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The Nightmare Scene

November 15, 2012

This semester, I’m taking a class that I’ve wanted to take since I was still in high school: Stage Combat. I’m finally learning everything I dreamed I would when I was an itty-bitty fourteen year old learning from a workshop; it’s tough, there’s no denying that it’s one of the hardest classes I’ve taken here.

To start with, there’s me. I’m short with small hands and feet, I’m also not particularly strong. When I’m naturally walking, I’m “up”, on my toes. My physical being is wrong for stage combat—I’m not grounded or centered low to the ground and I’m not able to throw you across the room either. I mean, I love getting taken down with a good Hip Throw but realistically, I’m not going to be taking anyone down in a fight based on physical appearances. My money’s on the other guy! Changing the way I move and being comfortable with it has been a huge process for me this past year, taking Tai Chi and modern dance to help me overcome that. I’ve seen progress, small changes in the way I walk (if the holes in the soles of my shoes are to judge) and improvements in technique.

I’m still having trouble with my forward/backward rolls and some of the combat styles we’ve covered, like Kung Fu but my biggest challenge so far was my latest scene, the Nightmare scene:

This is a two person fight sequence, carefully choreographed: it’s brutal and ugly. Essentially, the “Beast” character chokes, throws, punches and kicks the “Victim” senselessly to the ground. The combat is short and simple but it’s deceptively difficult to do.

  1. Everybody has to learn both parts (Beast, Victim) and perform them.
  2. The Beast is supposed to be the evilest, darkest aspects of ourselves, while the Victim is subjected to our worst fears. OUR worst fears.

You can see why this scene was such a nightmare? We were not playing an absurd ninja or an old lady waiting for the bus—it’s a physical challenge, mentally hard trying to get into mindset of a murderer/rapist/bully and then emotionally, because you really have to trust your partner to let them torment you with your fears.

My partner for this scene just happened to be my complete physical opposite: a very tall, strong guy. While my Victim scene would look great, it made the second scene very hard to stage and look plausible. As if being the Beast wasn’t hard enough already! My friends joke because I’m a sweetheart and a saint who should never play the bitch and now I was going to have to show them an ugly, terrible person who would beat someone while they are down. Meanwhile, my partner worried over accidentally hurting me while being the Beast and trying to figure out what his greatest fear as the Victim.

Our showing was the most emotional class I’ve ever sat through. I called home afterwards, to ask about my family’s normal lives which don’t involve being allowed to beat people up. We were all very shaken up and overwhelmed by seeing our friends look like they are being attacked/are the attackers. It was hard, to stand back during my scene was the Beast and watch my partner reeling from the effects of the “punch”. The first few times we really ran the scene, I couldn’t look him in the eye even though it was almost entirely non-contact. I had to learn to really use my weight and momentum to create a physical force to be reckoned with, at least visually. Being the Victim was so much easier to the point where I was like “let’s run this scene again!” It’s strange and doesn’t seem right, because my fears are real and terrible but staging my fears makes it okay: that once we have the choreography down it doesn’t matter what I’m emotionally doing because physically, my body’s got it down and mentally, my actor-brain is keeping me in check in case something goes wrong mid-scene.


But all of us actor-combatants all took it seriously: nobody messed up and really got hurt, nobody sat it out or had to stop their scene. I learned that I can play the Victim role easily enough but also that I can be the Beast when the scene calls for it. And if I should do a show where there is such a scene, I know I can handle it and can trust my combat partner to do it. As another one of my professors says “all violence in the theatre must be agreed upon”.

Another scene down, another one to go. I’m sure there are more challenges up ahead, starting with testing for certification coming up in December and next semester’s Stage Combat part 2.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 10:04 am

    Although I know a few basic unarmed moves, I never really got into stage combat because I’m short and not loaded with strength (and I also have tiny hands and feet). However despite those obstacles it’s so inspiring to see you working hard to make it happen especially seeing the type of person you are paired with.

  2. November 15, 2012 1:05 pm

    I found stage combat to be challenging, too — as a fellow small, non-violent person — but also discovered that it was that much more rewarding when it really clicked for me! 🙂

    • The College Theatre Dork permalink
      November 15, 2012 10:29 pm

      Stage Combat is a challenge but doing the really brutal fighting (esp. as the victim!) really clicked for me, more so than any other fighting style we had touched on so far. I just need a combat partner who’s totally okay with throwing me down all the time 🙂

  3. The Growing Artist permalink
    November 16, 2012 2:57 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I have always wanted to try stage combat, but have yet to have the opportunity. I really hope to try it someday, and I was very inspired by your post!

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