Last weekend, from Friday, Feb. 10 through Sunday, Feb. 12, Raya Tuffaha ’23, an honors theater major and peace and conflict studies minor, presented her student-directed show called “Fight Scenes.” A project for her honors thesis, the play combined fight scenes from six different plays: “Treasure Island,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “The River Bride,” “Macbeth,” “One Man, Two Guvnors,” and “West Side Story.”
In an interview with The Phoenix, Tuffaha explained that she decided on directing the play after studying abroad at the British American Drama Academy.
“I did a semester in London during the fall of 2021 and was part of an acting program. I fell out of love with acting while I was there and I didn’t really know what to do, but the stage combat teacher at that program, Philip d’Orléans, is totally phenomenal. He set me on this new path. So I came back and was like, this is what I want to do with my life,” she said.
Swarthmore does not offer courses specifically in fight directing. Tuffaha had to work to get the plan for her thesis approved, bringing in Eli Lynn as a mentor. Lynn is a Philadelphia-based actor, fight director, and intimacy coordinator who worked with Tuffaha to craft her piece.
“[Lynn is] just overall a powerhouse,” Tuffaha said. “They came in and corrected my technique, or they would say, ‘hey, actually, I think this transition would be smoother if you did this.’ They provided a lot of really great insight and experience on how to mask certain things. They [were] just a really great resource.”
The next step of the process was rehearsing the scenes.
“From the end of October through December we had our first section of rehearsals, and then we went on winter break and basically picked up the day we got back and opened months later. So it’s been a long process,” Tuffaha recounted.
When putting together “Fight Scenes,” Tuffaha read a variety of different plays in order to choose the ones that worked best.
“I read about 175 plays with fight scenes in them. I was trying to find a good mix that showed stylistic diversity, different types of weapons, different styles of fight. We have ‘found weapons,’ one of my favorite [types of weapons], which is like using whatever [objects] you have around you [as weapons].” She further revealed, “We have some kind of dancy fights. We have pure slapstick. We just have a brawl.”
In an interview with The Phoenix, audience member Ben Aaron ’26 explained the sillier nature of the “Treasure Island” scene.
“[The] ‘Treasure Island’ [scene] was a pretty strong opener, just because it was the right amount of goofy while also demonstrating the skill and placement of the actors. [It included] movements that seemed like they had to be kind of precise to work as well as they did. [Even so, the movements] still manage to read very well as an audience member,” Aaron commented.
For instance, one of the plays, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” involves a slapstick comedic style, a type of comedy involving deliberately exaggerated physical activity and clumsy actions.
“It’s a solo fight, where Rose [Palmieri ’24] deftly beats herself up for about two minutes and that’s more slapstick. That’s a pretty classic style. Especially in the UK,” Tuffaha elaborated. “But it was fun to try [a] slapstick style that didn’t use any props.”
In an interview with The Phoenix, Palmieri explained that the process of learning her fight scene blocking was challenging.
“It was a lot more like learning dance choreography than I thought it would be. The first couple of times we would learn something, I would have to be thinking about everything I was doing and going through it really slowly. I would do everything at 25% speed for the first few runs of it,” Palmieri explained. “Slowly over time, it just became muscle memory. Then we would have to put lines on top of it and then it would get hard again — it was just a lot of repetition.”
Palmieri also reflected on how the play was different from a traditional play because of the multiple discrete scenes.
“I’m much more used to developing one character over the course of a rehearsal process, and having to develop three and a half characters was a lot harder,” she said, the “half” referring to her character with dissociative identity disorder in “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
Nonetheless, the performances were well received by audience members.
“It’s made me more interested in watching other plays or theatrical performances that are put on because admittedly, this is one of the first ones I’ve seen and it’s just made me realize that I should probably be taking the time in the future to see more,” Aaron reflected.
Tuffaha was similarly excited to watch the performances.
“You heard me saying we had 150% capacity on Saturday night, packed in here … and I could just kind of see people laughing,” she said. “You can hear people whispering to each other and it’s kind of surreal to say like, I’ve created something and people are watching it.”
And as a first-time director, the experience was all the more impactful for Tuffaha.
“It’s like watching a time delay kind of. It was really rewarding to see and was very different [from the experience of being an actor],”she said.