Talking to Robert Chapin
By Jan Lopreste
JL: How did you get started in the business? Was it something you
always wanted to do or was it "chance?" When did you begin to
RC: Chance definitely had a hand in it. I got started in swordplay
through music actually. I was on a music scholarship at Miami Dade
Community College back in 1982 (playing the trumpet). When it became too
much for me (8 hours practice a day) I left the music program. One of my
instructors, however, said I could keep my scholarship if I took his
"Early Music Consortium," where he was desperately trying to
find someone who could play a "zinc" - a renaissance trumpet. I
was terrible at it, but I've heard that it's not supposed to sound much
better than a cat in heat.
One of our first performances happened to be at a renaissance fair. I
remember my costume made me look like a walking green carpet. The fair,
however, was a whole new experience, but nothing was as impressive as the
Living Chess game. Here were guys and girls my age doing fantastic
choreographed stunts which had the audience cheering like they were at a
WWF match. I was hooked. Within three months, my brother and I were
directing shows with this group, which still exists today - The Royal
Chessmen of Miami, Florida. After almost twenty years, I still quote their
logo "Fight Hard, Die Well," and always keep in mind their two
rules of stage combat "1 - Don't hurt anyone, and 2 - Don't get
JL: What is the most difficult aspect of learning a duel
(encounter, fight sequence?)
RC: Performing someone else's choreography can always be a challenge,
since no two people move alike. There is also getting used to your fight
partner if you haven't worked together before. Unfortunately, there are no
real standards for fight choreography and everyone has their own
particular style and technique. There can also be egos involved, which is
probably one of the most difficult aspects to deal with.
Then there are the props, wardrobe, sets, lights, and other
considerations - all of which will conspire to kill you.
JL: What is the most enjoyable part of the same process?
RC: Performing a fight up to speed is incredibly intense and
exhilarating - makes for a great aerobic workout too.
JL: Would you describe a swordfight as being similar to a dance?
Does your background in ballroom dance help you with sword choreography?
RC: I've never had to do a "Starlight Turn" in the middle of
a swordfight, but I'm sure it helps. Just take a look at Gene Kelley in
the Three Musketeers. Fight choreography and dance choreography are no
different really, you're simply looking for dramatic movement that tells a
JL: What is your preferred blade to work with?
RC: I started out with heavy weapons and was drawn into the fast
and flashy world of rapier and smallsword. Now (mostly because of
"The Hunted"), I'm back to heavy weapons (broadsword, katana),
but with a fast and flashy style.
JL: Are there any that you particularly dislike, and why?
RC: I think every weapon has its possibilities (creatively). What
I don't like is a performer or choreographer utilizing a weapon that is
unsafe (too sharp or heavy) or inappropriate for the choreography.
JL: What else would you like to tell us regarding swordsmanship,
choreography and all that jazz? =)
RC: There are plenty of places out there to learn this stuff if
you're interested. Check out the SAFD (www.safd.org) and local renaissance
fairs for stage combat groups that offer instruction. It's a lot of fun
and it's not impossible to learn.
Just remember to play safe!
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