- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It all started with a fake slap gone awry.
Casey Kaleba was a ninth-grade drama student in “Lysistrata” who was supposed to get slapped by a girl.
Being a 13-year-old boy, he figured he could handle the hit some girl could throw and told his co-star to go for it, just really smack him.
With every performance, the girl got more bold until one night she upped the ante and hit him with a shoe.
“It hurt a lot,” Kaleba said.
There had to be a way to do it that was safe, he thought.
Kaleba went on to study stage combat and movement with the Society of American Fight Directors in 1992.
“I loved Bond movies, loved Errol Flynn,” he said of movies featuring heightened action scenes. “I thought, ‘Someone gets paid to do that.’”
Kaleba is a professional combat choreographer and instructor who works with several Washington, D.C.-based theaters including Folger Theatre, Round House Theater and Studio Theatre.
He stages fights and stunts for various plays — from pratfalls to tumbles down staircases to sword fights.
He recently brought his expertise to the Port Tobacco Players Theater to work with the cast of “Cyrano de Bergerac” to really sell the fight scenes, including one where the title character has to battle 100 men with swords in defense of his drunk friend Ligniere.
Kaleba had no reservations about volunteering his time to the local theater.
“I got my start in community theater,” he said, adding that the appeal of amateur theater is being around people who are passionate about the work.
“People choose, at the end of a really long day, to take some time out to do some theater,” Kaleba said. And, “the opportunity to work is an opportunity to work.”
Before Kaleba stepped up, “Cyrano” director Craig Hower was going to choreograph the fights himself.
He does have experience doing it, but having a professional handle the scenes allows Hower to focus on other tasks and increases the safety level, which already was pretty high.
“It means the world to me,” Hower said of Kaleba’s help. “Someone of Casey’s caliber ... when he approached us about doing it, we were very excited about it.”
Showrunners said Kaleba’s approach of starting actors out with more difficult moves before going on to easier ones works well.
“He started off by getting their attention and held it,” Hower said. “He goes step by step until we all get up to speed.”
“Casey started them with the difficult stuff, so by the time they were doing the easier stuff — up, down — they were pros,” said Carol Charnock, the show’s producer.
Swash, swash, buckle, buckle
PTP’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” billed as the “original romantic comedy,” is the story of Cyrano, a man of action and words, who is in love with Roxane.
She’s in love with another man, Christian, who doesn’t have Cyrano’s romantic way with words, so Cyrano helps Christian woo Roxane and gets into fights along the way.
One scuffle pits Cyrano against 100 men.
Because the cast is made up of only 10 performers, actors come in from the wings to battle Cyrano, get their butts kicked, stumble off stage and return as other characters to get bested by Cyrano.
Kaleba worked with the actors, including Bill Righter as Cyrano, to make each confrontation interesting and quick-moving.
Kaleba incorporates punches, kicks and screams into the action and doesn’t mind when they bungle a step while practicing.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Kaleba said before starting a sequence again. “Do not worry about speed at all. I know it’s the 8-year-old in you [who] knows it’ll feel really good, but don’t worry about that now.”
Righter, who has a background in musical theater, brought his son Lucas, 7, to the rehearsal because he knew the boy would get a kick out of watching the sword play.
“I’m having a blast,” said Righter of Waldorf who grew up watching “Star Wars” and having lightsaber battles like most kids. “My inner child is coming out.”
Charnock said the cast didn’t have to be told twice to come to rehearsal with Kaleba.
“It gets them to rehearsals,” she said. “‘We’re playing with swords,’ ... ‘I’ll be there.’”
In addition to collaborating with actors, Kaleba works closely with directors to bring their visions to the stage.
“You never know what a director is going to want,” he said.
If there is a jungle set with ropes?
“You put a rope on the stage. We’re swinging from that rope,” he said.
However, safety is always in the front of his mind.
“Ninety percent of my job is making sure the actors are safe,” Kaleba said. “The other 10 percent is telling a story with violence. It’s a really fun career.”
That fun rubs off on actors Kaleba works with.
“This is too much fun,” said Gary Maynard who plays Ragueneau in the production that opens May 16 at the La Plata theater. “This is ridiculously fun.”