|Like most in the theatre community, fight director Laryssa Yanchak loves her job. She has also been successful at it, finding herself constantly in demand.
"Its a great and a wonderful surprise," she says of the fact that she is able to make a living directing stage fights. Having got her start in Toronto, she ultimately relocated to Calgary and has consistently found work since coming here.
Since first coming to fight choreography as an acting student, Yanchak has made it her specialty, directing fights for theatre, opera and ballet, as well as performing both stunts and fights in movies. She is also versatile in the kind of fights she stages.
"I can direct a fight with everything thats needed by the show, whether a vase or a glass full of ice," she says, but admits that swords are her favourite weapon to work with. "Once you get the basics, there are minor differences in technique (between different kinds of swords). Layering in the differences is what makes a fight unique."
This year, she is being nominated for a Betty for her work last winter in Alberta Theatre Projects production of Treasure Island.
"It was really fun," she says. "The cast was awesome, everyone wanted to jump right in. They were all willing to see what they could do." Along with her work on Alberta Ballets production of Romeo and Juliet, Treasure Island presented Yanchak with the opportunity to direct larger fight scenes, involving nearly all the cast.
"Its the kind of play that appeals to everyone, whether youre a young kid wanting to be Jim Hawkins and go on an adventure, or youre older, wanting to be a crusty pirate," she laughs.
She describes fight direction as an attempt to strike a balance between believability and safety. "The actors have to stay alive in their characters and still fight."
In approaching a fight, she says, she takes into account the stage and the weapons the actors are using. In Treasure Island, for instance, the company used a thrust stage, allowing her to stage a large brawl that could be viewed from all different angles. "You have to figure out everyones goal in a battle and how it all fits together."
The bottom line of stage fighting, she says, is in trying to tell a story. Largely, this may come from having first learned fight direction in theatre school. "I often get asked if I fence," she says, "but I havent. Im going to take it up in the fall."
Yanchak is happy to be nominated for a Betty in the choreography category, feeling that the theatre community in Calgary is appreciating her work. Her previous local credits include work with Vertigo Mystery Theatre, Urban Curvz and Dark Forest. In addition, she continues to act and has a series of projects, both as fight director and as an actor, set up for this coming season. She will be working on Vertigos Wait Until Dark, as well as reprising her work with Alberta Ballet to remount Romeo and Juliet.
"Im thankful," she says. "I didnt think Id have a bunch of jobs like this lined up." When asked what sort of techniques differentiate stage fighting from actual fighting, she laughs.
"I dont really know. Ive been in maybe two actual fights in my life. And Ive seen a few things on the Internet."