This jagoff was another instructor I had in college. It would be bold of me to call him a professor because I don’t believe he had the educational qualifications and it showed.
During my last semester of college I was anxious to finish my degree and get on with my career. This was directly after my internship with OPTIC NERVE STUDIOS on the George A Romero film THE DARK HALF. I worked up until a day before classes started and foregone my Winter break because I loved it and I was making GREAT money! However my class workload was going to be crazy because I needed 18 credits to graduate.
As I mentioned previously I was very close with the College of Arts Dean’s office. They knew me well, my work ethic, my accomplishments with the film industry internship that I got on my own, as well as my martial arts experience and performances. They hired someone from the SOCIETY OF AMERICAN FIGHT DIRECTORS to teach a course in stage combat and wanted my honest opinion of the instructor because they were thinking of repeating the course in the future.
At first I was very excited to take the course because this was right up my alley and I was not aware of this organization. I was aware of the British Society of Fight Directors because Tom Savini and Taso Stavrakis were members. We talked and practiced stage combat and fencing quite a bit. I even auditioned with Taso on Broadway for the George Lucas Live Adventure Stage Show under B.H. Barry (that will be another blog).
As with the other instructor I “hate” I won’t mention this guy’s name because he is still active in that organization and this happened in 1991.
First impressions are always important and you would think a first time instructor at a new college would want to leave a lasting impression especially in the Theater Departments’s beautiful newly renovated Waller Hall that we were all very proud of. He was arrogant and dressed like someone in Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I immediately had a weird feeling about this guy however we had an interest in the fighting arts so I wanted to get to know more about him which proved fruitless because he was only interested in hooking up with the females in the theater department.
The class was simple hand to hand combat, quarter staff, and fencing work. The final test was going before one of the Fight Society’s directors in order to get “certified” in the organization.
Trust is the first thing you learn when getting into an acting school. Knowing instinctively that your fellow actors have your back and concern for your safety as well as their own. I was always good at the choreography but often had trouble remembering lines back then due to concentrating so hard on the fight performance. This is where I learned the importance of trust on the stage. We all looked out for one another. There was something “off” about this instructor that I couldn’t trust and he NEVER instilled that in any of us.
At first it was a group class where we paired up randomly to practice. Everyone knew of my background and would ask me questions when he wasn’t available. He didn’t like that. We were then paired with permanent partners according to his plans. I was paired with someone that was having a lot of difficulty and became frustrated very easy. There were times she left or walked out of class crying. Things like this happen and it happened a few times with students I had when I was teaching at a makeup school. A class environment can be overwhelming when it’s something you’re not familiar with let alone when you're holding a real sword for the first time. I got this way whenever I picked up a basketball. It’s the instructor’s responsibility to step up, not a classmate, which I did EVERY time because she didn't trust talking to him.
This class was nothing new to me. I wasn’t learning anything and I wasn’t getting any better because I had to teach instead of practice.
During the course many rumors started flying around about him hitting on classmates, going to bars with them in town regularly, as well as his arrogance towards students and other professors wanting to make it in the theater industry. Openly in class he would mock my love of movies and make fun of fight choreography scenes that were decades old. He often bragged about living in New York and doing it “for real” and went as far to disparage one of my favorite instructors (Ed Simpson) for teaching stage combat in his Movement classes. Mr. Simpson is one of those teachers where EVERY class stuck with me because I enjoyed them so much. I anticipated his classes and never missed one. I LEARNED things I never knew (I still cant juggle properly even though I still try occasionally). He INSPIRED me to take more theater classes after having him for his INTRODUCTION TO THEATER. I was lucky enough to take his ACTING and STAGE MOVEMENT classes which have helped me incredibly throughout my career.
People grew to dislike this Ren Faire reject very quickly and they began complaining to department heads. I was asked if these complaints had merit. “Oh indeed they did”, I responded.
A week before the testing he spoke with everyone privately regarding their performance during the class. He thanked me for helping with the student and said, “look we both know you will pass this.” He spoke more of my training partner and problems with her. Calling her a “delicate flower” at one point. I will never forget that because she was outside the window hiding behind bushes listening which I wasn’t aware of. She told me this right after because she was going to complain about him with other students. The delicate flower remark made her laugh. So I know she heard everything and wasn’t lying.
The evening of testing came as some hot shot from the organization was flown in at the school’s expense to judge the students. A few students were sent to pick him up and some of my classmates were irate about this because it shouldn’t be a student’s responsibility.
We tested with our class training partner and then paired with someone from another class. Everyone else was randomly picked, except for me, the instructor pulled the worst student from other the class and paired me with her. He whispered, “help her out” which I tried my best.
The next day the results were posted on the theater department’s bulletin board. I haven’t seen it yet but students were REALLY pissed (the drama showed through big time), especially all the females because not one of their names were there.
I also couldn’t find my name.
The instructor was in his office and he was noticeably irate over something but this didn’t stop me. I asked, “why is my name not on that list?” He immediately got hot headed and began yelling, “I know you think you’re some martial artist but it’s people like you that prevent me from getting jobs.” I was shocked to hear this. “I did your job for you and helped you out. You even told me I would pass.” I responded.
“I have no authority of who he passed and that’s that.” He fired back.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” I said as he put his face in his palm sulking and looking at his desk. I just walked away and went directly to the dean’s office to tell the assistant dean my story. She mentioned I’m not the only one to say this, that he will not be invited back, it demonstrates his attitude and poor teaching ability all the while they would be writing the Society of their bad experience with him. I didn’t have to tell her anything more.
After this incident I avoided him and he became the bane of the theater department. It was then that he was finally open with the relationship he was having with one of the students. He tried buttering up to me during my makeup class final but I wasn’t having it. He did give me an “A” in the class though.
That was nearly 30 years ago. It feels annoying to write about those two because I haven’t thought of them for years but their insolence drove me further to be successful with my career choices. Within a few months of graduating I was getting stunt work in Pittsburgh, earned my Screen Actor’s Guild card, trained with Joe Odom who was a World class fencer and Martial Artist, was studying Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, and became a part of the local stunt crew.
It goes to show assholes can have a positive influence on your life.
Of course I did a search on him only to see he is still involved with that society and became the chairman at one point. Unfortunately he teaches in San Diego and I couldn’t find anything beyond that. So much for being a New York hot shot fight choreographer. Whatever. I don’t care because I don’t trust some one that still looks like an Irish vagabond with goofy ass hair.
The most rewarding thing out of this class was developing my teaching abilities while seeing my partner develop confidence. She was very thankful but that’s not what I was paying for.