Each kick, punch and stab that Sterling Playmaker Paula Towry makes is choreographed, just as are the dance steps for the fall production of "3 Musketeers."
"It's a very impressive thing to pull off a fight and no one gets hurt, said Towry, the only female to play a Musketeer in the Playmakers' stage version of Alexander Dumas's novel. She plays the part of a young woman masquerading as a man, a move that enables her to train as a Musketeer in Madrid and be hired to protect the French throne.
A teacher of Tae Kwon Do, Towry of Ashburn is a black belt martial artist in five styles with knowledge of eight and a former member of a fight school's demonstration team. Towry started practicing martial arts 14 years ago and joined the Sterling Playmakers community theater group three years ago. This year she asked if the Playmakers could use a female in stage combat.
"I decided I liked it as much as martial arts," Towry said, adding that her role requires fighting and acting at the same time. "It's a blending of two things I like very much. ... It takes a lot of concentration and focus. I like things that require a skills set."
TOWRY AND THE OTHER 50 members of the cast began practicing in mid-September for a play scheduled to open Nov. 7-9 and continue through Nov. 14-16. The Playmakers playing the Musketeers and other roles involving combat rehearsed an extra two nights a week for the first month of rehearsals and now are rehearsing a half-hour earlier than the rest of the cast to learn and practice fight skills along with their lines and moves.
Nick Aliff of Sterling had to learn those skills for the first time in order to play the role of D'Artagnan, a young man of the 16th century who tries to find his way in the world and dreams of becoming a Musketeer to protect the king and queen's court during Louis XIII's rule.
Aliff, a Playmaker for the past two years, found that stage combat requires "lots of practice" until it becomes second nature, like riding a bicycle, he said.
In the past, the 18-year-old played "the bad guy" in most of his roles in Park View High School's theater department, a school from which he graduated last year and is now attending Northern Virginia Community College. "It's interesting to be the good guy for once," he said. "I can be brash, cocky and full of life. I prefer being the bad guy, but it's kind of fun to win."
D'Artagnan, the play's main character, goes to Paris, where he meets the three inseparable Musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and falls in love with Constance Bonacieux, a member of the queen's court.
"The story itself is about mystery, intrigue, deception and romance," said Beth Robertson, play director, about a play that takes place on stage and in the aisles of the theater staged as "the streets of Paris."
"Every single detail, you feel like you're in 16th century France," said Joe Campanella of Hamilton, who plays the role of Bonacieux.
THAT ATMOSPHERE is created with French flags, music and use of French phrases, along with period costuming, which for women included a bodice matched to a bum roll skirt, which consisted of a half-moon shape of extra cloth to help the skirt lay flat. The men wore long britches and doublets, along with hats such as flat caps and cavalier hats with large feathers in the back.
"It's colorful. It's fun-filled, yet it's not simplistic," Campanella said.
The men danced and at times broke into fights to express their individualism when the king had just forbidden dueling, Robertson said. "There's a lot of fighting to it, and it's very realistic," she said. "It's well choreographed, and they spent hours and hours to learn their moves in slow motion. ... Most of these men had learned to fight through the show."
"The atmosphere is all swashbuckling and high romance, so it's fun to play," said Kati Oltyan of Sterling, who is playing the part of Constance.