Interview: Sam Dinkowitz (Fight Choreographer)

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Sam Dinkowitz works as an actor in Portland, but his passion is Stage Combat. 2015 Drammy Award Winner for Outstanding Fight Choreography. He has a BFA from Southern Oregon University. He is currenlty working on a production called Night of Ashes, a play by the Cleveland High School theatre department in Portland, Oregon which ties into Paizo’s current Pathfinder Adventure Path.

samdinkowitz1. Sam, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your background:
I am 32 years old. I was born and raised in the woods of Grants Pass, Oregon. I like playing video games and watching crappy 80’s action movies. Most of my energies have been focused on creative content generation in some sense. Graphic design, music composition, juggling, making sculptures out of trash, writing/producing sketch comedy. I got my BFA in Performance from Southern Oregon University. I worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I became a certified stage combatant. After dropping out of two MFA programs because they were not the right fit for me, I made my way back to Portland. I have bene living and working there for the past three years as an actor/teacher. I won a Drammy for Fight Choreography in 2015 for my work in ‘Wait Until Dark’.”

2. What drew you to acting?
Even as a child, I was attracted to performance of some sort. I was the kid wearing his Superman suit under his school clothes in the first grade. But I did not fully commit to the idea of being an actor until high school. I had to stop playing soccer due to some knee problems. My physical therapist had recommended that I take ballet. I was kind of out-casted by the jocks at school, but the theater kids were there for me.

3. What is the best part of acting to you?
I love the tribal community of the theatre world. It has ancient links to sitting around a fire, telling tales of the hunt, and it feels amazing to be a part of that human tradition. Film and TV are a different world. Nothing will ever replace the need for live performance.

4. What do you consider the worst part of acting?
The worst part of acting is the business. It is very hard to constantly chase the next job. It is the double-punch of not getting a part. You think, “Oh, they don’t want me.” And the very next part of that is wondering how you are going to pay rent. You have to be able to pick yourself up and keep smashing your head against the wall. But I’m able to alleviate some of that stress by teaching and choreographing stage combats and finding whatever creative gigs I can get my hands on.

samdinkowitz-025. What is the best part of working as a stage combat choreographer and weapons trainer? It sounds so exciting!
There is a lot of fun aspects of theatre and of being on stage. But, in my opinion, the most fun thing to do on stage is kill and die. The best part of that is building the magic. You get to overtly trip the audience into seeing things that are not really happening. You adjust the angles of the fight, and you get to find out how to hide blood packs. To me, the coolest part about that is the dual perspective. As an actor in a fight, you have to be thinking of your character and the story, with all it involves, and at the same time taking care of the friend that you’re trying to “kill.” That’s the craft. You can’t get so lost in your acting choices that you forget that you are swinging a broadsword at your friend’s head!

6. What drew you to this role? How did you become involved with this production?
I am a fantasy genre fan through and through. All media as well; books, games, movies, just everything. I never got into DnD as a kid because my mom said that it had something to do with the devil… Hahaha! But I’ve always loved Tolkien’s’ world, with elves, dragons, orcs, and the idea of people that still roll around with battleaxes. I have always wanted to play with that stuff onstage.

The short answer of how I became involved is that Tom Beckett is a crazy genius, and I will follow him through hell. We’ve been working together on stage combat training for High School students for the past two years, and when he started telling me about ‘Night of Ashes‘ I jumped at the opportunity.

7. Tell me more about this production as well, a little background into it, and also give me your perspective on the acting and the cohesiveness of the actors working together, and plans for the future.
I don’t know too much about this full production, its Beckett’s beautiful brain child. So he would be the one to ask about the background, but I am always amazed by how much intensity the kids bring to the stage with this kind of material. Everyone’s always talking about the “death of theater,” but this is the way to bring it back to life! Don’t make them read Midsummer’s Dream, give them broadswords!

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