Blade Edge

Computer software | Video production | My life in general

Blade Edge stunts header

Turner Networks Upfront

October 12th, 2012 · No Comments · Stuntwork

Rose Theater photo by Rob Lee on flickr

Just finished work for a stage act to kick off an executive summit for Turner Networks that took place in the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center Jazz in New York City. It was a ton of action packed into a time span of less than 3 minutes for which we had a week and a half to put together and rehearse, first offsite and then for three days on location prior to the show on the third night. We had bikes jumping onto stage from the wings, a burning man running across the stage, evil doctors, a hot nurse, SWAT rappelling in from the ceiling… it was the first time motorized vehicles had been allowed into this theater at Lincoln Center, let alone jumping them, and the first time for a human burn as well.

We had an excellent crew assembled by Stunts911, which was the outfit hired to put this piece together. Our offsite location provided the means to mock-up the stage environment we would be experiencing at the location so we could accurately block things out and have complete rehearsals without needing to book up valuable time onsite. After basic walk through and blocking was complete and we all had an idea of where we needed to be and what we needed to do at any given time the actual fight choreography came next, which was largely handled by all of us doing the fighting ourselves and then tweaked by the directors since they know better what the client wants.

One of my friends said it best: “This is Drew in his natural state of being”

Being a member of the (evil) SWAT team, myself and three others were tasked with rappelling down from the ceiling, looking like we were clearing the room, and then engaging with the (equally evil) doctors already on stage. For the off-site rehearsals we had rafters at the top of the warehouse where we set up our ropes and gear. It was about 30 feet up or so. We started with figure 8s for the rappels but soon just used only the carabiner so when we pulled the rope out after landing we didn’t have gear swinging around as we fought. Once down on the ground it was me and the SWAT guy to my right (Peter) who had to engage with a single doctor (Josiah). As much as I like fighting sequences, as a gymnast more than a martial artist I like falls way better – so I choreographed the fight to open with Josiah sweeping my rifle barrel and decking me in the face. POW!! At first I took it spinning to a knee but once I got my full SWAT wardrobe with a riot vest that was just as good as a back pad I began doing full spins to my back. Once Peter and Josiah worked through what their fight would entail while I got back on my feet, I added a rifle butt to Josiah’s face to put him down, followed by a stomach kick from Peter to keep him down. We tweaked some small things here and there over time but from inception to showtime that was the choreography.

Ceiling rappel practicing at the offsite location

During the week at the offsite location we gradually built up to run throughs in full wardrobe. Doing things in your own clothes is comfortable, doing things in costume is different. For example, the riot vests we wore for our SWAT gear were so big we had to go back to using figure 8’s for rappelling because otherwise the vest would overlap both the ‘biner and some of the rope when we were sitting back to rappell down to the ground. It was also a bit more cumbersome handling the weapons with the vests so there was getting used to that as well. And we had goggles that needed to be worn on the helmet and then placed down over our eyes less than a minute before we dropped so they wouldn’t fog up because it’s always hotter when you’re geared up, let alone above the ground where all the hot air goes! This is just why we spend a lot of time practicing though.

Takedown time

By the time we arrived at Lincoln Center the action was all well rehearsed and smooth. Similar to how performing in costume is always different than performing in your own clothes, performing on location is always different in some ways than performing offsite. For example the area the SWAT team would drop in was more stage left than center where we had been practicing on our mock-up stage, so we had to make some slight adjustments there. Another difference for us SWAT guys was how we were going to rappel down. The offsite location had convenient rafters for us, but the Rose Theater stage goes clear straight up about 90 feet – all you can do is hang stuff like trusses for lights and drop curtains. Therefore they had a truss rigged for us from which hung four seats for us to sit in. Thankfully the seats were swings and not slings, so it was like sitting on a swing set and just as easy to slip out of. We hooked in, sat down and were slowly lifted about 35 feet up and out of sight behind drop curtains. Then we would coil up our rope and just sit and wait for our turn to make an appearance. Oh yes, we had laser sights on our guns too now that we had to manage, making the deployment sequence (for me, at least) laser on, goggles down, rope down, slip out of chair, drop. All in a span of about 15-20 seconds. Then I also had to further make sure when I dropped rope the rope didn’t wrap around the barrel of my gun or atop any of the hanging lights below and just behind us, or down between my legs (I kept them crossed to avoid this, which also made sitting in the chair a bit more comfortable) and also that my arms were inside the swing so when I slipped out I didn’t have an arm wrapped around the chair. Finally my gun needed to be positioned right so the magazine or pistol grip wouldn’t hang on the swing as I slid out. Then there were also the aforementioned lights right behind us as we dropped, both hanging and on the floor, so we had to make sure we didn’t swing much as we came down. However we all knew all this and a lot of verbal and visual cross-checking went on up there to ensure everyone had a safe drop and so there were no issues.

Well, almost. I still don’t know exactly what happened but I guess I had a bad grip on my brake line for some reason as I slid out of the chair one time during onsite rehearsal. You can’t really reposition your brake hand as you descend so when I realized my brake hand wasn’t slowing me I had to use my left hand on the rope above my figure 8, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t wearing fingerless gloves. Although I managed to take most of the friction on my palm, a lot more is needed to slow you on this part of the rope so I had to curl my whole hand around it. I managed to strike a good balance between burning my fingers off and decreasing my speed so although I landed probably as hard as I would ever want to land I didn’t break anything. I did walk away with tender feet and legs and some blisters and smooth skin on my left hand though.

One of the green rooms at the Rose Theater

Like all theaters, the Rose Theater is on a tight schedule of shows, so we’re having the stage literally assembled around us as we squeezed in rehearsals. The day of the show was an all-day affair so we could be on hand to rehearse when the stage was available, do a full-show run through and then get prepped for the real deal that night. Since we were released for lunch I took the subway down to Chinatown for some good Chinese eatin’ and found a new restaurant to replace my favorite one that closed down last year.

Showtime rolled around and it was back to the swings. The production crew did a great job getting us up there as close as possible to opening the house, so we were only sitting there for about 20 minutes. I was able to slowly swing my legs back and forth without causing the whole truss to swing and that kept the blood flowing in my legs. It would have sucked to drop with legs that were asleep! All 4 of us managed to stay close together on the drop and from there things unfolded as they should. Prior to our drop everything was going smoothly as well. We ended our short act on time – so much so our director said the production crew was calling our cues perfect. Most of the cast headed straight out after that but I had some carabiners being used to hook up the swings so I had to wait until the show wrapped about an hour and a half later so they could bring the truss back down and I could grab my stuff. After that, celebratory drinks at a nearby bar with some of the cast and then catching the last train home.

In addition to meeting many new great people on this job was the fun of being able to work once again with my friends Greg and Airon who I met on the Batman Show way back when. Crap that was a long time ago now.

Time to relax, recoup and see what’s next…

Tags: ··

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment