September 28, 2011

Michael Hill-Kirkland, Director of Three Musketeers

Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland

Read what Dr. Kirkland has to say about this special upcoming production!

It is April, 1974. An eighteen year old aspiring actor sits, totally enthralled, in a darkened movie house in Fullerton, CA, excitedly grasping his high school sweetheart’s hand. He is watching actor Michael York, as D’Artagnan, in Richard Lester’s film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, featuring fights arranged by William Hobbs. I sat on the edge of my seat (as if you hadn’t already guessed it was me), my heart racing, a smile on my face, and no little sense of envy as I observed D’Artagnan fighting off several of the Cardinal’s Guard as he attempts to gain entrance to the Royal Ball, and save Queen Anne from a fate worse than death. As the images flickered across the screen I whispered to my girl, “I’ve got to learn how to do that!” And so began my life-long love affair with theatrical swordplay. So you may have already guessed at this point--this one is personal.

I took my first sport sabre class in the fall of 1975 and somehow managed to struggle my way onto the Cal State Fullerton sabre squad. A semester later I was competing at the regional level. The following year would find me competing at the national level. After all those years of baseball and football, I had found my sport! My final competitive bouts were fenced in 1980, at UC Berkley, where I and my teammates on the Salle du Grenadier sabre team would win the Pacific Coast Championships mere months before I would enter graduate school. Unfortunately, working summers as a professional actor precluded attending the Society of American Fight Directors National Stage Combat Workshop until 1990. Once there, I found excellent instruction, a philosophy to undergird the art form, and lifelong friends and associates--one of whom, Richard Ryan, would later become Master at Arms for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, until a burgeoning career as a cinematic fight director would force him to relinquish the position. I was honored when, upon occasion, Richard would invite me to teach his RADA students. I always learned something new when working with him. Eventually, he found himself staging fights for such prestigious films as Troy, Stardust, The Dark Knight, and Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2. In each case he exhibited an uncanny ability for developing a unique martial style which served as a natural extension of character—very much like William Hobbs had achieved in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. There was the naïve, enthusiastic style of D’Artagnan. Then there was the dark, explosive rage of Athos and the playful, devil-may-care approach of Porthos. And finally, the religious gravity of Aramis--offering last rights to fallen opponents. And so it is we come full circle to that darkened cinema in 1974. How so? One of Richard’s earliest mentors was William Hobbs, Fight Arranger for the Richard Lester’s Musketeer films. He learned well. And now, nearly twenty years after rooming together at the SAFD Teacher Training Workshop, Richard and I have teamed up to bring you this recent adaptation of Dumas’ classic tale as re-imagined by farceur Ken Ludwig. (You might be interested to know Richard staged the fights for the premiere production at the Bristol Old Vic, in the UK.) It has been a joy to collaborate with him on this production. And, as always, I have learned from him.

I have always loved Dumas’s story of love, honor, and revenge with a singular passion. It is a story bursting with themes: faith, brotherhood, friendship, loyalty, courage, patriotism--and above all, a swashbuckling spirit of adventure that has always appealed to the little boy in me. In Ludwig’s script, Constance playfully teases D’Artagnan, “You remind me of a little boy from Gascony with a wooden sword shouting 'Death to the King’s enemies!'”

My wife, who sat in that same darkened cinema with me thirty eight years ago, would tell you that Constance has my number. I have a feeling she may have yours as well. And now, mesdames et messieurs, please travel back with us to a time when love was pure, honor was everything, and sons were told by their fathers to “fight for justice and make courage your watchword.” Indeed, a time when friends not only knew but lived John 15:13,

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

A time when friends would say, and back it up with their lives:

“All for one--and one for all.”

Three Musketeers opens October 14 and runs through October 23 in the Mainstage Theater.

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