Allison Bloechl is an Actor-Combatant with the society of American Fight Directors trained in Broadsword, Single Sword, Rapier & Dagger, Knife and Unarmed combats as well as Company Member of Hedgerow Theatre currently appearing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For more information visit www.safd.org
Here are some tips for the actor or the combatant or even (gasp!) the actor-combatant. Stage combat is another branch of acting, so all of its lessons can be used in any kind of acting, just like anything you learn in acting can be used in combat.
1) Ask Questions
In combat (as on stage) it is always important to ask questions. Making sure everyone is on the same page is not only important for storytelling, it’s important for safety when the choreographed illusion of violence (the definition of stage combat) is being utilized. It can be anything from “what’s my target” to “what foot am I supposed to be on” or the good old beloved “Why”.
2) Know Your Intent
A basic in both acting and combat. What are you trying to get from your partner? Why? There are infinite levels of depth to be discovered. In combat, the whys include “Why am I fighting this person?”, “Why this move?”, “Why this weapon” etc. and “What do I want to do – scare, hurt, maim, kill?” It’s storytelling with swords (or knives, fans, rebar, whatever the play calls for) and all the same rules apply.
3) Consent, consent, consent
Another biggie, yet often overlooked. It’s not only important to check in with your on stage partners (acting or combat) on moments that require physical risk or intimacy. Always check in with your partner. Make sure they’re okay with any moves that are going on and consent to their bodies being manipulated however the choreography or staging calls for it. Ask explicitly “Is it okay if I touch you this way?” “Are you comfortable?” “Was that alright for you?” A lot of great information on this subject can be found at www.intimacydirectorsinternational.com.
In this same vein, partnering is very important. One of the three golden rules of improv, this rule also applies to acting and combat – Make your partner look good. You have to make the stakes real. If someone comes on stage with deadly intent and you’re reacting like they forgot your guac at Chipotle you’re not telling a good story, fight or no fight. This is especially important in combat when all the moves aren’t necessarily “true”. If I cut my partner’s arm on stage, with a dulled blade using no pressure, it’s their job to react like they’ve had a very important muscle group destroyed. I cannot put a true amount of pressure on my partner, so we together have to make each other look like we’re really fighting.
5) Cue, reaction, action
This one may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s very important to remember. The three steps of any combat action are the Cue (signalling to your partner what’s coming), the reaction (your partner emotionally and physically reacting accordingly with choreography) and the action (the fight move). It’s a good technique for acting in general too, especially in intimacy choreography. Until you know your partner knows what’s coming, you don’t go.
6) Know thyself
A big one for any performer regardless of type. Ophelia cannot cry unless the actress portraying her is properly hydrated. Likewise, a combatant cannot fight unless their body is warmed up. Knowing what your instrument needs during rehearsal and performance is a must. When in the building stages of choreography, it’s important to know how your body works. Knowing you have a bad knee or that you won’t be able to do a certain move in the heels you’ll be wearing for the show (story of my life) keeps everyone safe and saves a lot of injury and time.
7) Tell the truth
Hold the mirror up to nature. Whether telling a violent story or not, if it’s not being told with honesty and conviction, it’s not being told right. An actor is nothing without telling their character’s truth.