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I Have a Minor in Stage Combat

May 14, 2013

I went to college and wanted nothing more than to study stage combat—I filled out a lot of paperwork to make sure there would be no obstacles. This week, I filled out some more paperwork, to declare a second minor in Combat Movement.

No, my school doesn’t actually offer a minor in Stage Combat—I have been incredibly lucky and willing to fill out all sorts of paperwork that allowed me to self-design a minor that uses my dance and combat credits. Essentially, I got to give myself a future degree in something I am passionate about and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study. I didn’t plan on picking up a second minor—between majoring in theatre and minoring in creative writing, my semesters are usually over the maximum. But I was planning out my schedule for senior year and realized that with all the classes I had taken already (plus what I was going to take next), I could complete another minor easily.

Why combat? I’m not planning on becoming a fight choreographer and I could have created a minor in Playwriting or Feminist Poetry or even major in Halloween (which has actually been done here!).

Jerome Robbins (? Now that I’m looking, I can’t find a source to cite) had this old quote about when you are too emotional onstage, you sing and when you get too emotional for singing, you dance. Combat is what happens when you can’t communicate even through dance—an emotional breakdown into physicality.

Physicality is one of the real reasons I got into this: I had a professor tell me during my freshman year that I needed to work on my physical being, externalization. I decided to take the voice and movement class, where I met the Yoda Master and subsequently changed my life and got me started on the path that led to my taking combat classes this year. I like that combat is a complete challenge and that I can see the effort I’ve put into my work and how that has changed me. Unlike theatre and writing, which I’ve been doing on my own since before I started college, stage combat is something I studied here and am proud to have gotten my skills from. I can write you a story full of conflict, a poem with beautiful language. Actors can stand on stage and have a dialogue about what they are feeling and how they feel about another character. Stage combat to me is image-based storytelling about a character’s physical being and the plot’s conflict—for a storyteller like me, I love having more than one way to tell a story. Sometimes, letting a character get straight to the punch (!) is a better told story than a two page monologue about how they’ve always hated their brother. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the sword has a lot to say too!

Classes I Take to Have a Minor in Stage Combat:

  • dance (modern, improv, ballet)
  • voice and movement for actors
  • unarmed stage combat
  • quarterstaff and small sword combat
  • next semester’s broadsword combat
  • spring semester’s weapons (tbd) combat
  • Pilates (if I can fit it into my schedule)
  • and unarmed combat again!

Okay, here’s a good question: what will I actually do with a minor in Combat? As I said, I don’t plan on teaching or choreographing stage combat. There is also an unfortunate lack of roles for women that require stage combat experience. And it’s not exactly a business degree that will get me work elsewhere when theatre doesn’t pay.

I love it, first and foremost. I really enjoy the kicking ass part.

It’s another special skill to add to my resume and having that kind of training is as smart as First Aid training.

It makes me a stronger actor/playwright/director/artist, to know all the physical possibilities onstage.

Because women fight too – even though most of our fight scenes seem to include us being beaten or violated onstage (and when they’re not, I have to ask: “really?” Can a woman PLEASE have a brutal brawl that’s NOT over a man or whatever else Hollywood thinks we like?), we still need to know how to do stage combat when called for. And hey, if they need a woman who has her fighting skills, I’m there to fill the role!

A good number of my dream roles require combat know-how: Carol (Oleanna), Joan la Pucelle (King Henry the VI Part I) for example. Even if I’m not cast in those exact roles, I know I’m going to be usually typecast as the victim character in a fight scene.  And as great as combat-comedy is, or a huge battle scene; my favorite fights are the one on one beat-downs where someone doesn’t get back up. And the thing about stage combat, it’s the victim who holds the reins onstage and needs to knows exactly how this fight is going to go.

It gives me ambition: so much of my college career has been dedicated to making sure I’d graduate with these skills after all. Even now, my latest ambition is to master a backflip off my partner’s back for our skills test. It’s not easy and I definitely need some muscle work if I’m going to do this but I will. And I’m going to pass my skills tests too.

With all the different weapons I’ll be learning, I’m hoping I may qualify to be an actor-combatant before I even graduate! But before that can happen, I need to focus on passing my next two S.A.F.D. fights in small sword and quarterstaff; two vastly different weapons styles, as are the scenes we are using for testing (and the scenes are fantastic! I’m really psyched to do my Shakespeare quarterstaff fight). It’s a good thing I have great partners and a terrific school that is letting me put my growing skills to the test.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    May 14, 2013 10:36 pm

    great timing on this post – my Skills Tests are tomorrow! Wish me broken swords and sticks! 🙂

    *I wrote small sword. SINGLE SWORD. Oops.

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