Putting the ‘spear’ in Shakespeare

Truro actors learning fencing ahead of Victoria Park performance

Ryan Cooke newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on June 7, 2014

TRURO – Where fore art thou, Romeo, you ask? Well, he’s been taking fencing lessons.


The cast of Truro Theatre Society’s “Shakespeare in the Park” production of the world-famous play was busy in the studio last weekend, as they mastered the craft of fencing. After all, what is Romeo and Juliet without vindictive bloodshed?

Leading the lessons was local fencing enthusiast, Murdo Messer. After fencing in Newfoundland and Halifax for several years, Messer opened a fencing club for a brief time in Truro. After hearing about his expertise, local MLA, actress and director Lenore Zann brought Messer in to prepare the cast for its sophomore run in Victoria Park.

“I always thought that if we did a Shakespearian play here in Truro, we’d need to get somebody who was really good to come and choreograph the fight scenes. When I heard (Messer) does fencing, I thought ‘A-ha!’”

Messer began the lesson with slideshow and background information on the history of fencing, before launching into the choreography code. Each move and position has a corresponding number, which the students practiced memorizing by using foam swords.

After getting the moves down pat, Messer introduced the actors to the real rapiers.

Within minutes, the actors began to settle in to their new weapons. The clanging of metal on metal could be heard throughout the rehearsal room at Show Case, over the shouts of choreography numbers. One pair in particular were kicking it up a notch, practicing their vicious rivalry for the show.

Alex Purdy and Arjen Blaauwendraat, two close friends off the stage, will be playing bitter rivals Romeo and Tybalt.

It’s a new kind of role for the duo, who are used to chumming it up instead.

“The last play we did we were best friends,” Blaauwendraat said, before shifting to a more Tybalt tone. “I hate his guts.”

“We have really good chemistry on stage,” said Purdy. “I’m glad he’s doing this with me.”

Learning the fight choreography is just like dancing – all memorization and performance, Purdy said.

“Once we get the numbers memorized we’ll have it down pat.”

The key for Blaauwendraat is experience, however. Well, sort of.

“I did a lot of sword fighting when I was younger,” he said confidently, before adding, “In the backyard with my friends.”

“All you need is imagination,” Purdy said.

Messer comes with a bit more experience, having fenced for years, and choreographed the play once 14 years ago for Shakespeare by the Sea in St. John’s, N.L.

“I’ve done it once but I’m a little rusty,” he laughed. “But these guys are doing great. They’re a lot of fun and they’re really enthusiastic.”

The group returns to the park having raked in more success than it expected last year. Their performance drew more than 900 people to Victoria Park.

This year, the production will have a local twist, with the Montagues and Capulets representing the Acadians and British in 1700s Nova Scotia. Shows will take place on the July 4th weekend with Friday and Saturday night shows at 7 p.m., and a possibility for a Sunday encore.

“Come out to Victoria Park on July 4 and see a beautiful love story,” Zann said. “With singing, and dancing, and acting and sword fighting!”