As a theatre artist, you spend your time trying to create the illusion of real life. The illusion is meant to captivate your audience, and ultimately move them. Therefore, when it comes to a high intensity moment within a given play, the characters in the scene may act in a violent way. In these moments, the actors must employ stage combat techniques to create the illusion of danger, fear, and pain. Under the guidance, choreography, and supervision of a fight director, actors learn to work through the fight safely.
Here are five important tips to remember in your stage fight:
Eye Contact, Look at the Target, Cue
Critical to learning and performing any fight, is staying in tune with your partner. This means that before any slap, jab, or kick (whether contact or non-contact), a series of events happen between you and your partner. The audience does not know, but the two of you must be communicating at all times. You do this with your eyes. Let’s say you must slap your partner’s right cheek in a non-contact slap. First, you and your partner make eye contact. It is a check in with each other. Next, you look at the target. This would be your partner’s right cheek. Then, before throwing the slap, you raise your hand up, on the same plane as your body, and level with the target. This is your cue. Your hand should be completely visible to your partner. After all of this is done, do you carry out the slap.
Many stage fights tend to contain several moments of violence. Thus, your character is probably getting hit in more than one place. A trap that many actors fall into is forgetting what just happened to them two minutes before. You take a knee to the ribs. You react in pain. A few moments later, you get punched in the face. You react by grabbing your jaw in pain. But don’t forget that the way you grab your jaw is going to be slightly different, due to how that movement affects your previously cracked ribs. Catching on? Yes, it is important to react in the moment. But it is also critical to track your pain, and carry it throughout the fight in order to tell the story of the fight as truthfully as possible.
In any performance, adrenaline kicks in and skews the rehearsed timing of moments. This is no different in stage combat. Much of an actor’s training is learning how to deal with and use their adrenaline. When it comes to a stage fight, however, adrenaline can lead to moments of unsafety. Therefore, like in all performance, when you find yourself tensing up or moving too quickly, remember to breathe. Breathe out on your actions. This will calm you. This will ground you. This will keep you in tune with your partner.
The key to stage combat is actor safety. You must feel safe at all times in order to create this illusion of pain and fear. Therefore, when learning the fight, communicate with your partner. Communicate with your fight director. If there is a moment that is unclear, clarify it. Also, become an expert on maintaining distance between your partner and yourself. Distance is fluid, but must also be maintained for the two of you to remain safe.
Act the Fight
Finally, remember that you are an actor first! You can learn each moment of each technique perfectly, and carry out a technically perfect fight. However, if you are not acting it, you have lost your audience. Know what story you want to tell. Know what just happened in the moment before that caused the violence to ensue. Know whether or not you mean to cause pain. In the same way as you analyze your lines within your script, you must analyze your actions within the fight. You must justify them. You must know what they mean to achieve. A great stage fight is one in which a picture could be taken at any time, and the observer would know the story of the fight in that moment.
Stage combat is fun! Just remember to stay safe and communicate at all times. Don’t just learn the fight, act it!
Posted by Sanam Hashemi – artsii contributor