a cool fight." And I look up in the program to see who it was, it's always been you. So I am so thrilled to be able to talk to you. So, when did you first encounter Shakespeare and what was the nature of that encounter?

Yarit:

So, I first encountered it when I was a teenager. I was living in Israel. And in high school we studied 'Hamlet' but in Hebrew. And because I lived in Arizona in the US as a kid for a couple of years, my English was pretty okay.

Yarit:

So my parents actually bought me 'Romeo and Juliet' in English. And that was the first time that I realized, oh, this is very different and it's beautiful. It's rhythmic. You kind of fall in love with every character. But, like many people reading Shakespeare, I also had to go to the dictionary or the side notes and be like, "Okay, what does that mean?"

Yarit:

But yeah, it's interesting to see that the translation makes a big difference. Obviously with Hebrew, you do have contemporary Hebrew versus old Hebrew that you would find in the Old Testament. So some translation of Shakespeare into Hebrew has used more old Hebrew. Some more contemporary translations have been trying to use everyday language, but still finding a way to keep some sort of poeticness.

Varsha:

Wow, that's really interesting. This is the first time somebody on this podcast is saying that their first encounter with Shakespeare was in translation. It's interesting how perceptions of Shakespeare are informed depending on where you, or how you read him first.

Varsha:

So, you are a fight director and you have worked on 'As You Like It' at least three times. Once at Shakespeare's Globe. Then, for Shakespeare in the Squares. And then recently I believe for a Zoom performance of the incredible, The Show Must Go Online Company.

Varsha:

So before I ask you about this exciting wrestling match in the play, one of my students, Stella Gwen, she wondered if you could tell us about the way in which you approach fight direction, depending on the different spaces of performance.

Yarit:

I would say when approaching fights with different spaces, it's a bit similar to design. So, if you know where your audience is going to be, what are they going to view, you're designing the action from a story point. But, you want to slightly control what they're viewing and what their experience is.

Yarit:

Another aspect of the design of the fight would be how are the directors and the actors using that space already? What's the general movement language that they're utilizing the space? So then the fight uses the same spacial tools. So it doesn't seem pasted or out of the ordinary. I think a theater-in-the-round is a completely different experience.

Yarit:

The cast is almost engulfed in the audience. Which gives much more of a private experience, I think, even for members that are in the top balcony. They feel very much part of the space and kind of viewing the action like a bit of God and obviously groundlings are super close.

Varsha:

So this is the audience on the ground, right?

Yarit:

Yeah. So the energy that the performers will get is directly from the groundlings. So I think when we did it in the Shakespeare's Globe, because we had the groundlings, the actors were trying to entice the groundlings to join in like an audience of a wrestling match.

Yarit:

With Shakespeare in the Square, it was half a circle audience. So similarly the actors did the same. And I think we even had a kid that came on the stage to join in or watch really close. So it's a completely different experience. Whereas, there's something about the full 360 that creates almost like a hurricane.

Yarit:

The energy spirals up or spirals back down. And that's something that vocally you can use and energy wise you can use. And I think when you look at wrestling back in those days, so we're talking about kind of Tudor and even before that in Medieval period. There's a lot of historical European martial art manuals that look at wrestling.

Yarit:

Most of the wrestling was in a configuration of a type of circle. Some of them were with poles around them to make sure that the wrestlers know the space of performance versus the space of the audience. So yeah, there is something that kind of matches when it is 360 and you have the audience all around you.

Varsha:

Well, that's really interesting that actors are taking energy from this crowd as they are wrestling. Could I also ask you about the Zoom performance?

Yarit:

Well, the fight with the wrestler in Orlando, I think it was kind of style of Mexican wrestling that was created with Enrique and the actors. So Enrique is the second fight director that day. And they just had a lot of fun. But also he was asking them a lot, "okay, what can you do in the space that you have? What are the best angles that we can get?"

Yarit:

At some point, I think one of them put the camera on the floor. So then as he jumps down, you basically see his body go down the frame and hit the floor. So it was really utilizing the ability that Zoom allows us to do theatrical style performance, but also film style performance.

Yarit:

The laptop or the iPad or the phone becomes like a monitor. You can control what you show to the audience. You can control how close you want that body part to the camera.

Yarit:

And it's slightly more difficult to get energy on camera. Which I think they achieved really well in that particular fight, because both of them were so energy driven. So from what I know, his process was very much asking them what is the possibilities?

Yarit:

Oh, could you try doing something like that? Could you now do it with your camera in the other hand and coming close or pulling the camera to you as you do X, Y or Z? Zoom performances have shifted our capabilities a lot for good and bad I think. We don't have the same audience experience in a fight that we usually would love. But at the same time we can control the visuals in a slightly different storytelling manner.

Varsha:

Actually the camera then becomes one of your props where I love how you were describing how to zoom in on what body part. And let us talk a little bit more about this wrestling match between the professional wrestler, Charles and Orlando.

Varsha:

Could you maybe walk us through some of the textual, but also the emotional demands of that match because it is dangerous. We have an indication of that in the dialogue, but maybe it's a bit sexy as well. Considering that Rosalind, is besotted by Orlando by the end of this fight. I wondered what your thoughts were on this?

Yarit:

Couple of thoughts. One, anytime that Shakespeare uses a character that their sole profession is violence, is very important and very interesting. And I think already one of the conversations early on is, okay, so this is a character that has capabilities. So now we need to establish what capabilities do we want them to have? What style do we want them to have? Is it more dramatic? Is it more comical? So with Charles, I think the biggest question is how do director and the actors see that match? Do they want it to be dramatic? Because obviously there is a power shift. It starts with Charles very much in a higher power status because Orlando kind of has a death wish to begin with. And then at some point there is an infatuation between Orlando and Rosalind. And the question is how does that infatuation suddenly lead him to want to stay alive and win this fight?

Yarit:

It's almost like redirecting his aggression towards his brother onto Charles. Now with a wrestler, there are certain rules regarding wrestling. It's a sport and every sport has rules. Orlando is not a wrestler. So when we have the shift of Orlando deciding that's it, I'm going to win this. I'm going to stay alive. Cause there's a girl over there. He doesn't necessarily need to play by the rules or have a knowledge of wrestling or super wrestling capabilities. So anytime in martial arts, when you have someone that follows the martial art etiquette, but then they fight against someone that doesn't follow the same etiquette. So a lot of unpredictable things happen and I think Orlando wins because he uses unpredictable things. Not that he's very good, but he has the passion. And once he decides to stay alive and take all of his aggression and frustration of not knowing what to do with his life and being cheated by his brother for so long, he just channels it into whatever will work.

Yarit:

And Shakespeare always uses this violence in a magnificent way that propels the character forward. He never uses it in my opinion, as just like a grotesque kind of disconnected thing. The violence is there for a reason. It's almost like when you cut a fight out, you really need to justify that. Yeah. I think definitely Rosalind falls in love. The question is to figure out what is it that makes her fall in love with him? Is it the fact that he's so sad and wants to end his life in the beginning? Because he has a line right before he goes into the match that, says something like no one will miss me. And that's an immediate hit into our mammalian brain of wanting to save someone. So does it start there? Or does it start when she just sees him? Or does it start when he gets hit so hard that her wish to save him makes her fall in love? So that is a question for the actors and the director to make.

Varsha:

Oh yeah. I love how high the stakes are in this fight physically and emotionally as well. So let's talk about some of the other high stakes fights in Shakespeare. And one of your credits also include 'Hamlet' at Shakespeare's Globe in which Laertes and Hamlet fight twice. So, first tell us about how you approached the complicated fencing match at the end?

Yarit:

Yeah, it's a brilliant scene. It's one of the fight scenes in which Shakespeare puts dialogue with fight together. And he bounces from action back into language, back into action, back into language with the actors. When we did that particular show, we went through the scene to decide beat by beat. What are the beats that are happening? What is the passing of the cup? The taking out of the handkerchief, putting the poison because almost like the actions and the specificity has to be so exact there because it helps us also understand how long each little fight sequence has to be. So 1. It doesn't get too long, but 2. that it serves us energetically to go straight into the next line. A lot of the structure of the fight was very connected to the decisions of the director and the actors. It's really important to allow actors to have agency over the development of how the fight and the moves impact their character.

Yarit:

Obviously, when we look at fencing, I bring a certain technical language. But even with that, it's a very actor centered process. So even asking someone, we could do this move, or maybe something like this. Which one would channel the emotions that you feel at this moment? That's helpful for them to see the variety of moves and to make clear choices sometimes of one move versus the other. Yeah, I think it's important to distinguish both of the fights in Hamlet. That they are both driven from two very different emotions. The one in the graveyard, in my opinion starts with grief. It starts with deep grief, probably shame blaming. And then that becomes anger. Because anger usually is a secondary emotion. It happens because other emotions have been in the space already. It's a disappointment of having to let go. Hamlet, didn't know that she died. So it is a massive shock to the system.

Yarit:

And it's the first place we see Hamlet really lose control for real, depending, if we're playing him pretending to have mental health issues or not. That's the place where he really, really let's go versus the end of the play. I think there's a certain type of death wish there because Horatio doesn't want him to go with the fight. He doesn't understand why he's saying yes to this. Hamlet doesn't really understand in the beginning. It's suddenly getting the knowledge that there's poison that pulls him into anger, into frustration, into resentment, into shock, into pain, into betrayal, loss of trust. And that's a massive shift.

Yarit:

So, the two fights are very distinctly different for the character. We learn quite a lot about Hamlet in those fights. But there's something technical in the fencing. It starts as a dueling match that everything is okay and there are rules and it's structured and all we need to do is just follow the rule. And then suddenly there's a realization and that realization shoots etiquette out the window. They don't care anymore about the technique and what they need to follow and what they don't need to follow and which moves they're allowed to do or not allowed to do. They just want to slice each other. And so that has to be a massive shift in fight style. It no longer looks like a nice kind of sporting.

Varsha:

Yeah. And you were talking about the earlier fight, which Hamlet and Laertes have in the graveyard when Ophelia is being buried. We were having a lot of discussion in our class about this. And one of the early printed texts of the play also indicates that Laertes and Hamlet are fighting inside Ophelia's grave. So what is your take on all of this?

Yarit:

I think there is a way, even if you do it inside the trap door, through the grave, there is a way to do it. That is raw and is about ownership over Ophelia. Ownership over her space, her body, her next life, her memory, the love that she bore to either one of them. I think there's also something interesting that, that fight doesn't continue. Other people immediately stop them. So it has to have a certain type of explosion that doesn't have resolution it's imploded back into the body. So it can fester there until they meet again.

Varsha:

Oh yeah. And it sounds ghastly. I think so too. I think they are inside her grave and it's all about this ownership. But I love this idea of all of this being inside them, festering, waiting to explode. That sounds both horrible and exactly right in this claustrophobic atmosphere of Hamlet.

Yarit:

How much was she loved? Is that fight about love? Who did she love more? Who owned more of her? Who knew more of her? We can only get the tragedy if they really feel it. If they're really upset, if they're really territorial about her.

Varsha:

I think they are territorial. I think they are feeling these things. Whether in misguided ways or not, that's totally up for debate. But I do think that they are. And let's talk about other plays where the setting has been the indoor Playhouse, not the outdoor open space of The Globe. And you were the movement or fight director for this wonderful production of 'Richard II', which had all women of color. And it was again at the Sam Wanamaker. Now, that play has a lot of vertical imagery in the words. Because there's a lot of up and down. People are talking about that and then there's physical movement of up and down as well in the play. So, when you are doing movement directing, do you find that there are such patterns in Shakespeare's dramaturgy generally? Where he would have physical rhythms and then verbal imagery rhythms as well accompanying that?

Yarit:

Yeah, definitely. Jacques Lecoq a practitioner of physical theater talked about different planes of motions. And he talked about the vertical line, the up and the down as the tragic line. The horizontal line is the everyday business. Chats between friends, chats between servants, chats between masters, chats between comrades versus the diagonal line is the line of dreams, hopes. So the upward diagonal is hopes and dreams versus the downward diagonal is reality and how frustrating it is. So the lovers in Shakespeare use a lot of the diagonal line. The servants in 'Much Ado About Nothing' or the police officers or the guards, they're very much in the horizontal line. Whereas, anything between God and us humans or us humans and hell, witches, and devil, lives on that vertical line. In 'Richard II', there's a lot of discussions around the right to rule. Whether that is the choice of the divine or whether that's simply a choice of the people.

Yarit:

Shakespeare lived in a time that the church and in religion was a very big topic of everyday life. Especially going from Catholicism into the Church of England later into Protestant and figuring out what the relationship between God and us mortal. And you see a lot of the use of the vertical line in many of his plays such as 'Macbeth'. Most tragedies have that vertical line. I think what's nice about the indoor playhouse is that the light, half of the time do that for you because of the ropes. They pull it up and they pull it down. And the minute the lights kind of go higher up, there's a different energy versus when the lights are between people. There's a very different energy. So yeah, I think it's definitely written into the play. There's like movement stage directions that are offered. Some actors will find them useful. Some actors will not find them useful. Some actors will like to go completely contradict them and see what happens, which is great, new options appear.

Varsha:

You've given me something that now I'm not going to stop seeing. I think that's a really great framework as well to indicate the genre in this way.

Yarit:

When you look at plays that also shift lines, like 'Romeo and Juliet'. 'Romeo and Juliet' are very much in that diagonal lovers line. But at some point from the diagonal, I would argue that 'Romeo and Juliet' move into the vertical line. So a lot of characters shift lines.

Varsha:

So you are an intimacy director as well. And you are one of the people who has really created this role, I feel. And helped the theater and film industry to see the importance of having an intimacy director on stage. And one of my students, Christina Muraskas, she was very curious andshe wondered whether there was a moment in your life or your career where it made you realize that, yeah, this is something we really have to do and really have to push.

Yarit:

I would say there was a moment, but I never intended to find myself teaching intimacy to actors and drama schools and then doing it for stage and also for screen. I think as a fight director, I found myself in a lot of situations in which there was an amalgamation between a fight and passion or a relationship that you didn't quite know which side wouldn't go on the pendulum. Between, I want to kiss you right now out of anger and frustration or to shut you up versus now we're going to fight because there's no other thing we can do. And when I was exposed to intimacy direction that came from America. Well, at least a contemporary version of it that we know now. It started to make a lot of sense and it changed the style of how I fight direct. And when Lizzy Talbot and I founded Intimacy Directors International UK, as a branch of the American company, we started working with equity.

Yarit:

And I guess the fighter in me always likes to fight for better safe practices. Cause that's kind of what I do as a fight director. I try and facilitate the ideas that people have in the room. But trying to find a creative and safe way. And, and that's the same with intimacy. We want to facilitate what the actors really feel they have the impulse to do and the director has the impulse to explore. Finding a way that boundaries, consent, agreement, and transparency is facilitated. So, that allows us to then take safety and movement techniques and mush it all together.

Yarit:

It's very similar in that respect to stage combat or fights much more than it is to general movement. So I think what happened was that I enjoyed putting that into my work and it made sense to make it more apparent in the industry as a possibility that people can now use. As the person that people can bring in to solve creative issues, to solve safety issues, to have the difficult conversations that sometimes can inhibit a creative process. And equity when they did their agenda for change, they were already very supportive of having intimacy directors in the room. They added it into their agenda for change.

Yarit:

And then the ball just kept rolling really. We kept working with them and it was really an honor that when they transferred 'Death of a Salesman', and Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell asked me whether I can for the transfer also focus on the intimacy that there is in the play. And that one was lovely to be able to then originate the intimacy director credit role on the West End and put it in as a solid role that is now very separate from movement director or fight director. But it's an additional creative role that we can use the industry.

Varsha:

Yeah, creative and also makes me feel happier as well that there is somebody on the set because we have heard so many horror stories, of course, of actresses being intentionally or unintentionally exposed to a power dynamic that they can't resist and being abused on the set. So it really is a relief to have an intimacy director there. Having some sort of checks and balances, as you said, between creative exploration, but also something that can make somebody feel safe to do that creative exploration as well. And you mentioned something about historical research when you are doing the fight scenes and so on. And one of my students, Natalie Kozbial, she was very curious about historical research on intimacy.

Yarit:

Regarding intimacy, there's less research about you can call it historical intimacy, I don't know. But there's less because of the etiquette of the time. If you look at Shakespeare, I think there's a reason why it's a palm to palm and it's a kiss on the mouth. Because etiquette wise, they wouldn't lift skirt and suddenly have sexual intercourse. It might be a choice of the director to stage it. And then they would need to have a very good reason why personally, but in the staging and performance of intimacy in that era that was not something that people did. So Shakespeare moved intimacy into language and gestures, giving gift. Most likely what they performed intimacy wise was things that were accepted etiquette-ly, like a kiss of the hand, a dance or a jig in which you can have your hands around someone's corset, especially if you're doing, la volta, which Elizabeth I really loved. So if you're staging in a more traditional manner, it's finding the small things within the language that you can use to highlight the intimacy or the physical intimacy or the chemistry between the character.

Varsha:

This all sounds very old Bollywood. So you can't show kissing. You cannot show sex, whether there's sex and kissing everywhere in the language, in the songs, in dancing. And what's permissible and then metaphors like flowers meeting and things like that. So all of this, actually what you are describing sounds very old Bollywood where you find everything else to show intimacy. And sometimes actually it feels rather more intimate than seeing somebody do it on this stage or the screen.

Yarit:

Yeah, definitely.

Varsha:

Okay. I have one final question for you. I have to register for those who are listening, that Yarit, you defy every stereotype that one might have in mind when one thinks of a fight director. Because you are this gorgeous woman, and you have an Israeli background. So one of my students, Christina Southard, she wanted to know if this presents challenges or maybe even opportunities.

Yarit:

I definitely am not the stereotype of a big muscly man. That is somewhat scary. That takes themselves very serious and has done loads of martial arts and can actually can kill someone. That's not exactly me. And don't get me wrong, I think a lot of people struggle with that stereotype still being around. It is helpful that I come from a history of female fight directors. Alison de Burgh here in the UK and [inaudible 00:30:38] and Kate Waters or combat Kate as they like the call her. So there is a lineage of women fight directors. I think in recent years, there has been more work opportunities. And I won't lie. It's probably because the need of representation and gender equity. But also I found that in the first couple of years that I started working, predominantly I was brought into the room to do a little unarmed fights between a man and a woman because directors felt like, because there's an actress, maybe we should bring a female fight director.

Yarit:

And the funny thing is, it needs to be gender free. It has no connection to an actress being there or not because the male identifying actor will feel as vulnerable and as uncomfortable as a female identifying performer. I do find that is a short, a like curvy, Mediterranean with long hair. Yeah. When I do come into a space and go like, "Hey guys, how are you?" It's like, this is a totally different energy to, than the scary person that sits and watches like a Hawk and tells people that it they're doing it wrong. And I guess I am who I am. I found that working with actors sometimes they'll have that first job. And then they realize that, she can move. And she's giving me some good ideas and she's asking questions and then we start collaborating.

Yarit:

So yeah, I think for those of you out there that don't fit that kind of man box out there for a fight director. I think just following your instinct, be yourself and find your own way of doing things. I hope that with more inclusivity that we'll all get a chance to choreograph mass battles, regardless whether we're a man, a woman, or a non-binary. A part of me doesn't enjoy being employed because I'm a woman, a part of me enjoys being employed because I'm a woman because then I can come in and show that this role can be done differently with a different energy. And that performers of all shapes and sizes can do the movements and find a way to perform with something that they're comfortable.

Varsha:

Absolutely. So this is a great place and a great wish to end this podcast on. Thank you so much Yarit for talking to us about everything today and giving us a whole new perspective on the way in which we can handle intimacy and fights and movement.

Yarit:

No, thank you so much for all of this.

Varsha:

That was Yarit Dor talking about fights in 'As You Like It' and 'Hamlet'. Intimacy in Shakespeare's language and smashing stereotypes. Next month, I'm excited to host the playwright and academic, Emma Whipday. And we will be talking about Shakespeare's domestic tragedies and Shakespeare's sister - a creation very close to my heart. So dear listeners, adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember to tune in to 'Women & Shakespeare' streaming at Apple podcasts and Spotify. If you want to listen to the podcast with full transcript, head over to our website, www.womenandshakespeare.com. Until then, keep smashing the patriarchy.