- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - When martial arts and performing arts intersect, an expert is needed to keep the audience entertained - and the actors unharmed.

Fight choreographer Mike Speck is one of those rare experts, giving actors the tools they need to safely carry out stunts for a live audience, the Winona Daily News reported .

He’s worked with a wide range of people, teaching everyone from teenagers to seasoned professionals how to get comfortable with a sword, knife or their bare hands.

“You have to pay attention to the people who are in the room with you,” Speck said. “You want your partner to look good, you want to make your partner to look like they’re the biggest badass in the room.”

Whether it’s Theatre du Mississippi, Saint Mary’s or Winona State, any company that hopes to produce a fight scene should probably run it by Speck first.

Just like passing a ball, a good fight scene means getting the right response from the other person in the scene.

A stage slap, for instance, can get a lot laughs from the audience if it’s done right. That means getting the timing, the distance and other subtleties rehearsed well to make a fake strike look like a real one.

“Most of us aren’t sociopaths, we don’t want to hurt the people we’re working with,” Speck said. “You’re not competing, your storytelling.”

Some actors opt for the “just slap me, it’ll be fine” approach, forgetting the irregularities of human face. Between eardrums that can be cuffed, eyes that can be scratched and head shapes that don’t produce the desired sound when hit, this can be problematic for performances.

Luckily, Speck knows how to make stage combat smooth, safe and fun for both those on stage and in the audience.

“Sorry Tybalt, you’re going to die when you fight Romeo, there’s just no way around that,” Speck said.

His most recent project was at the Tent Theatre in Springfield, Mo, for a Three Musketeers performance.

Speck said it was refreshing to just show up and fight without having to come up with his own choreography like he usually does.

He recently began working a full-time job with Volunteer Services Winona after giving his time to them on numerous other occasions. After becoming familiar with his work ethic, Volunteer Services welcomed him onto the team after he applied.

On Speck, Volunteer Services Executive Director Sandra Burke says that “he’s got a very unique perspective on things. He comes in ready to go with a great attitude.”

Burke also describes Speck as a “Jack of all trades.”

Judy Myers has directed many of the performances Speck was involved in at Saint Mary’s University.

“He’s great, constantly professional,” Myers said. “Not only is he trained in stage combat, but he’s also trained as an actor, allowing him to see things from that perspective.”

Myers also recalls the choreography Speck came up with when the scene called for actors to be “blown away” by an explosion. It involved teaching the cast how to fall and react, true stuntman material.

Speck graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and has a master’s degree in fine arts from Western Illinois.

He’s originally from Winona, going away and coming back as gigs open and close.

“Sometimes I go away, sometimes I find the job here,” Speck said.


Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com

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