Stage Combat 101: Before You Even Begin

Stage Combat 101: Before You Even Begin

Those who know me well know that I enjoy nothing better than getting roughed up with some stage combat. It’s fun, it’s a great workout, and when done well, looks spectacular onstage. It can create incredibly visceral reactions from audience members.

The flip side is when stage combat goes bad and audience members are more worried about the actors onstage than getting involved in the story being told. Stage combat is meant to be done in such a way that keeps the actors safe, but there is still risk involved. However, by taking the proper precautions and being smart, you can lower the risks of hurting yourself or your fellow actors while doing stage combat.

But before you even THINK about engaging in some hand-to-hand or picking up a sword, please take the following tips to heart!

You should only learn stage combat from a fight director (FD) or fight choreographer.

Having taken karate or fencing doesn’t qualify — if anything, it’s actually worse because in sport fencing or Eastern martial arts, the goal is to actually hit your opponent, when the opposite is true in stage combat. Not even having taken a stage combat class qualifies you to teach others! Find someone qualified to teach stage combat. Art of Combat and Fight Directors Canada are two great places to start. Fight directors are great for staging not only actual combat, but can also often advise about weapons (including acquiring/renting them and safely handling and caring for weapons), historical accuracy, falls, lifts, and more. They’re also able to point out other areas where combat might occur in a show that you may not have thought about!

Safety first, safety last, and safety always.

Combat is meant to look real but it is still possible to get hurt. Accidents happen. Remember:

  • If anyone asks you to do something that feels unsafe, don’t do it! Even if it’s your director, your scene partner, or even the FD. Know your limits and abilities and speak up!
  • If you are ever feeling unsure or unsafe while doing stage combat, stop immediately. Even if you are in the middle of a show! A good FD will teach you methods of disengaging from the fight and how to get back on track.

Safety should always be your top priority in any aspect of theatre, to be honest! Directors, you don’t want to get a reputation as someone whose shows are unsafe! Actors, your body is your tool — be sure to take the best care possible of yourself so you can go on to work on more shows!

What advice would you give someone who is interested in stage combat? Do you have any stage combat stories to share? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter, or in the comments below!

Extra Credit: Shrew’d Business has some great resources for stage combat and safety.

Further Reading: How to Deal: You Want Me To Do WHAT Onstage? and Linktastic: Stage Combat Edition

Photo Credit: Tricia Bain & Malcolm Miller
Photo Editing: Kerry Hishon

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