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Artistic Director Teaches Combat Training

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By JAKE YOHN
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — A love of classical movie sword fights and combat has become a career for John Bellomo, artistic director of the Maryland Shakespeare Festival, and has given him the opportunity to share his knowledge with fellow thespians.

A fight director with a Barrymore Award for outstanding choreography and movement– and several more nominations– under his belt, he has brought a strong understanding of stage combat to the Frederick performing arts community.

Bellomo has choreographed fights for the MSF for the past five years, using staged moves to help portray Shakespeare’s works. His first choreographed fights for MSF were in the 2005 production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

In September, he began teaching a 10-week rapier and dagger course in the parish hall at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Frederick to help MSF troupe members learn their craft.

“It’s very important to be a well-rounded actor, to be able to fight,” said troupe member Bess Kaye of Germantown. “Directors want to be able to see that you have fight training, whether or not they want you to fight.”

Students listened intently as Bellomo directed them in simple movements with the rapier and dagger, all the while emphasizing safety. These simpler moves were then orchestrated into short but complicated sequences of attacks and parries.

“They’ve donated their time and energies to make sure we’ve progressed and remained stable where we are,” he said.
His love of choreographed combat began as a child, when he and his father watched fights from movies such as “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Zorro.”

The interest became a practical pursuit as he developed a desire to work in Shakespearean theater– a genre where sword fights are a common occurrence.

“It was a twofold thing, one was that I enjoyed it and being able to do sword-fighting would be helpful in my acting
career,” Bellomo said.

A college professor recognized Bellomo’s skill and took him on as an apprentice at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in acting. He later graduated from Temple University with a master’s in directing.

Bellomo became a certified and recognized fight director after working with the Society of American Fight Directors. He began his career in the Philadelphia area in 1998.

In 2010, Bellomo received a Barrymore Award for Outstanding Choreography and Movement for his work with “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by playwright Kristoffer Diaz, which included several wrestling combat scenes.

“There was an actual ring for the set, and the actors learned how to fight and fall and get slammed into the mat,” Bellomo said. “There were several fights throughout the show that were spectacular.”

The Barrymore award is the Philadelphia equivalent of a Tony Award. It is named after the Barrymores of Philadelphia, a famous family of actors at the turn of the 19th century related to Drew Barrymore.

“John is an excellent teacher,” said company member Teresa Spencer of Washington. “He’s a really skilled fighter and has
a huge body of knowledge and is very good at imparting it.”

During this Tuesday night class, Bellomo was teaching rapier and dagger techniques.

Many sword masters of the Renaissance were architects and engineers who used mathematical calculations to create a civilian weapon meant for means of self-defense, Bellomo said, “which made it a popular weapon of that time period and a mainstay in many of Shakespeare’s works.”

“We started simple, so we build on very basic moves like parries, then cuts and thrusts,” Kaye said. “We build that toward
choreography and an entire fight.”

Stage combat is not restricted to sword work, and Bellomo said he planned to continue offering classes in other styles using knives, fistfighting, broadswords, quarterstaffs and other weapons.

Future classes will cater to students outside the company, including other actors and those interested in the history of the weapons and the skills required to wield them.

“Frederick is a really unique spot. I think that there is a community here that can support a company like this,” Bellomo
said.

Bellomo lives in Frederick but also has a home near Philadelphia where his wife and son live.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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