by Brandon Bruce.
I often tell other theatre folks that I’ve made a career off “bad ideas.” I like to call these ideas "tumbleweed ideas.” It all goes back to 2002, when I once suggested that a piece of tumbleweed roll through a stage in Picasso at the Lapin Agile (a play set in a bar in 1904 Paris). The reactions I got from my colleagues were memorable (most thought I was crazy). But one collaborator asked me “Why do you want this? What is your desired effect?” This type of questioning led us to a truly brilliant and inventive moment. Ever since then, I’ve preferred bad ideas to the “good” ones. For behind what feels like a bad idea is something magical.
BCT began a partnership with Brookwood Village in the summer of 2017. We were asked to design and build a set for their Singing Santa during the holidays later that year. Our Technical Director, Justin Kirkpatrick, did a fantastic job with this design and build. One day, while some actors from Cinderella were performing in a promotional event to introduce the Singing Santa, I remarked to our Production Manager, Stephen Fister, that the storefront where we were standing would be a great theatre. It harkened me back to my days working in the Chicago storefront theatre scene, where it seems like every space had once been something else (e.g. a bank, store, factory, warehouse, etc.) before it was a theatre. It felt like a wild idea. Indeed, it felt like a tumbleweed idea! So, we ran with it. We approached the management at Brookwood Village about it and boom – the Magic City Theatre Festival was born.
Then we at BCT had to determine which play would fit into this new theatrical space that had previously been a clothing store. We knew we wanted the show to be a family show – as opposed to our usual children’s shows. We wanted a show that people with families would enjoy, but even those without children would also love. We knew we wanted it to have a certain amount of spectacle. We also knew that we wanted it to be like nothing else in town.
Ever since I began working in theatre in the early 90s, I’ve loved stage combat. Like many boys, I was always playing with swords and wearing capes as a kid. If I wasn’t defeating Darth Vader or the Sheriff of Nottingham, I was busy being the bad guy, struggling to defeat Luke Skywalker or Robin Hood. (When you’re the youngest of 4 brothers, you often get stuck playing the bad guys.) As long as I got a sword, I was a happy kid. Fast forward to me as a college freshman, playing the role of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. I was in awe with our fight choreographer, Chris Ockler. A person could play with swords and make money doing it? Get outta town!
So, when it came time to select a show for the inaugural Magic City Theatre Festival, The Three Musketeers emerged as the clear winner. It had everything we wanted: adventure, humor, romance, and most of all – sword fights! I also chose Ken Ludwig’s adaptation because it introduces the character of Sabine: D’Artagnan’s sister who’s just as good a swordsmen as her brother (maybe better). Why bother going to a blockbuster action film when you can see the adventure unfold right in front of your eyes? Feel the swish in the air from a swinging blade? And an adaptation on one of the greatest adventures of all times in which women get a chance to take a stab at things (pun totally intended)?
And here we are: two and a half weeks into rehearsals with 3 weeks to go. The experience has been exhilarating. I’ve directed my share of combat-heavy productions, but I have never directed one in the round. It gives me a feeling of a medieval jousting tournament. The action is so close and thrilling that I often have a hard time suppressing my loud vocal reactions to each back flip, cool sword move, or landed punch. Our cast and crew seem completely unfazed by the challenges of presenting such a large, sweeping story in such a tight space - and that brings me great joy.
So far, we’ve managed to give the show a rough staging and have choreographed about half of the fights. We still have much more to do – from music to dance choreography to just old-fashioned acting to cover. Each day, I have a feeling like we’re doing something mischievous by putting on this play. It always feels rebellious and thrilling – much the same way the musketeers themselves are portrayed.
That tumbleweed feeling just keeps getting stronger.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS runs July 12th – 29th at Brookwood Village. For more information and to get tickets, click here.
Brandon Bruce is an award-winning director, actor, and fight choreographer residing in Alabama, where he is the Executive Artistic Director for the Birmingham Children’s Theatre. Bruce’s work is greatly influenced by his passions for provocative performance, new works, theatre for young audiences, music, and history. As the Senior Manager of Performance Interpretation for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, he directed The Revolutionary City, The Beloved Women of Chiota, the ballad opera Thomas & Sally, the pantomime Harlequin’s Holiday, and his own adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters. From 2004 to 2007, he served as Artistic Director of Chicago’s BackStage Theatre Company where he directed The Ruling Class, The Skin of Our Teeth, Terra Nova, and the world premiere staging of Denise Druczewski’s Inferno.