WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Learning How To Fall
Remembering Marius P. ‘MP’ Hanford IV.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Hours after hearing of Marius Hanford’s passing, I stood in Heather Best’s kitchen surrounded by a gaggle of actors and crew members of Riot Act, Inc., the local theatre company run by the invincible Macey Mott, Marius’ partner in crime and love. We gathered in solidarity, sharing stories, eating pizza, keeping spirits high. We all had known Marius for years and worked with him in various capacities. Still processing the news, I leaned against the counter in silence, my mind sifting through lucid memories of Marius.
I had arrived late to the gathering. The others had been there longer, and had already shared many of their memories and tears prior to my arrival. My friend Henry Williams, recognizing my dazed state, asked me how I was, and I said the first thing that popped into my head.
“Marius put my first sword in my hands.”
Kari Hall: “Mine too.”
Heather Best: “Me too.”
Lindsay Burgess: “Me too. My first sword. My first axe. My first gun…”
Indeed, Marius’ local reputation for stage combat was second to none. He had choreographed fights for countless productions, taught high schoolers how to safely throttle one another, and assisted with the shootout on the Town Square as both an actor and a choreographer. He was generous with his gift, and with his humor. In Marius’ hands, the most novice actor could become a weapons master in a matter of hours.
My first experience with Marius was in junior year of high school when he taught my drama class how to fight with rapiers. I remember Luke Metherell and I squaring off in the auditorium, meeting steel to steel, plunging the rapiers into each other’s bowels in the most convincing ways.
This introduction to rapier combat influenced me so much, that I ended up writing an entire novel about cowboys who carry rapiers at their hip. I never got a chance to tell Marius how he inspired that tale, but I have every intention of crossing blades with him again someday. I haven’t forgotten my moves, but I’m sure he can still kick my ass.
While reminiscing with Kari on Heather’s porch, another revelation dawned on me.
“Marius taught us how to fall,” I said.
Falling correctly in stage combat is among the most important things you can learn, and not doing it properly was one of Marius’ biggest pet peeves. Falling requires control, awareness of your space and understanding of where and how you will land. You can’t let emotion get the best of you and allow your hand to catch your weight—you have to trust yourself to fall properly, core engaged, hands outstretched, landing on your “tush.”
“I can only hurt myself,” Marius would remind us mid-lesson.
Marius’s focus was safety, safety, safety. He took care of us, loved us, and never wanted any of us to get hurt. And so he taught us how to fall. During a performance, Marius couldn’t intervene if we messed up. Instead, he waited in the wings, following our movements, making sure we were staying safe with one another.
This rings true now. In the face of this moment of combat, Marius can no longer intervene. He stands in the wings, watching us. We’d do well to remember his words. We should keep control and avoid the urge to throw a hand out and hurt ourselves; we can’t let emotion take over and break our focus. If we lose sight of where we stand in relation to one another, we’ll damage each other and break that moment of theatre magic.
And yet, even with safety at the forefront of his craft, Marius knew how to celebrate those lovely morbid, horrific moments so cherished in stage combat. That man sure loved a good death scene. We will all treasure our memories of Marius, but for me, one particular moment stands out.
We’re in the Black Box at the Center for the Arts. Spring sunlight streams into the room. Marius kicks me in the ribs and I let out a pained cough. His foot rests on my shoulder blade and he gives me a slight nudge. I control the moment, overacting and rolling onto my back. He lifts his foot to stomp on my head, but I move out of the way and stand up. But then Marius punches me, spins me around, kicking the back of my knees. As I’m kneeling, he places his hands on the crown of my head and my chin, and with a maniacal laugh, gleefully snaps my neck.
My eyes drift closed, my jaw goes loose, and I carefully fall to the floor, deader than dead. Scene.
When I open my eyes, Marius stands above me with a stretched-out hand and a smile, ready to help me back up so he can kill me again. PJH
A memorial for Marius happens 1 p.m., Sept. 24 at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Riot Act, Inc., riotactinc.com.