The first fight Simon Fon ever designed got him a standing ovation.
He’d just gradated from the theatre program at York University and was doing the Dream in High Park in Toronto. He and veteran actor Philip Aiken were to fight using shields and Japanese staffs, but there was no choreography.
The two worked for hours on it, and the cast stood up and applauded when they did it for the first time. Fon now had a new passion besides acting.
Using the skills he’d learned in stage combat classes in school, plus the athleticism that had him trying sports as diverse as hockey and fencing, Fon started fight directing for small plays, often convincing the director he was needed and working for little to no money.
Over time, he got more and more work — especially when directors saw that a properly choreographed fight was lot more interesting. He eventually got film and TV work, where he did fight directing, stunt work and acting, usually of highly physical roles.
When he works on a movie, TV show or play, he usually meets with the director first to find out what he or she wants from the fight: how long it should be, what weapons the actors will use and how rough it should get.
On his own, he comes up with a basic fight that fits those requirements. Then he meets with the performers. “You really do have to get inside the actors’ heads,” he says. Using mainly their ideas — he often leaves his own notes sitting on the corner of the stage — they develop the fight in slow motion.
Once they’ve got most of the fight, he videotapes it, which they use to refine the movements and remember the choreography. On average, he takes about 20 hours to develop and perfect a two-minute stage fight.
Two years ago, Fon got together with eight other colleagues — a collection of fight directors, filmmakers and other professionals — to create Riot Act. This group offers fight directing services for theatre and film (the company is doing numerous shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next summer) and also makes its own short films, which they’ve started winning awards for.
When he’s not working or teaching stage combat at George Brown College, Fon is keeping fit. He cycles, does gymnastics, practises martial arts (he’s got a black belt in Woo Gar Mo Sut) and develops fights with his colleagues from Riot Act. “Now that I’m 41, I have to keep myself in shape, otherwise I won’t be able to perform at my best or keep up with my students.”