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Sword Play

As emcee in Roman-era extravaganza, Joseph Steven Klus made life-and-death calls on gladiators in combat

When two French 19-year-olds stayed with Joseph Steven Klus ’78 MEDIA in his Venice, Calif., apartment in July 2011, he thought it was funny that they would walk around the city dressed as Roman gladiators. He didn’t believe them when they told him they trained in Roman gladiator work. He certainly wouldn’t have believed he’d almost be a gladiator himself 17 months later.

The two teenagers helped connect Klus with French Roman gladiator training group Histor’Event. This in turn led to him playing Praeco (a Roman term for arena narrator or emcee) in Spartacus and the Roman Legion, a four-act show presented in Griffith Park Equestrian Center’s Equidome in Burbank, Calif., Dec. 15 and 16.

Klus says his role was fun to play because he was able to invite the audience into the action. He narrated the show from a sound booth until the fourth act, when he assumed the role of Praeco. Fought on the sandy terrain of Griffith Park, the battles were never staged; they had different outcomes every night. Klus even got hit with swords on occasion. And each night, the audience chose if the loser should live or die.

“Each fight is based on the athlete’s effort,” Klus says. “It’s exciting to watch.”

Klus got involved not just because he looks the part, but also because he can speak French, and he’s in the acting business, appearing in various supporting and character roles for film and TV. In 2012, following another visit with more re-enacters, Histor’Event asked him to play Thomas Jefferson in a film about the president’s time in France. To be shot as a joint venture with Histor’Event’s partner association, ChronoMedia, the film didn’t pan out. But Klus kept talking with the groups, becoming a liaison to help them find resources so Spartacus could be produced in the U.S. He helped as a translator, host and business contact.

“It was a lot of work putting the production together,” he says.

Then came the show itself, where Klus had to call the fights and interact with the audience. “At one point, you’re trying to communicate scholastic information, but you also have this side of you that has some inside jokes with the audience,” he says.

“I have to build a rapport with a 1,000 or more people that are sitting in the stands.”

By Clara Bush

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