In the auditorium of SCAD's Arnold Hall, a lot of people are running around with sharp objects. Some of them are taking swipes at each other, while others stab the air with terrifying alacrity.
Generally, such behavior is discouraged among college students (and everyone else, for that matter.) But this sword–and dagger–carrying crew has fine reason to wield such weapons: This is the cast of the Dept. of Performing Arts' production of The Three Musketeers, a play that without its fight scenes is just another road trip bromance.
"We have 19 people in this play who fight," informs SCAD Professor of Movement and Combat Martin Noyes, who has been charged with choreographing almost two dozen episodes of fencing and fisticuffs for the characters.
In addition to the expected clashing of swords, there's a bar room brawl, some accidental murderous buffoonery and a dance of daggers between the two female leads.
Brought to SCAD for his expertise in the field, Noyes utilizes what he calls the "triumvirate of stage combat" to coordinate moves as complex as a ballet for his actors:
"It must be safe, it must be believable and, most importantly, it must be repeatable," he says.
Most of the Musketeers' cast members had little experience with stage fighting but were eager to learn. Noyes calls them "highly dedicated" and says some of the students showed up for extra coaching before the semester officially began. Judging by the swiftness and ease with which they handle their weapons, they have been quick studies.
"I tap into their already artistic, creative minds — the most important thing I try to get them to understand is that combat is an extension of their character," explains Noyes. "Repetition and rehearsal are the name of the game."
First penned by French writer Alexandre Dumas in 1625, Les Trois Mousquetaires has spawned numerous interpretations that have captivated generations of audiences. English playwright Ken Ludwig adapted and updated the classic for the London stage in 2006, a version that piqued the interest of SCAD Performing Arts Artistic Director Sharon Ott, director of SCAD's production.
"I was attracted to the combination of modern comic sensibility and a classical story. Plus, it ties in classical acting with stage combat, both part of the curriculum here," says Ott. "It was kind of a no–brainer."
Packed with action and clever one-liners, Ludwig's version also broadens the roles of women from the traditional story.
"He incorporated more feminine energy to make it more accessible," says Noyes.
In addition to the main character d'Artagnan (Adler Roberts) who finds himself in league with the titular heros Athos, Porthos and Aramis, the plot is thickened with d'Artagnan's tomboy sister, Sabine (Abby Huffstetler), and the machinations of Milady de Winter, played with pointed malevolence by sophomore Amaya Murphy.
Sneaky, sexy and wholly unrepentant, Milady manages to wound everyone in the play as she serves as a spy for the evil Cardinal Richelieu.
"She's a badass," affirms Murphy with a nod. "She seduces her men before she kills them. She chokes Sabine with rosary beads. She stabs a nun, for cryin' out loud!"
Though she appears to be quite comfortable whipping around a butterfly knife, Murphy found new territory in Milady's wicked chicanery.
"I've never played a villain before," says the Washington, D.C. native. "This has been a real growing process for me."
The Three Musketeers' alchemical boil of action and sharp comedy is billed as fun for all ages, and for the first time SCAD is offering a special package for families for the show:
For any performance Friday through Sunday, the package includes two adult and two children's tickets for $50, a 30 percent savings from the full box office price. The show runs Thursday, Feb. 28–Sunday, March 3.
In spite of the stabbing and swashbuckling, fight choreographer Noyes says the rehearsals have been as light–hearted as the script.
"This is a comedy," he grins.
"There's more laughing that anything else."