Skip Navigation


Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Fight Director Barrett Cooper
Louisville, KY

Who Barrett Cooper is fight director for Walden Theatre in Louisville, KY, where he also teaches stage combat. He has also served as fight director for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival; Arkansas Repertory Theater; Wayside Theater in Middletown, VA; and the Itinerant Theater Guild in Chicago. He has a bachelor’s degree in theater from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. While earning his master’s degree, Cooper studied stage combat with David Harum and became assistant fight director at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

What “A fight director is concerned with two things. One is the safety of the actors, because if the fight is not safe, the audience is going to be more concerned for the actors than they are for the characters. Two is to make sure that the fight itself doesn’t become its own play, but helps to progress the story of the playwright.”

When/Where “I need an hour a day to work with actors for a single fight scene, even though the fight on stage might last for only 45 seconds to a minute. You want to give it a lot of time. I work in rehearsal halls, theaters, sometimes outdoors. Or we might be doing a traveling show where we’re on a high school auditorium stage, a gym floor, or the recreation room floor of a nursing home. You have to know how to use the space you’re in.”

How “I work with actors, the director, and the set and costume designers. You get from the director exactly what he or she is looking for—how big a fight, how violent, what style? Is it comic, brutal, or whatever? Then you have to find out the abilities of the actors. You want to have a fight that’s entertaining and looks good, but you don’t want it to stand out on its own. You have to have a real sense of what the play is about—for example, is it realistic that the characters do this? You work very closely with the actors on their character in the fight. And the designers: If a character has a specific costume where mobility is limited, you have to figure that into the fight. Is it a raked [angled] stage, and how severe is the rake? Fight direction isn’t a whole lot different from regular choreography. You’ve got to think about your footwork, about traveling across the stage, and internal timing is also important. You have to get into your muscles—like in golf or in dance. Stage combat is about sending your energy past the person you’re ‘fighting,’ or getting up to the person and pulling your energy back.”

Why “What I really like a lot is the illusion of violence in a stage fight. It’s not real violence. These actors sometimes have to do eight shows a week, and if it was real, somebody’s going to get hurt. Ninety-five percent is knowing how to throw the punch, and the rest is the acting part—that really sells it. Knowing that it’s really safe. Knowing that you can go back the next night and see it again, and it will be fresh. Knowing that it’s an illusion, because theater is nothing but illusion.”

Getting There “I’ve always been very athletic. You have to learn as much as you can, see as many stage fights as you can. And make sure you take classes, that you learn from a really good teacher.”

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951