Kim Fukawa and Jay Burckhardt
For Kim Fukawa and Jay Burckhardt, an accidental pairing led to a joint career in fight design.
"We were both teaching assistants for the same class [at Columbia College]," said Fukawa. "We had a lot of free time in the combat office afterwards"—yes, there is actually such a thing, Fukawa admitted with a laugh—"and when we were bored, started messing around with choreography, just seeing what we could do. We got along really well, our fighting styles meshed very well and we choreographed very quickly together."
After graduation, the two teamed up for professional work in 2007 and incorporated as JK Productions in 2009 to provide combat and stunt design and choreography for films and stage productions, including several for Babes With Blades Theatre Company where Fukawa is an artistic associate.
Now, they've contributed fight design to the world premiere of "Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates," by Eric Simon, a 1940s-style noir mystery in which a detective agency's Girl Friday gets her first big break—and unexpected consequences—when a reclusive heiress asks her to investigate a mysterious arson at an orphanage. We called them to find out more about the show and their work.
"Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates"
Go: 8 p.m. Thursday through Sept. 21 at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St.
Tickets: $20; $12 for students; $8 previews through Friday. 773-904-0391; babeswithblades.org
Where you'll see their work in the play:
Jay: "There's violence, actually, throughout the entire play [laughs], which is lovely for us. We get into a lot of unarmed combat, dagger versus dagger fighting, dagger versus unarmed fighting and a couple other extra props thrown in to make for some pretty intense scenes with hand-to-hand and knife-dagger fighting."
On what inspired their combat design:
Kim: "The 1940s sort-of noir styling of [the play]."
Jay: "Bo Thomas, the main character, is this detective, but she's this ragtag scrappy tomboy. So her fighting style became a lot different than the villain of the play, who is going to be a little more militaristic, more stylized in her fighting style. Keeping it true to a film noir detective story really made it an interesting piece to work on."
Stage fight pet peeves:
Kim: "Sometimes, fights aren't logical. They may be flashy looking, but there's no point to the move—like, adding a lot of spins into a sword fight that's supposed to be serious. You look at it and go, 'I could have stabbed you five times in the time it took you to do that little pirouette.' It looks nice, but I don't believe that you're trying to kill each other."
What happens when stage combat goes wrong?
Jay: "Oh, my. [Laughs] We're going to go ahead and try to say that our combat never goes wrong. [Laughs]"
Kim: "Sometimes people can get tagged a little bit. Maybe a couple bruises here and there, but nothing serious."
Jay: "When it comes to stage violence and props—we also work in the world of stunts for film—everything is a calculated risk. There are safeties built in to make sure no accidents happen, but occasional problems do come up and you have to deal with them as you go. Luckily, we've never had anything serious happen."
But this did go wrong:
Jay: "We've had instances where gun props won't go off or sound effects won't happen—where the sound designer misses the gunshot that's supposed to kill the person at the end of the play [laughs] and then they have to somehow figure out a way to die without being shot."
Kim: "This didn't personally happen to me, but in [a production of] 'West Side Story,' there's a knife fight and then one character gets shot. And the actor who's supposed to shoot doesn't have the gun. He takes off his shoe and goes, 'Poisoned boot!' and throws it at the other actor, who then dies."
The strangest fight scenes they've worked on:
Kim: "I'm in a short little show right now ['Mad Vampires' at Abbie Fest] where I'm fighting a bunch of vampires. It's very silly and I kill them with a pencil."
Jay: "I think the most interesting one I've ever choreographed was when one of the characters was a dog—I was looking at dog psyche. I had to put dog fighting characteristics into the fight even though it was a person portraying the dog."
Their advice to you if you find yourself in a "Game of Thrones"-style sword fight:
Jay: "Run. [Laughs]"
Kim: "If you can run, run. If it's an option, you always run—don't fight."