September 17, 2010

Student actors learning stage combat techniques

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- “Actor combatant -- stage combat, proficiency with broadsword,” is the sort of qualification bound to make a resume stand out from the crowd.

Students in a specialized stage combat class, offered as part of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s “Shakespeare Project,” a Department of Theater initiative, have the opportunity to add that very qualification if they pass a skill test at the end of the month-long, intensive workshop.

Media Advisory

A special demonstration of stage combat, featuring the broadsword, is set for Saturday, Oct. 16, at the McLeod Theater in the Communications Building. Reporters, photographers and film crews are welcome to cover this event or to arrange an interview before the event. The time for this demonstration is not yet set. For more information, contact the Department of Theater at 618/453-5741. This demonstration is free and open to the public.

A free demonstration of stage combat techniques is set for Oct. 16 in the McLeod Theater. The time is not set yet for this event -- check back in the Saluki Times or on the Department of Theater website ( for more information. The Student Fine Arts Activity Fee makes the demonstration possible.

J. Thomas Kidd, associate professor of directing and acting and a veteran of several stage combat workshops, said the stage combat preparation is one of three projects leading up to the theatrical presentation of “Macbeth” coming to the McLeod Theater in late April 2011.

“We wanted a project with a larger scope,” he said. “We thought about a trilogy of plays, or a marathon. Then we decided on Macbeth.”

The Department of Theater has staged Shakespeare before, most recently “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2008. However, “Macbeth,” with its stage combat and specialized weaponry, provided the “larger scope” the theater department wanted.

The department called in Richard Raether, a Fight Master/Fight Director/Certified Teacher affiliated with The Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD). Raether, based in Rockford, among other theater activities, teaches workshops in the Great Lakes region to actors who want to add stage combat to their skill lists. His workshop with students began this week and continues through mid-October.

Passing an SAFD skill test is not the same thing as certification, as the organization states on its webpage. However, having a workshop and successful skills test in an actor’s resume indicates to directors a particular level of training. Actors keep their skills current by taking the skills test every three years. A different skills test is necessary for every weapon or style of stage combat. In addition to broadsword, actors can test in rapier and dagger, single sword, small sword, unarmed, quarterstaff, broadsword and shield, and knife.

Kidd stressed that the skills emphasize acting, not just stage combat. The skills test includes a fight scene that must be acted, not merely fought. Stage combat, he said, is more about looking realistic and yet stylish while keeping actors safe and in character.

While he is on campus this fall, Raether will also teach hand-to-hand stage combat techniques, but students will not skill test in that area. A minimum of 30 hours is required for a skills test. Raether will return in the spring to direct the fight scenes in “Macbeth.”

Future Shakespeare-related activities include a guest instructor in weapons manufacture, and Shakespearean dramaturge to help students understand some of the complexities of Elizabethan stagecraft generally and Shakespeare in particular.