The Financial Lives of the Poets will play at The Jones Playhouse in the U-District June 7-30, 2013.

Meet the show’s fight choreographer, Tom Dewey. Interview by Shannon Erickson.

How did you get started with stage combat?
I did Macbeth in high school. The fights were wildly unsafe, the choreographer was an Aikido Sensei who didn’t care if his actors were bleeding as long as there weren’t any broken bones. But nonetheless, I loved it. So my friends and I would make up fights in the back yard using wooden sticks and cheap swords we bought from Excalibur in the mall. In college I signed up for a real stage combat class, which led to me going to national workshops, and I just sorta went from there.

What is the mark of good stage combat? What should the audience be feeling or seeing?
Good stage combat, aside from the obvious concerns about safety, lets the audience experience the fight along with the characters. It’s not about being fast or realistic, in reality fights are over before they know what hit them. Just think about how boring Olympic Fencing is, everything important is over before you can process what’s happened. It’s about telling the story of each move, the tactics and the consequences of those actions.

Tom Dewey works with the cast of The Financial Lives of the Poets on a fight scene, which devolves into wrestling.
Tom Dewey works with the cast of The Financial Lives of the Poets on a fight scene, which devolves into wrestling. Photo by Shannon Erickson.

What are your top 3 tips for actor safety?
1) If you don’t think you can do the move safely DON’T DO IT. Tell your fight captain and get the choreography changed
2) If you don’t think your partner can do the move safely, DON’T LET THEM DO IT.
3) Be specific instead of fast; it’s better for the story. It’s much more controlled, and as a result, safe.

How does an actor balance being emotionally invested in a violent scene with the measured, choreographed steps he or she must go through to keep it safe?
There is a bit of a balancing act between being present in the moment, but also having that third person view of what’s going on around you. Which is why it’s always about being specific. Your moves are your lines, you rehearse them, you pick apart your tactics and your objectives in the same way that you would score your script.

Make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing at every point in the fight, and ideally your moves should flow from your character. If you don’t know your lines, and aren’t specific that’s when things get dangerous. I encourage every actor to get trained, theater is about conflict, and if you leave out physical conflict then you’re severely limited in your storytelling abilities.


As an actor and fight choreographer, Tom Dewey’s work has been seen around the Puget Sound Region. Tom is an actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors and a proud graduate of the theatre arts and history programs at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

Tom’s most recent choreography can be seen in the upcoming production of The Financial Lives of the Poets, opening at The Jones Playhouse June 7. Click here for tickets & more information.