No Reason Why Not: An Interview with David Blixt

I met David Blixt in the summer of 2004, during rehearsals for Defiant Theatre’s final show, A Clockwork Orange. David provided the fight choreography. I recall his hair hung down to his shoulders in lazy curls, and he wore leather boots that laced most of the way up the calf. He looked as if he’d just come from a Renaissance Fair. During breaks David would crack open a laptop and start typing. I asked him once what he was working on, and he informed me that he was writing a book about the origins of the feud behind Romeo and Juliet. Of course he was, I thought. That’s exactly what a Ren Fair geek would write about.

Cut to last July, when Master of Verona hit the shelves.

To say that Master of Verona is about the R&J feud is like saying Romeo and Juliet itself is about the Apothecary selling the poison to Romeo. Essential to the plot, certainly, but only a small part of a much grander tale. In researching the historical events surrounding Shakespeare’s characters David discovered that Verona was a sort of nexus that drew the great writers, thinkers and leaders of the age. The poet Dante was there, along with the great warrior Cangrande della Scala. Together these men would help spark the fire that would become the Renaissance. Master of Verona, published by St. Martin’s Press, already has two full-length sequels in the works, along with nine to twelve short stories to fill in the gaps. The first of these, Varnished Faces, is available online through Amazon.com’s Amazon Shorts program.

Before his career as a novelist took off David was already an established actor and director in Chicago and regional theater. Best known for his work with Shakespeare, David co-founded A Crew of Patches theater company in the spring of 2003. He is also sought after for his expertise in stage combat choreography.

When I sat down with David after a reading at the Book Cellar on Lincoln Avenue, I really only had one question: How do I get to be you?

“Persistence. There’s no reason why not. There’s no reason to say, ‘I can’t do that.'” His philosophy is evident in the way he researched the novel. Taking advantage of a honeymoon trip through Europe, David and his wife, Jan, visited Verona itself, even meeting with the Count of Serego-Alighieri &#8212 direct descendant of Dante and his son Pietro Alaghieri, the central character of Master of Verona.

“I had been in communication with a lot of Veronese citizens, and they were sweet and wonderful and did such great stuff for us. I got to see the basements of all the buildings where all the Roman ruins are. One night I was out drinking with Marxists, saying, ‘There is no nobility in this country! The Count is not a count!’ And the next day I was having coffee with the count.”

Did David tell the Count about the Marxists?

“I did not.”

David’s theatrical career began in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he studied acting from the second grade on. At thirteen he was too old to take the theater classes offered by the public school, so he started teaching them instead. After bouncing around between several colleges David graduated from Eastern Michigan University, then returned to Ann Arbor.

“I was teaching a lot. I was teaching drama to elementary school kids and high school kids. I was producing. I was acting professionally.” He made a name for himself in regional theater, performing in Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Jackson &#8212 home of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. “I was a very big noise in a very small room.” In 2000, at the age of twenty-seven, David made the move to Chicago with his future wife. “A huge piece of me wishes I’d come earlier, but then I wouldn’t have met Jan, and I wouldn’t have had the inspiration for the book.”

Upon arrival David dove straight into the local theater scene, working with Chicago Shakespeare in Richard II and their children’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and a production of Macbeth with First Folio. After spending some time in various companies performing Shakespeare for students, he decided to branch out and form his own company.

“There were four of us who had been working together pretty consistently in those companies for three years. We were being paid very little, and being treated worse. We said we can do this better, and we can pay ourselves a lot more, if we do it ourselves.” Jan Blixt eventually moved into the role of executive director for A Crew of Patches. Since joining Actors’ Equity, David’s role in the company has been limited to fight choreography. In spite of his fondness for Shakespeare, David does admit he feels a bit pigeonholed at times. “I’m wishing I had done a broader field. I really love British drawing room comedies.”

David’s interest in fight choreography also grew directly from his relationship with Romeo and Juliet. He recounts learning the fight scenes with an over-aggressive scene partner. “He broke three swords on me. I still have scars from that bastard.” Later, playing Mercutio in his first professional production of the play, David developed a taste for the art of stage combat. He credits David Doersch, the director, with pointing him in the right direction. “He drilled us three to five hours a day on smallsword fighting. Merciless as he was, and as cruel as he was, and as many nipple twists as I got out of it, he was really focused and made me a good fighter.” Eventually David’s interest led him to the Society of American Fight Directors. He attended the annual National Stage Combat Workshop in Las Vegas and returned to Ann Arbor as an Actor/Combatant.

“I knew more about it in Ann Arbor than most people, so I ended up being the fight choreographer for a lot of shows. Then I kept doing workshops and I kept doing training and I kept doing more fights and I kept looking at the old fight books and then I moved to Chicago and I was already the fight guy when I moved here.” David is careful to point out the distinction, however, between being a fighter who acts or an actor who fights. “I decided to be the actor. But it’s a skill set, and it’s a skill set I love, a skill set that’s very useful and it makes me a lot of money when I need it to.”

David’s understanding of fight choreography becomes apparent in a number of scenes in Master of Verona. “The one thing I learned, being a fight choreographer, is that it really isn’t about the weapons and the moves. It’s about character motivation. Every fight needs to tell a story. If a fight doesn’t tell a story it isn’t a good fight. And so, all of my fights in the book I tried to make character-motivated. I tried to bring it out of the character as opposed to the weapon or the move. I may mention cool moves, but that’s not the focus.”

Master of Verona came about through David’s familiarity with Romeo and Juliet, but the book is littered with references to a number of characters from Shakespeare’s Italian plays. One noteworthy couple who make a series of entertaining cameos is Petruchio and Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew. These characters hold a special significance for David: He met Jan in 1997 when they performed the roles for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. David chose one of the characters’ scenes to read at the Book Cellar.

“Anyone familiar with Shakespeare will enjoy it, although you don’t have to know them to enjoy it. I didn’t want to read a battle scene because they’re so involved, and you don’t know the players. This is a lovely little aside that gives you a sample of my writing without having to invest too terribly into the book.”

David describes the influence his writing and theater careers exert on each other as “a bizarre confluence.”

“From an artistic point of view, I’m very aware of story structure, very aware of dangling plot lines. It’s economy. If you can tell a story simply, it’s better &#8212 and this from the guy who wrote a six hundred page book. The simpler explanation of things is usually better. If I get too flowery I hit myself.”

While he has kept busy in theater, David now considers himself a writer. “The question is, am I writer who acts or an actor who writes? Right now I’m a writer who acts.”

The first sequel to Master of Verona, titled Voice of the Falconer, is expected to hit shelves next fall, about the same time as the paperback edition of MoV. A third book in the series will follow. In January he begins work on another historical novel, this time set in Tudor England. In his spare time he works on the short stories &#8212 “They’re what I do when I need a break from Book III” &#8212 and a number of other writing projects. You can also read a detailed account of the writing and publishing process at David’s website.

1 Comment so far

  1. Christopher M. Walsh (unregistered) on December 19th, 2007 @ 9:23 am

    It has been brought to my attention that the boots David wore were motorcycle boots, not lace-up boots. My apologies.

    ~Chris



Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.