A conglomerate of theater students, hopeful MacBETH participants, and those who just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, gathered at the Mainstage Theater to learn the art of stage combat. Jeremy West, American Shakespeare actor and certified dramatic combat director, led the students through basic techniques.
West showed the students the intricacies of stage combat as a storytelling device. “What the audience can see is the preparation [of the combat] and the reaction. Everything else is smoke and mirrors,” West said as he described the motions of performing to the audience. “Everything after that, and before the reaction, is too fast to follow.”
The moves ranged from the classic “Haymaker” punch, as seen in many old Western movies, the ever valuable slap, and the dramatic hairpull. Mats were even pulled out, and the last half hour was spent learning to fall correctly forwards, backwards, and to the side.
Technique was critical. A simple mistake such as misjudged distance could be the difference between a fake punch and a sucker punch to the jaw. The difference between in distance fighting — combat where the participants are in range of actual strikes, — and out of distance fighting — combat where participants were up to a foot out of range — were crucial ideas to understand and perfect with each type of move. Sometimes a punch would be thrown with a foot between the fist and where the audience would see a “strike” land.
In a demonstration between West and junior Alyssa Shenk, every person in the workshop flinched at what appeared to be a terrible punch, even though both participants were standing more than a foot out of danger. Playing with depth perception, sound, and physical reactions is what allows stage combat to seem real to those watching.
The group of students in the workshop consisted of more than just theater students. First-year Akiel Baker did not plan on joining, having not actively participated with theater since elementary school, but found himself engaging in and enjoying the workshop. “It was very interesting; I liked the different styles [of stage combat].”
For many, it was difficult to adjust to the actual execution of the combat. Senior theater major Clara Bush said, “With practice, I think I’ll get more comfortable … and I’ll get better. I’ve never even really thought about hitting people, so it felt so strange.”
Junior Alyssa Shenk’s favorite move taught at the workshop was the fake hair pulling. I like the fact that in that scenario the victim had all the control and creative freedom to take the scene where they wanted it to go.”
The stage combat workshop served as a precursor and introduction for students to develop interest in EMU’s play MacBETH.