Ready, set, fight! Students train in stage combat

In the stage combat class, students learn to harness the skills needed to create a fight on stage. Mia Crawford | Photographer Photo credit: Mia Crawford

By Piper Rutherford | Staff Writer

Theater majors and other students alike can put their physical acting skills to the test in a stage combat class, learning to create the illusion of fight scenes.

Stage combat professor Brandon Sterrett said after years of turning other students away from the class, he and his team have decided to open the course to non-theater majors.

“The pedagogy of the course is about introducing scenarios that are unfamiliar to students,” Sterrett said. “We start by teaching combat with hands — even if they do not know how to punch — then we put a knife in the hand, a sword in the hand and a shield in the hand, so that they are always comfortable with this slow progression.”

For those who are intimidated by stage combat, Sterrett said it essentially comes down to manipulating timing, distance, choreography and targeting.

“We teach our students like martial artists so that they know where to land their hits where it looks like a real hit — but it is not, since it is always a little to the left or right, like a magic trick,” Sterrett said. “Stage combat is important to a performance because it helps the audience buy into something that is not happening but that the actors are selling to them.”

New Orleans senior Abigail Rondey said while it can be hard to get out of your head in the beginning, you just have to jump right in.

“Even though many people refer to stage combat as ‘fake fighting’ since the weapons are dulled, I was initially worried about harming or injuring another performer,” Rondey said. “But my first show at Baylor my freshman year was “Athena”, so I was fencing the whole time and learned how to become more comfortable with it by focusing on my partner in the scene until I found my sweet spot.”

However, Rondey said there are times when you will mess up, and she shared some of her own stories from rehearsals.

“Last semester, I was in a scene where I was supposed to kick a couch over with a knife in my hand before attacking with the knife, and I slipped and the knife went flying across the stage,” Rondey said. “In moments like these, you just have to trust yourself and make up a plan on the spot since you can’t stop mid-scene, which is what I think is the most fun about stage combat.”

Sterrett said he thinks stage combat elevates theater by allowing performers to tell a story and take it to the extreme.

“Acting at that level of intensity, even if an argument does not come to blow, is so important,” Sterrett said. “We do not go to the theater to see a nice day. We go to the theater to see the wheels come off, since that is what it means to be human and shows that how we handle situations can be obstructive, entertaining and inspiring.”

Piper Rutherford is a sophomore political science major from Dallas. In her first year at the Lariat, she is excited to learn more about news writing and how the publication process works. After graduation, she plans to attend law school.