Director Josh Anderson wanted his cast of swashbucklers for "The Three Musketeers" to really look the part, so he called upon Constance Jones, a friend and experienced fencer, to train them.
"That was one of the main things I wanted to see was good combat on stage, but also to keep it as safe as possible," Anderson said.
For more than a month, during the first 45 minutes of rehearsals, many of the production's 21 cast members were taught the basic terminology, footwork, and attacks of sword fighting.
Audience members will see the result when Alexandre Dumas' adventure, adapted for the stage by Charles Morey, opens Friday night at Albany Civic Theater.
The opportunity to use a sword on stage appealed to veteran actor Joshua Winter, who portrays the villainous Rochefort.
"That was one of the motivations to get to play with swords, and learn the basics of parry, blocks, and several different styles," he said.
Winter, who participated in the training, said it was "pretty intense, especially for actors coming in; you have such a short amount of time to do this."
"You do exercises that most people aren't used to, so you have a lot of inner thigh soreness, and you're walking around really sore. The first couple of weeks is really interesting, but a lot of fun."
The play's largest battle scene features 14 people performing with stage swords, axes and other weapons. For that reason, the set was built to give the actors as much room as possible to wield the long steel weapons, Anderson said.
This is the directorial debut for Anderson, who is the weapons manager at ACT. He has previously been involved with other productions as an assistant director, stage manager and fight choreographer.
"I was able to piece various experiences together to get this project going," he said.
Morey's version of "The Three Musketeers" differs from the dramatic adventure novel most are familiar with. The play is more of a romantic-comedy with adventure.
"There are jokes written into it," Anderson said, "We drew from that and made some more sight gags, and played up on the comedy portion of it."
The author, Dumas, played by Chuck Skinner, is featured throughout the play and its story is told from his point of view. As the play begins, Dumas is being reminded by his editor, Rochefort (yes, the same name as one of the Musketeers' foes; both villains are played by Winter) that he's missed a deadline.
Dumas puts himself into the play and interacts with his characters telling them what to do.
"There are several different times where he writes and rewrites, and they have to reset the scene and do it over when he changes his mind," Anderson said.
Dumas sets the course for D'Artagnan (Osvaldo Torres), a poor young man who travels to Paris to join the Musketeers. D'Artagnan must prove himself, and he eventually befriends and gains the trust of the three inseparable Musketeers: Athos (Nicholas Sheler), Aramis (Anthony McMahon) and Porthos (Josh Mitchell).
During the Musketeers' adventures, they encounter three main villains: Cardinal Richelieu (Douglas Hambley), Milady de Winter (Maxine Marie Agather) and Rochefort.
The production's cast features eight newcomers to Albany Civic Theater, including Jones, who showed the cast how to properly handle a sword. The others are Torres, Sheler, Agather, Michaela Bauer, Danny Corliss, Lori Martin, and Jeff Rice.
Agather welcomed the chance to play a villain for the first time. She said the differences between this production and the traditional story drew her to the auditions, and thinks audiences will enjoy those differences.
"I've never seen it presented as a comedy and that really interested me," Agather said. "I think it's a fresh show. A lot of people are familiar with 'The Three Musketeers,' and the idea of what it is. I think this show will be different than what most people have seen."
Anderson hopes audiences are entertained by the play and stage combat.
Added Winter: "It's classic swashbuckling at its best. I think people will enjoy that."