Rapiers, Shakespeare come to Whidbey Playhouse

Mary K. Hallen and Stephen James Anderson demonstrate a fight move students will learn in the Whidbey Playhouse’s Sunday Fight Club course. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Mary K. Hallen and Stephen James Anderson demonstrate a fight move students will learn in the Whidbey Playhouse’s Sunday Fight Club course.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

The Whidbey Playhouse’s stage is about to get wild with hair pulling, punching and rapier fights.

Stephen James Anderson, a naval officer, Shakespeare expert and certified stage combat instructor, will teach two workshops at the Whidbey Playhouse: “Shakespeare De-Mystified” and “Sunday Fight Club.”

“Shakespeare De-Mystified” offers an introductory experience to the language and works of Shakespeare through reading texts aloud and performing a collage of scenes.

“To be perfectly honest, Shakespeare is very raw, very sexy, very innovative,” Anderson said. Anderson has acted in and directed many Shakespeare plays in his 22-year theater career and has taught theater classes in the United States and Asia. Overall, he has worked on more than 400 plays as a director, actor and choreographer.

“But a lot of people are scared of it,” said Mary K. Hallen, the Playhouse’s workshop coordinator, adding that she’s learned some of her best curses from Shakespeare, her favorite of which is “cream-faced loon.”

“You’ll see classic theater discussed less in public schools so we need a place to discuss that,” Hallen said. One of her fondest memories was when she taught fifth-graders about the Shakespeare play “Macbeth.” Once the language was explained to them, they connected with the story.

“We’d like to offer that to the community,” Hallen said.

“If you can tackle Shakespeare and find success then you can tackle anything in theater and find your way,” Anderson said, adding that learning Shakespeare will give people the ability to stand in front of people and express themselves effectively.

“You too can be calling your enemies cream-faced loons,” Hallen added.

“Sunday Fight Club” is a stage combat workshop for people “to come into physical contact with each other safely,” said Anderson, a member of the Society of American Fight Directors. He has served as fight director on several productions.

Students will learn everything from hair pulling to choking to rapier combat.

But the class goes beyond techniques to address the nature of violence in humanity.

“It’s an opportunity to start discussing the broader themes that have plagued our world since its inception,” Anderson said, adding that, “In my opinion, there is no play written, there is no movie or TV show made, that doesn’t have some violence.”

As a teacher, Anderson has witnessed the violence of his students.

“I think the only way to battle back against violence is to discuss it,” Anderson said. People need to have a conversation about where violence comes from and how once violent actions are committed, they can’t be undone, no matter if the violence is physical or verbal.

Anderson said he hopes that people who are uncomfortable in their bodies will learn movement and control. There’s nothing better for Anderson than seeing people find their stance and their voice and then realize their discovery.

“It’s an electric experience,” Anderson said.

“That’s what we as teachers live for,” Hallen said.

These workshops are helpful because they offer a “safe place to experiment.” No one can be judgmental because everyone’s learning at the same level and “you are all there because you share the same interest,” Hallen said.

Anderson said his favorite part of doing workshops is “getting to hear people’s stories, seeing where they’re coming from. Basically, getting to see people’s genius.”

Anderson teaches workshops around the nation but is donating his time to the Playhouse. He also chose to give his time to his country by joining the Navy 18 months ago. Anderson said he’d felt like something was missing from his life and that he needed to volunteer more.

“So I truly joined the Navy because I wanted to serve our country,” Anderson said, adding that donating his time for these workshops is a way for him to give back to a community that supports the military.

Alongside the learning, Anderson said the simplest element to the workshops is, “It is fun. It’s playful. It’s physical. It’s not sitting around. It’s going to be up on your feet.”

The word “drama” comes from the Greek word “to do,” and Anderson takes that to heart.

“So let’s do it!” he said.

Profits from these workshops will fund theater productions.

Space is limited so sign up at the Whidbey Playhouse or call 679-2237.




Sign up for Playhouse workshops


Shakespeare De-Mystified: Jan. 5 through Feb.

8, Wednesdays 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon. Fee: $60; $45 for Playhouse members.


Sunday Fight Club: Jan. 15 through Feb. 19, Sundays 1 to 3 p.m..

Fee: $70; $55 for Playhouse members.


Both workshops are for ages 16 and up. Limited space; sign up at the Playhouse, 730 SE Midway

Blvd., Oak Harbor, or call 679-2237.



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