January 22, 2024

Taking it Too Far

In the captivating realm of stage combat, Theatretrain Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett shares insights into the art of creating realistic fights on stage. From choreographing punches to unexpected surprises, he unveils the secrets behind the illusion, emphasising the importance of safety and cautionary tales.

I once learned how to stage fight and for many years, I regularly taught it as part of my classes. I’d start with simple things like pulling someone by the finger or the hair. Of course, the point of it is that everything is faked and safety comes first. When you work with a partner and one holds the other ‘s finger you have to teach that person to do nothing but look scary – scary sounds add to it. All the real work is done by the person who shouts and hollers, begging them to stop. You can move on once they’ve understood that they are more like dancing partners. So next one of them makes a fist and rests it on the other’s head and again the person whose hair is “pulled” holds the fist in place and does the squirming and even throws themselves down the room. It looks so real, not unlike professional wrestling.

The favourite was always the punch or slap. To do the punch the actors have to understand that there are three parts to it. You don’t want the audience to miss it so part one is called “I’m going to punch you,” and the puncher pulls back their fist while the punchee stands back and raises their hands in protection. Part two is the fun bit, “the punch.” The puncher briefly rests their left hand on their partner’s shoulder and then moves their fist across at the same time taking the hand from the shoulder and clapping the now open fist after which it immediately becomes a fist again. The quickness of the hand deceives the eye and the clap sounds like the fist made contact. The partner also has work to do, and this is part three “Ouch I got punched.”. They must react to the “punch” by twisting their face as if contact has been made. It sounds dangerous but in all the years I taught no one ever hurt someone else because it’s all trickery.

I did all this with a group of teachers in a town in Germany called Marburg. We had a ball but I heard after I left that two of them caused a real commotion. They practised their routine together until it was pretty good. Then at breaktime in the staffroom, they had a pretend argument and went into their fight. Oh dear. Of course, everyone thought it was for real and became very distressed. In the joy of surprising their colleagues, they forgot how real it looked and what that might bring. After that when working with teachers I always told that story as a warning.

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

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