Last April I blogged about my experience taking two three-hour workshops in stage combat. If you’ll remember, at the end of that blogpost I wrote:
“Our weekend of stage combat was a blast, which is a good thing since Jonathan and I will be hitting NYC this coming July to do a stage combat intensive with Art of Combat. We just got our scripts today and I am SOOOOO beyond excited. And a little scared. But hey, if I can handle a sword, I can handle anything.”
So guess what I did last week? That’s right; last week Jonathan and I attended the Art of Combat NYC Stage Combat Intensive. And from day one I knew I would be facing my last comment head-on: “I can handle anything.”
In case you didn’t figure this out on your own, the stage combat intensive is what you would call “intense.” (huh) What do I mean by “intense?” I mean that instead of spending two days doing six hours (total) of stage combat, I spent six days doing over 70 hours (total) of stage combat. That’s right; SEVENTY HOURS. Monday through Saturday we arrived in the morning (sometimes as early as 9 a.m.) to have meetings or go over choreography from the day before. From there, we had classes throughout the day from combat theory to anatomy and physiology to practical and historical application of knife, longsword, rapier, tomahawk, unarmed combat and more. And in the late afternoons through the evenings (usually until 11 p.m. or midnight) we learned and practiced choreography that was implemented for two performances of an off-off-Broadway show at the end of the week.
And OH MY GOODNESS…it was AWESOME.
My stage combat experience up to this point was obviously minimal; here I was, with six hours under my belt, working alongside individuals who’ve been fighting for six YEARS. OR MORE. Our instructors have decades of fight instruction among them and have choreographed for both stage and screen. It was NUTS…and I was terrified! I had no idea how I could (or would) keep up. But here’s a secret; you hit the floor RUNNING…and there’s no time to wonder if you can do it or not; you just DO. And I DID. And it was AMAZING.
So what does all this have to do with playwriting? (No, I didn’t forget what my blog is about!) Well…that depends on the person. As a playwright myself (in addition to being a theatre artist), I find great value in new experiences that improve my skill sets (in fact, this is something they promote highly at AoC). Something I’ve noticed through both of my stage combat experiences is the emphasis placed on story – the fight should communicate something new about the characters involved or further the overall plot in some way. It’s not about gratuitous violence or “fun” (though fight scenes certainly can be fun!!) it’s asking yourself what you want to communicate through this scene and what the playwright was trying to communicate by including a fight, just as you would with any other scene in a play.
As a playwright, then, and as a writer in general, I am seeing the potential that fight scenes can have in my storyline. Story is all about conflict and sometimes physical conflict can enhance emotional conflict. More specifically, I spent the last week learning about how quickly someone dies of a knife wound to the descending aorta (for example) or what types of poisons were used in the 16th century and their symptoms. Who knew the wealth of resources you could get from studying stage combat? And a lot of that has to do with AoC’s dedication to historical accuracy in their fights. The instructors have spent years not just studying rapier, but the difference between Italian rapier and Spanish rapier, and the way those styles have changed over the last several centuries. In the novel I’m working on I intend to apply much of what I’ve learned about handling a knife. And I’m already looking back at my most recent production of Romeo & Juliet thinking, I wish I’d had that toxicology chart two months ago…
As playwrights, and heck, as PEOPLE, the more information we can gain, the better, especially if it adds to our writing resources. Jonathan and I are now New York Chapter members of Art of Combat and as such we need to be involved in four “events” per quarter – which for us means we’re going to sign up for a weekly martial arts course to give us a better foundation. I can only imagine how this might inform my writing further (not to mention, help keep me in better physical shape).
My bottom line is, don’t limit your “writer experience” to merely intellectual pursuits; you’d be surprised how much you can learn in a more physical environment and how that might change the way you want to tell stories. I love that stage combat is becoming a consistent part of my life now. Keep an eye out for fight scenes in my upcoming work.