By Whit Emerson
Adam McLean’s office is a dangerous place. Between the axe on his desk, the Kali sticks by the window, and the numerous swords placed about the room, most people would feel nervous. But assistant professor McLean comfortably reclines in his chair and snacks on almond butter between his classes. McLean is a Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors. He holds a black sash in Wing Chun Kung Fu and has taught the martial arts of Silat and Kali. The axe is one of many weapons wielded by characters in the new play American Asteroid by Mauricio Miranda, which McLean is choreographing.
“The axe, because they need the weight of it, is a real axe that has been dulled down. How do you get two actors to struggle over something that heavy? It’s a big challenge,” McLean emphasizes. Other challenges for that show include a rubber hammer strike to the head and an actor being dumped out of a wheelchair. “That’s the job of fight direction anyway, to solve a problem.”
Designing stage violence is like any other design aspect of the play. Just as designers craft lighting to evoke a certain mood, physical struggle can be shaped to have the same effect. Communication is key in establishing the director’s vision for the drama. Actors have to be sensitive to both the stage director and fight choreographer in order for everyone to be safe. “Working with the director (Henry Woronicz) is fantastic. The way he directs is awesome, he gives me lots of space. He is very specific about what he needs and what the actors need -what the characters need- so there is no doubt what they need in that moment. It’s my job to figure out how.”
McLean has trained in stage combat for over 15 years, performing in plays, musicals, and opera. He has choreographed numerous fights from Illinois to Massachusetts. McLean has an MFA in Theatre Pedagogy and previously taught at Florida State University and Emerson College in Boston. What’s next for this stage violence and movement expert? Not content with his already extensive teaching and training background in stage combat, McLean says, “I’m teaching non-stop in workshops across the country.” He is on track to be a full Fight Director with the Society of American Fight Directors – one step away from the highest rank of Fight Master.