On our third day in Stratford, Dr. Carol Mejia-La Perle arranged for us to participate in a combat workshop with two actors trained to engage in safe yet believable combat on stage. Our hosts for this workshop were Johnathan Sousa, who appears in Twelfth Night, and plays the roles of Careless in The School for Scandal, and Valere in Tartuffe this season, and Emilio Vieira, who appears in The School for Scandal, as Curio in Twelfth Night, and as Damis in Tartuffe. Right away we learned that stage combat was very physically draining, and if not properly handled, actors can either hurt themselves or others while engaged in fighting.
Although this workshop was great fun, we also learned that safety comes first. We were instructed to pair up with a classmate, to stand 6-8 inches apart, to use our legs, and to pretend there was an imaginary pane of glass between us. Emilio explained that this allows the actors to be safe during combat while maintaining the illusion of actual combat from the audience’s perspective. He asked us to practice wiping this pane of glass on the wall to get the feeling that we were to extend our energy outwards, away from the target. This pane of glass analogy was helpful as we faced our partners and were instructed on how to punch, slap, and pull hair without actually ever harming them.
The illusion of violence was achieved through the use of the appropriate angle and stance, and through the aggressor’s and victim’s facial expressions and use of the body to indicate pain and impact. Johnathan and Emilio explained that the sound of violence is achieved by a “knapp.” A first person knapp is achieved by the aggressor as he “slaps” or “punches” his victim by quickly slaps his own hands or cupping his open hand to his chest. A second person knapp is achieved by the victim who makes the noise appropriate to a punch or slap at the exact moment the aggressor makes contact with the slap or punch, and a third person knapp is achieved by neither the aggressor nor the victim making a noise to indicate a punch or slap, but is instead made by an actor outside the altercation.
Timing is everything. I found that there was a lot to remember as we took turns with our partner being the aggressor and the victim. This gave me a whole new respect for the actors and reminded me of Roger’s discussion of combat training during our tour of The Festival Theatre: “For every second of combat, each actor practices for one hour!” Now, that’s dedication!