Posts tagged stage combat
I recently contributed to an article on Lifehacker re: how to throw a punch. My contributions were in the realm of staged punches. I realized as I was writing it that so many people still call weak, bent-wristed punches “punching like a girl” and thought us girl-nerds could benefit from knowing how to throw one properly. Maybe we can begin to dis-spell that phrase being used for improper punches, yes?
Below is a paragraph of my contributed section of the article, and the little demonstration video I made for the purpose. Play safe! ~Prof. Jenn
We stage combatants are in the business of effective illusion, however, and as such don’t want to land our punches on anything solid. As a teacher of a teacher of mine once said, “Air don’t bleed” (1). Now we are not throwing “real” punches on stage or film, true, but it has to be an accurate illusion. As I always say to my stage combat students: we want to be safe first, but we also want to look awesome. A fake-looking punch is not awesome-looking, so I do think it is important for stunt fighters to know what it’s like to land a punch, so they know what it feels like and can thenceforth act it well. This, however, is where martial artists who begin stage combat come into issues. What they do in stunt fighting feels fake to them. Sometimes, they’d rather “just spar,” which is the worst thing you could do on film or onstage, for several reasons (2).
The main point, though: stage combatants want to a) be safe, i.e. never land a punch on their partner, and b) look as though they really have landed a punch on their partner.
1) Dale Girard, author of Actors on Guard, said this often as he taught/directed.
2) Real punches just don’t read to an audience: they’re not clear, they’re not easy to trace with the eye, they’re fast. A stage punch is really super-big, and the actor must indicate hugely. This is something no martial artist in his right mind would do. Stage Combat is about telling a story, not about fighting. Also, though we enjoy watching Jackie Chan hurt himself in out-takes, or hearing about the escapades of stuntpeople, getting hurt on the job is not anything anyone wants. Getting hit in the face is not an easy thing to take once, certainly not over and over, no matter how tough one is.
It all started back in ’04 or ’05 when my husband demanded I write a book about Stage Combat, a field I’d been active in for many years. I waffled for a while, but then the more I looked at other books on the subject, the more I realized there wasn’t a really basic how-to book that covered the fundamentals. I mean, you’ve got Maestro Hobbs’ book, but that one is more a memoir and general observation-and-advice book. Maestro Girard’s book is extremely detailed and well-researched, but it’s only about swordplay, and doesn’t hit on the unarmed stage combat techniques that are much more commonly found in most theatre. So I thought, why not make an easy-to-follow basic manual, that a high school or small community theatre can use (hopefully along with an experienced professional to guide them; but as a last resort, at least if they reference the book, they may stay safer than not having anything).
In ’05 I began the Metro State College of Denver’s stage combat program–it’s still a rare occurrence in college, the stage combat classes in an undergraduate theatre department. The cool thing was, by teaching class in ’05 and also getting a book contract at the same time, I got to use that first population of students as models for the photos in the book!
Two odd anecdotes re: the book: 1) in a book signing event in 2007, a large group of students choreographed a bar brawl, to break out at a certain point inmy talk (it took place in a coffee shop). The fake fight was to break out when one student actor was to feign rage at my assertion that professional wrestling is staged much like theatrical combat. He was to shout his outrage and then the fight would break out. Well, one of the baristas (apparently missed the fact that we had been rehearsing an hour before the show) approached the student actor, and asked him to please calm down or he’d have to kick him out. The look on the actor’s face as he thought he was going to be kicked out of his own performance was priceless! 2) I got the address for Allworth Press from a rejection letter–I promptly wrote and they accepted my query. Best rejection letter ever! My editor emailed me saying her office-mates thought she was “mad” b/c she was found often, with writing and cleaning implements, trying out the many techniques I describe in the book. I can just see her, trying the staff twirl with a broom!
Well, now I’ve almost sold enough to cover my advance, and I’m just beginning brainstorming the sequel. I have a few ideas–what would you like to read about in this field? ~Prof. Jenn
I thought I’d share with you one of the MSCD Stage Combat Club’s more instructional videos on stage combat. Don’t try this at home. But do enjoy!