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Becoming An Actor: Come Fight with Me

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I had thought, after my stage combat exams this time last year, I had had enough of the words “It doesn’t matter! Do it faster!” being shouted at me by a wiry Danish instructor. Apparently, one year on, my memory has become a little jaded and my zeal for making-the-most-out-of-my-last-few-weeks-at-drama-school has become a little consuming. And so I find myself in the throws of another combative routine, eventually allowing me (if I pass) to add another skill to the CV.

For some reason there’s something innately cool about pretending to beat each other up. Far more cool, I would argue, than actually beating each other up. I suppose it’s to do with the physical exertion required to perform a “pretend” fight convincingly. Actors are often accused of being a bit namby pamby, but the strength, aggression and precision that make up a good piece of staged combat, fights (pun intended) against this assumed stereotype – and anything which battles that is inexorably cool.

It’s also dangerous. It’s not really. But it looks dangerous. And that also makes it cool. For the same reason that motorcycles and cigarettes look cool.

There’s also something very childish about it. I’m sure there are few boys who didn’t at some point whilst growing up play ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ or a variation on that theme. To be allowed, and encouraged, to extend that intrinsic playfulness into adult life makes it an entirely compelling pursuit. Pretending to be beaten up, or killed, is the ultimate act of deception. There's something magic about being able to defy death, even if it is only in the realms of theatre.

That said it requires an incredible amount of time and effort, to produce 2-3 minutes of material – time and effort that can be difficult to come by when you’re in the midst of rehearsals. Stage Combat is, in my opinion, an important skill worth finding the extra time for. If you’re performing at the Kings Head, you probably won’t have a fight co-ordinator, and will be required to prepare any moments of aggression yourself. Even if you’re at the NT working with a very talented fight director, it’s still you that’s got to get up on stage and perform it convincingly, so the more adept you are the more persuasive you’ll be. And, lets face it, there’s something squirmingly awful about obviously under prepared and ill-executed fights within plays. If nothing else it can remind you that you’re watching a play. Also within the world of drama school Stage Combat is a brilliant demander of physical fitness and mental agility. It requires absolute precision and specificity, traits that, once learned, are entirely applicable to any acting role.

However, Stage Combat, for me at least, does seem to come accompanied by an unnecessary ferocity, even in its teaching. Our savage female tutor often wears a top proudly embellished with “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”…that or I’ve just taken a bokken to the shin.

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