One of the first plays I saw in Stratford was Othello, and while not Shakespeare’s most violent play, there was plenty of on stage fighting. I’ve always found the concept of stage fighting interesting—how it’s choreographed and how the sounds are made without anyone actually being hit. So I was looking forward to the morning of our stage combat workshop.
We had the opportunity to learn from two of the actors that were in some of the plays we’d seen earlier: Johnathan Sousa and EB Smith. When we got there we started out by getting into pairs. Before we actually did anything, we learned there are three s’s of stage combat: safety, story, and speed.
Safety is obviously the most important aspect, with the story of the fight coming next. The last part of stage fighting to acquire is speed, so since we were only there for about an hour none of what we practiced was very fast.
The first thing we learned was how to “punch” someone. We had learn how to cue our partner by holding our dominant hand out to the side in a fist. Then we focused on an imaginary parrot on our partner’s shoulder, and aimed the punch at the parrot so that we didn’t accidently actually punch the other person. We also learned that whether the punch looked realistic depended on the positioning. For example, in a place where there are people surrounding the actors, it’s necessary to swing your arm past your partner’s face so that everyone in the audience feels like they saw the punch.
However, my favorite part of this workshop was learning how actors make a punch or slap sound like someone is actually being hit. This is accomplished by a knap. Knaps are made by one of the actors hitting themselves in a way that the audience can’t see. The examples we were shown included clapping hands or slapping the chest. After a few times practicing our punches, we learned how to “slap” someone. This was very similar to punching, just with a flat hand instead of one curled into a fist.
I had a lot of fun practicing this, even though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I have a tendency to lean backward to punch when my partner “punches” me, which makes it a little less realistic looking. But it was a lot of fun to do and see how my partner reacted to my punches/slaps. She had really good reactions and made the experience a lot of fun.
The last thing we learned was how to make it look like we were dragging someone around by their hair. At first I was really nervous about this because I wasn’t sure if it involved my partner actually touching my hair. Luckily there wasn’t anything like that needed. Instead, Person A would place their fist on top of Person B’s head so it looked like they had a fistful of hair. However, the actual power behind the movements comes from Person B, who grabs onto their partner’s hand and is the one that moves and makes the hair pulling look real.
I had a lot of fun practicing this one, especially because of the different ways this particular situation could be played out. For example, because there my partner was significantly taller than me, she sat in a chair for this one so that it looked I was dragging her off the chair by her hair. Another pair had one of them sliding across the floor, and they played it out really well so it was a lot of fun to watch.