NIGHT IN ALACHUA COUNTY – An Interview with Violence Director Gaby Labotka
Tell us a little about your background as a violence director. How did you get into it and what excites you about crafting violence on stage?
I was first introduced to stage combat in 2010 when I was taking classes with Paul Dennhardt (Fight Director with the Society of American Fight Directors) at Illinois State University. I was already a dancer and studying acting and stage combat seemed to fall in the middle of those crafts and it really felt right! I found the classes in single sword and rapier and dagger to be among the most fruitful acting classes I took in undergrad, and so I decided to continue my education in this element of theatre.
Stage combat is storytelling that can create visceral reactions and illustrate stake for the audience in a physical way: pain is something everyone can relate to. Not only is this a great tool as an actor, but because I am also a director and dance choreographer I wanted to see how I could craft this on that end of the table too. I began dabbling in fight choreography with my friends at stage combat workshops, and eventually attended the Summer Sling in NYC taking the Choreography Track, which was essentially a choreography intensive and master class.
What excites me most is that it is creative problem solving! The playwright wants something out of these moments that will make an audience cringe, gasp, and scream because they believe it and it needs to be perform-able 3-8 times a week: How can we make the impossible something possible, believable, and safe?
What are the challenges and opportunities that designing for the horror genre poses as opposed to straight plays?
Blood and the specific nature of the violence. In many other plays you will see a stage direction like, “she slaps him” or “he dies” or “they fight,” and that open-endedness provides endless opportunity. The choreographer more or less has free reign. But, you look at a horror play and you see things like, “Character pulls out other character’s left eye and eats it,” or “She beats her to death with the femur of the dead body.” The playwright has more specific ideas on how to inflict pain on their characters to illustrate the themes and plots points of their story, and it all means something.
But how do you rip out some one’s eye onstage? How do you do it in the round? How much blood needs to hit the floor or audience to help illustrate the play? I mean, this is where we get to play and stretch our imaginations to solve these wonderful problems. Although creating safe and believable violence is a challenge for whatever play in whichever genre in theatre, it’s a rare and pleasant opportunity to try to actualize violence that many people don’t usually imagine on stage.
Creativity flourishes in limitation… and there are some intense limitations in horror.
What’s the creepiest, most badass moment of violence you’ve watched in a horror film?
Most recently: The ending sequence of Get Out. Everything means something and is a reflection of the story, metaphor, and social commentary throughout the whole film. It hurts and is exciting to watch all at once, my heart was racing the entire time. Stakes are fucking high.
What’s your dream moment of violence to design?
Oh I would love to choreograph some sort of werewolf/vampire knock-down drag out… and for it to involve a fly-rig… and onstage transformations and blood. Something that requires a lot of imagination for both performer, choreographer, and audience, very specific movement vernacular, and gore.
Why do you think audiences should come see Night In Alachua County?
I think it is a scary examination of the ways in which we hurt each other and how holding onto the past can hurt others both emotionally and literally. What we run away from and run to. How frightening they are, the things that we can’t or won’t let die.
It’s important to me also to see so many women on stage in different relationships with each other, and that those stories are told by a mainly femme design team. Also it’s going to be creepy, bloody, and beautiful so… you should see it.