swordfighting

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3c: Swords (broadswords)

Me, Brian, and Geoff performing at CO RenFaire, 1998. I like to call this pic “Broad’s Swords.”

We have this lovely little collection of hand-and-a-half broadswords at Metro, and before now I’ve never had the time to bring them out and play with them in class. But now that I’m shifting the course curriculum a bit and making the semester more about having long weapons in our hands (easy social distancing), I thought I’d go ahead and fit them in this coming semester.

Broadswords are a bigger, heavier, thicker-bladed, and earlier type of sword than the rapier, though many of them tend to be no longer. The ones we have at Metro aren’t heavy, solid-steel, enormous longswords or claymores, though—they’re built a bit lighter than most I’ve used and learned on; they are about the same length as the rapiers (though obviously the blades are much wider), and the hilts are your basic cross hilt and with a grip that’s easy to use with one hand, or the hand-and-a-half technique, where you steady your hold with your off hand on the pommel. This will be a lot of fun and will be an easy segue either from or into the lightsabers, which can also be used one handed or two.

Plus, our broadswords make this gorgeous chiming sound as they clash together, with proper stage combat technique of course. We haven’t really used these weapons hardly at all, so if you’re a Metro, CCD, or UCD student, you won’t want to miss this iteration of the class—I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to use them again, if we go back to “normal”…

There’s still just 5 people signed up. Register now!

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3a: Swords (Rapiers)

One of the coolest weapons to learn in the field of Stage Combat is the sword. In my not-so-humble and professional opinion, the rapier is one of the coolest looking and funnest (I’m also an English professor–that’s totally a word) swords to learn, too. It’s also most likely the sword you’ll find you’re using onstage most often in any number of productions–other types aren’t used nearly as often as rapiers.

Perfect social distancing. Plus gloves are required when using rapiers.

Rapiers are the swords you use in Shakespeare, in Three Musketeers, in Moliere stuff… even in some Restoration comedy they’ll use the very slightly earlier rapier. Fantasy worlds, too, like to feature the ornamental quality of the rapier, and for good reason. Rapiers are pretty, slender, and quick without being tiny and invisible onstage, and let’s not forget Princess Bride‘s role in popularizing them for theatrical use. Pirate flicks often use rapiers over cutlasses, too, because they look so cool.

We at MSU Denver are beyond fortunate that we own, in the theatre department, over 20 beautiful, custom made rapiers for use in class and in productions. This gorgeous and well made arsenal was constructed by the late, great Denny Graves; who in his life was one of the very best stage combat weapon makers in the country, and certainly in this state. He’s no longer with us, so our collection of Graves masterpieces is something to treasure, being irreplaceable and made like no other swords you can get anywhere these days. (Rogue Steel is a close second, so if you’re in the theatrical weapon market, they’re the ones to go with nowadays–I have two of their rapiers and I’m very happy with them.) But the fact is, unless you are the lucky owner of a Denny Graves piece, you won’t be able to work with them pretty much anywhere else unless you take my classes at Metro.

Plus, a 4-foot sword at the end of an extended arm equals around 6 feet of safe distance between you and anyone else. Win-win.

In a past Advanced class, the students adapted the opening scene from Romeo & Juliet into a pirate rivalry, cannons, Captain Hook, piecemeal costumes, rapiers, and all.

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #1: Distance

When the plague first hit, lovely lurkers, I was just about to embark on the last unit of Metro’s Stage Movement class, and had to be quick about yoinking the whole unit to an online-only format. Since then, I’ve participated in three theatre productions on Zoom, one online-only stage combat class, and am just concluding teaching an asynchronous, all-online course at DU called Visual and Physical Communication, which is focused on body language.

Clearly, since March, we in The Biz have gotten pretty good at doing things you wouldn’t imagine you could do without being in-person; we figured out how to do these things remotely. Work has changed forever, methinks, and theatre certainly has.

I have been assigned my customary stage combat course at Metro this Spring (the semester begins mid-January), and I have to admit that I’m having a pretty good time shifting my curriculum in order to make the class safer, not the way it always is as far as theatrical combat, but to keep me and the students who take it plague-free.

Work From Home, armed with steel… (sketch by Paul Bradley)

The class will be meeting Fridays only, and there are several pandemic rules that all of campus is adhering to, including testing, flu shots, mandatory masks, sanitation mandates, and keeping the physical population of classrooms down. I am adding more of my own rules to my stage combat course, so as to keep it as safe as possible. Here’s the rundown, in a nutshell:

-our unarmed unit will be remote: students will learn basic punches and slaps, but no techniques that include touch (like chokes or grapples). We will learn these techniques for film, as opposed to emphasizing a live theatre approach. This unit will also be shorter, because…

-I am adding 6-foot staffs back into the curriculum! Back when I first taught this course (in 2005), I was just completing my textbook, and as such I followed the book’s lineup, including staffs. Later I would take the staffs out of the beginner course, because a) actors will rarely find themselves needing to know staff technique—sword are way more common; b) I was running out of time with three weapons systems crammed into 16 weeks. But now, staffs are back, and unarmed is a smaller unit.

-we will be mainly working with swords through most of the semester. After all, you add a 4-ft sword to the end of your extended arm, and you’ve magically got social distancing.

-Since the class will mainly be about swords this time, we may just break out Metro’s beautiful broadswords.

-also: lightsabers. Need I say more?

I’ll be posting in more detail about all these things in some separate posts here, in an attempt to get enrollments enough to not cancel the course. Stay tuned, and if you’re a Metro or UCD or CCD student, sign up!

⚔️🗡🦠🥊😷

Sign up for Advanced Stage Combat plea #4

And the reason this time is:

Strange and unusual weapons.

At Metro, the beginning Stage Combat class covers the basics of both unarmed and rapier techniques. And as you might imagine, the whole 16 weeks’ worth of time is necessary for the introduction and especially the practice, of the bare basics.

In the advanced class, everyone enters knowing the basics, basically (we of course do a review session on our first day), and so we can use that knowledge to move forward into other stuff. This coming semester, we’ll be doing broadswords and staffs, as you’ve already heard about.

But there’s other stuff we’ll cover, too: some have to do with harder versions of the basic weapons. For example, large group fights, sword fighting up and down stairs a la Errol Flynn, circular or erratic footwork in sword fighting, advanced taihenjutsu like dive rolls, simulated (and real) martial arts throws, falling from a height, etc. (See me below, playing around on a climbing wall with a past advanced class–we learned some aerial dance rope stuff as well as basic climbing, plus falling from a height.)

In the past, I’ve also done micro-units on martial arts styles and found weapons (which are normal everyday objects used as weapons–something that pops up in current theatre far more often than, say, swords), and then of course one can also use classic weapons techniques to inform other, more unusual ones.

For example, a knowledge of basic Japanese katana technique will make you pretty decent at wielding a lightsaber (and staff knowledge helps with that double-bladed number Darth Maul had).

This coming Fall (if I can get 12 students signed up), we will be doing a video-game fight unit. And wouldn’t it be cool if I got UCD’s renowned film department in on that project. Is mo-cap, animation, or film technique in our future? Will I bring this class (as I have done for one of our summer private courses) down to one of the Parkour studios in Denver for specialized training? Time will tell. That’s if I get the enrollment numbers.

A reminder: anyone can audit, but anyone attending the three schools on Auraria campus (MSU, CCD, and UCD) can sign up for this course. As of last time I checked, I had 6 enrolled, which is half the required number I need for the class to go.

So. What are you waiting for?

Fight Clip Club

This selection from The Four Musketeers is a favorite one of mine and many of my compatriots in the stage combat profession. The main reason for this is twofold: 1) you can see it’s mainly the actors doing the choreography, not stunt doubles, and 2) it’s one of the more realistic sword fight scenes you can find in cinema.

Normally when you’re talking swordfighting, particularly The Three Musketeers, you think Expressionistic / Swashbuckling, right? Sure you do–we all do. This isn’t that. It’s arguably Expressionistic because of the length of the fight, but I’d actually call it Realistic / Dramatic instead. Can you see why I do?

(For a detailed rundown on my two-tiered classification system of stage combat, here.)

(Also: it’s period-realistic more than most, as it’s actually rapier-and-dagger, not just rapier, not random-pirate-y-sword-we-thought-looked-old-timey…)

Fiction Selection

I came across this clip from an unpublished story that’s the first of 5 I need to get my butt in gear with and edit, proofread, revise, and freaking publish already! Or, at least I think I do. What do you think, lovely lurkers?

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From Sweet Revenge, 2000 (unpublished)

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“Take that, spawn of the devil!”

Thwang!

I whirl around. Protruding from the mast, inches from my right shoulder, is a sextant, the sharp end embedded into the wood. It trembles with the impact. I turn back around to face my assailant.

Three rigging-lackeys lounge on barrels, ropes, the rail. The man in the center, one Arbitor, curses at his near miss. The other two laugh.

“Here’s the instrument to stick in a pretty walking map!” the mustachioed pirate on the left jeers. The right-hand lackey, lounging on the rail, grabs his trousers and gestures lewdly. I frown. Jack O’Napes is nowhere in sight. Meeting my uncle the Captain, no doubt. The rest of the crew is far from us. Arbitor fidgets. He looks uncomfortable; he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. His two flanking cohorts advance on me, leering, muttering under their breath. I catch a few phrases: “Tie ‘er up and hang ‘er,” “Our treasure…” “Nothing but a little girl.” At that, the right-hand lackey clutches himself again and replies, “I’ll make ‘er into a woman, Skrike. You hold ‘er.”

Fab4

The main characters from a sequel to this story. You can see Gemma on the far left labeled as “Cap’n.”

I tense, every muscle on the alert. Arbitor backs up slowly, biting his fingers.

“Now!” shouts the right-hand lackey, and lunges at me.

I draw my sword so quickly, he runs straight into it. The point pierces his abdomen. He gasps in pain and fury. I wrench the sword free, and whirl to face my other opponent, who whisks his sword out of its scabbard and squares off with me. Arbitor drags his bleeding, cursing other crony downstairs, calling for the Captain. I do not hear him. Skrike swipes a cut at my left side, which I parry easily. He is already breathing too heavily, in anticipation. I can see his next move in his eyes.

I thwart his expected thrust and bind his blade around, surprising him with my strength, and exposing the left side of his back. I cut quickly towards his kidney, but he somehow twists out of his awkward position and beats my blade away. I hear running feet belowships and on the hollow-sounding stairs, but all my thoughts are on my man, my breathing, my footing. His blade, my blade.

His next thrust is far too sloppy, he being still off-balance. I tack aside the off-center miss, and aim this time for his right calf. He won’t expect a blow so low.

Just as I thought: the cut draws blood. He sucks in a ragged breath and falls to his knees.

He’s not through yet, however. He shoves his blade straight, like a battering-ram, towards my solar plexus. I parry the blade, and this time envelopée the sword right out of his hand. It circles, out of his control, and clatters to the deck. It flings itself across the floor and lands at the feet of Jack O’Napes, who has appeared from belowships. The Captain stands next to him. I point my sword at the hollow of Skrike’s throat. He, panting, sweating, eyes me with awe.

“Apologize,” I say between clenched teeth. When he does not respond, I place the point of my blade right up against the depression at the base of his neck. He swallows, with difficulty.

“A-po-lo-gize,” I sing to him. “Say you’re sorry in front of the Captain–” my vision widens, and I notice that the whole crew has assembled like a theatre crowd. “–and all the crew. Then,” I lower my voice and move a step closer, “kiss my foot and promise you shall never try me again.” At the word ‘never,’ I prick his skin ever so slightly. He tenses.

“I…am sorry.”

“That’s right.”

“Cap’n Jonquil, sir, ye crew, I behaved like an ass.” This makes the crew growl in malicious laughter. “I’ll never threaten the Gem again, to ye all do I swear.” His voice seeps with humiliation. I move the sword away from his throat. A tiny bead of blood wells up from the spot. We look into each other’s eyes for two heartbeats.

Then, he bows to the floor and brushes his mustache against my left foot. I smirk. The crew bursts into a roar. Captain Jonquil picks him up by the scruff.

The crew quiets.

Captain Jonquil speaks, holding Skrike by the back of his neck.

“Know this. If any one of you ever so much as dreams of touching our Gem with unclean intent, you shall be fodder for the sharks, understood?” A murmur of assent. “She is my child, more than my brother’s, and is no devil’s whelp. She shall get her share, you scurrilous son of a pig,” this last comment is directed at the wounded and gasping rigging-lackey I skewered. “and she’s a better seaman than you, Arbitor.” The man bows his head.

“For you, Skrike, to be this badly beaten by a woman should be enough punishment for you, yet the proper punishment for the attack of a fellow crew member, according to our code, which you dutifully signed when you boarded,” the crew murmurs again. “is nineteen lashes with the cat o’ nine. O’Napes, take him and bestow the honors upon him.” Jack hoists the sagging Skrike by the arm and drags him away.