Acting the Fight

Acting the Fight*

Dale Girard mentions in Actors on Guard that very often staged combat is woefully under-rehearsed; tacked on to a rehearsal schedule, very often near the end of the rehearsal process. What this does is make the fight scenes look as though they are inserted roughly and artificially into an already pretty much complete product, because they are. This leads to the all too often seen “act-then fight-then act” syndrome, especially when the fight scenes are towards the end, or near the climax of the story, like in Hamlet. The actors are jolted out of their authentic experience and therefore so is the audience.

Now this happens for for a specific reason: Staged combat is difficult to do. It takes a lot of training to to be able to stay safe and and keep up the illusion of violence, all while still remaining in character. This is why early and frequent fight rehearsals are so important: If an actor can become comfortable with the physical techniques as techniques, she can then move beyond the techniques as such, and make them instead tactics, which her character does to gain her objective. Fight rehearsals need to be scheduled at least as early as the regular rehearsals, so that the fights are part of the acting process, not an accessory. The actors can then grow with the fights not as moves to execute rote, but as a part of their characters’ journey.

Because that’s why characters (and I’d aver: real people, too) resort to physical violence: Because words alone aren’t getting them what they want. When words fail as tactics, that’s when a character uses physical tactics instead. ~Jenn

*This phrase comes from Fight Master Dale Girard’s book on Stage Combat, called Actors on Guard. His chapter on, well, acting the fight is called this, and I was honored to be given permission by him to title my next book by his phrase. I highly recommend his book, by the way–it’s essential for any theatre or martial arts library, especially for those of you particularly interested in stage combat. My first book, Stage Combat, too, of course.


(Image is Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes about to deliver “a straight left to a slogging ruffian,” in The Solitary Cyclist. If you created this image, let me know please, so I can give you credit.)


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