As part of our first annual Shakespeare Festival, all students participated in a stage combat workshop, led by two members of the American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe. After an active warm-up during which we learned about the history of the ASC, Patrick and Patrick got us to think about what is most important about stage combat: safety, believability, and how the “violence” must help tell the story. There are many tricks to stage fighting. These tricks involve using the sight lines of the audience, choreography, fake noises and more. In Shakespeare’s day, there were not a lot of stage directions spelled out for actors. Patrick and Patrick acted out a scene where Hamlet and Laertes fight. The only real clue that Hamlet and Laertes should be scuffling was the line “I prithee, take thy fingers from my throat.” This is called an embedded stage direction.
Then all the students got foam swords and learned a little about stance, advancing, retreating, parrying and thrusting. The leaders told us always to practice in slow motion and taught us the dueling salute: sword to the face, up to the heavens, figure eight swish in front then tap the ground. En garde!