What You'll Get
- VIP Ticket to The Truth About Acting & Business we call The Industry on April 1, 2017
Four Things to Know About Stage Combat
This theater’s boards have held many a mesmerizing battle scene. See how the pros get so good at beating each other up.
1. People have been faux fighting since antiquity. Shakespeare loved a good fight scene, but the Bard was far from the first to stage combat sequences for entertainment. One much older tradition, Japanese Kabuki theater, remains popular today and uses fight-scene techniques known as tachimawari, mimicking the fast-paced movements of samurai through acrobatics and martial artistry.
2. You’re watching a magic show. Fight director and movement specialist Meron Langsner put it aptly in a 2009 discussion with Tufts University colleagues when he called stage combat “a combination of ballroom dancing and sleight of hand,” continuing, “I can make it look like one actor kicked another actor in the head when they’re standing 6 or 7 feet apart.” It’s easy for film editors to make a slow-motion slap look as if it were performed in real time, but onstage it’s a matter of timing, balance, and eye contact. During a slapping scene, the slapper hits the victim on the fleshy part of the cheek and quickly pulls away to create the illusion of a full-fledged smack without any lasting damage. A “knap,” the sound of one body part hitting another, can be added in by either actor or a third party offstage to enhance the reality of the situation.
3. Actors are working with each other, not against each other. There’s a safe technique for every hair pull, groin kick, punch, or noogie you see onstage, and it’s up to the actors to trust each other enough to deploy these methods correctly. During a fight scene, if someone has forgotten the choreography, combatants will often meet in a grappling stance where they can speak freely to each other without the audience hearing. From there, they can agree on the next move or end the fight without spectators being any the wiser.
4. Safety is priority number one for any fight director. And for good reason. There are countless cautionary tales of combat gone wrong—from live guns being mistaken for props to faulty aerial rigging—but almost all are avoidable when proper precautions are taken.
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