Local actor, Shane St. James, talks about his experience choreographing the fight scenes in The Miracle Worker

One of the things that makes The Miracle Worker so engaging to watch is the fight scene between Annie and Helen at the breakfast table. I have asked the production’s fight coordinator about his experience choreographing this scene.

Lizzie: First off, tell me a little about yourself.

Shane: Thanks for asking and speaking with me, Lizzie. I am a Leo so I LOVE talking about myself, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I am “from” Louisville, Kentucky, but spent the majority of my formative years in Manhattan, New York (Go Yankees), and my early years Houston, Texas. I spent some time in the Marines in California and Iraq, and I moved to Kansas City in spring of 2016. I joined CTI in June of 2021 as a member, as well as an At-Large Board member. 

Lizzie: What challenges have you faced while staging the breakfast fight scene between Annie and Helen?

Shane: I must admit, it hasn’t been as challenging as one might expect for a first time “Stage Combat Choreographer”. Of course, my main goal is to present the action on stage in the safest way possible, while also in the most believable way possible. The most amazing fact to me to reveal is that there actually is not a lot of “illusion” in this scene—the slaps you see are real, the grabs and tumbles are very real. These actors are giving their all each time we run through the 6 minute sequence, and you will be able to tell that by how hard they are breathing when the lights come up on the next scene.

Lizzie: What has been your favorite part about working with Lynnae (Annie Sullivan) and Abigail (Helen Keller)?

Shane: Both actors are an absolute delight to work with. I have always been a genuine fan of Lynnae’s remarkable talent and ability to encapsulate every character she takes on, and this show is no different; and Abby, oh my gosh, she absolutely blows my mind in the best way! She picks up direction so well and easily transitions it to the scene she’s working; absolutely phenomenal to be able to do that at such a young age. I could not have asked for a better team of “leads” to work with. Impeccable casting from our director, Nancy Eppert.

Lizzie: What are tips you have for actors’ safety during a stage combat scene?

Shane: The first, and most important tip, is to BE HONEST. It sounds weird, but I’ll quickly explain: Be honest with yourself, with your scene partner, and with your Combat Choreographer. If something you’re being asked to do makes you uncomfortable, speak out; if a direction you’re being given makes you nervous to perform it, say something; and if you’re being asked to do an action and it doesn’t feel 100% safe to you, don’t be afraid to tell your choreographer that you don’t want to do it. Our biggest desire for this skill is safety for all involved, and not just physical safety, but mental and emotional safety, as well. You should always feel that theatre is a safe space, and this is even more important when you’re asked to portray physical aggression to a castmate on stage. At the root of it all, never forget we are all on the same team, and we are all family with a goal of providing the best show possible, but not at the expense of our respective health and safety. So always be honest……and on the way, have a lot of fun too.

Fight scenes are always fun to watch, but so many safety precautions must be taken to keep the actors safe. Our actors rehearse their fight scenes several times a week and they always wear protective gear to prevent injury.

We cannot wait to present this story to you.

The Miracle Worker runs April 1st, 2nd, 3rd and April 8th, 9th 10th at the Roger T. Sermon Center Powerhouse Theatre.

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