Opinion with Adam Milford

Adam Milford
Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Stage combat can be the perfect student icebreaker

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As an introduction to drama for a new intake, or if you are looking to encourage students to take up Drama GCSE, then stage combat is a great choice! It combines multiple performance disciplines in one thoroughly entertaining form. Acting, storytelling, and later devising are at the heart of the stage combat process, all of which your students can explore without realising they're learning anything other than how to pretend to punch each other!

Every stage combat move has three parts to it – the Prep, the Action, and the Recoil.

The Prep is the bit when a hand is raised – it signposts for the audience and to the other actor what is about to happen, so is an essential piece of communication between performers. Every Action has its own Prep, so it also helps ensure the victim reacts accordingly.

The Action is the move which sells the scene. It's what we've been building up to and should come with a satisfying knap and reaction from the recipient.

The Recoil is the aftermath and completes the narrative. It is more about the emotional response of the characters than anything physical, and further defines them and their relationship. How they feel about what they've just done? Do they immediately regret what they've done, or do they enjoy it? Do they ready themselves for another hit, or for their opponent to hit back?

This is where the acting comes in, and in a stage combat lesson it is the only point I allow any improvisation. Once you have the mechanics of a punch in place, improvise different endings. What story does it tell if the attacker immediate apologises and begs for forgiveness. What happens if they step in to hit again? What if the victim sees red and escalates the situation to the attacker's surprise? These moments can be improvised, as long as no further moves are introduced.

Just like a piece of interpretive dance, fight choreography needs to be devised with the character's intentions and emotions leading the way. The devising element needs to happen Thai-Chi slow – full of intention but slow, allowing actors to explore the move, get the techniques right, and choreograph safely, locking movements into their body memory.

Find more stage combat resources at http://www.theatreworkout.com/resourceswww.theatreworkout.com/resources.