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Not pulling any punches: A conversation with Fight Director Darren Michael Hengst

July 7, 2008

Darren Michael Hengst, Fight Director and Ensemble member of Les Mis.

Darren Michael Hengst has two very important roles to play in Les Misérables. The first is his performance in many ensemble roles throughout the show. The second is his role as Fight Director for the production. No stranger to stage combat (he played the brawling and short-tempered Curley in the Walnut's 2007 award-winning production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men), We sat down to talk with Darren about what it takes to make the physical action in Les Mis so realistic.

WST: As Fight Choreographer for Les Mis, what is your role in the production process?

In Les Mis, there are a lot of smaller things rather than any huge fight scene. The barricade scene sees a lot of people get killed so I will be able to help those performers with accuracy and believability. Also, I will be working a lot with the Gavroche moments. We see him shot four times so it is very important.

I worked on some fights in last season's Of Mice and Men, and I threw it out that I wanted to work with Les Mis. Mark thought it was a great idea to use someone in the show who would be very intimate with the show. It is actually interesting because I am not normally in the shows when I am working on fight choreography. I think in this case it will work better for us. Usually I come in and do the staging early in the process, then I come back during tech week. In this case, I will be around constantly to answer questions. It will be great!

Safety first. Not everyone values the position. It is nice when someone understands that is important to be safe when you are working on 9 shows a week. Fighting in general, anyone can do the moves but it really works when its motivated, relationship, internal stirrings.

WST: How did you become involved in professional fight choreography?

I actually participated in a 3 year training intensive program. I needed more training since I came from a very small undergraduate theatre program. The workshops were taught by Dr. Robin McFarquhar. I was his assistant and I was very lucky to be learning under the best! Not only was he nationally recognized for stage combat, but he was a great coach and mentor. I then became a member of Stage combat Society of American Fight Directors. You can get certified in 8 weapons. You are very specifically adjudicated and must meet a particular standard. I am proud to be certified in three weapons!

WST: What is it like working with Mark Clements?

I loved working with him! He comes from a technical background which is very interesting when we get to Tech because he expected everything to come together so quickly. Normally things come together in pieces. For Of Mice and Men, he was very relationship oriented. He really believes that one little sentence can change everything. He is always focused on small moments and relationships.