En garde!

Theater students attend stage combat workshop over Labor Day weekend


Holland Rainwater

Theater students practice combat exercises at the University of Houston. The workshop was held during Labor Day weekend.

Story by Cate Rounds, staff writer

Over Labor Day weekend, eight theater students went to Houston for the annual Texas Intensive Stage Combat Workshop. After being wiped out by Hurricane Harvey last year, they were ready to get the program back on track. The workshop has been held for 15 years at the University of Houston.

“My buddy Brian Burns got it started back in the day before I came to Houston,” said Jack Young, head of the Professional Actor Training program and Artistic Director for the University of Houston. “When he left, I kept it going along with Adam Noble, who is the Head of Movement at the University of Houston.”

Stage combat is a necessary skill for all actors to have. They risk major injury if they are not trained in armed and unarmed combat.

— Cate Rounds

“A lot of dramatic plays end up putting people into dire situations. Sometimes those dire situations turn into violence,” Young said. “Our interest is to make sure people can [fight] in a way that the audience can believe them, and everybody’s smiling at curtain call.”

Fighting on stage is not the same as fighting off. When engaged in a stage combat scene, you must make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable.

“I took martial arts when I was younger, so I knew how to fight offstage,” senior Sam Sanchez said. “That’s completely different than fighting onstage. I wanted to get familiar with stage combat because in a show, you can’t afford to have any injured actors.”

The students went to the Starter Track program, where they learned basic skills needed to fight properly. They were instructed on how to engage in unarmed combat as well as combat armed with swords, bo staffs and knives.

“I learned how to look realistic and use actual fighting techniques,” junior Shelby Steele said. “We were taught the basics of broadsword, single sword, quarterstaff and knife. Once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed single sword.”

All of the teachers at the Starter Track were training to become certified fighting instructors. Although they were the ones teaching, everyone learned from each other. They wanted to make sure students were safe and having fun.

“The teachers were phenomenal,” Sanchez said. “They would stop and make sure everyone knew what they were doing before moving on. They gave step-by-step instructions and were also hilarious.”

Not only did the students gain valuable skills, but the teachers that brought their students got the chance to learn from observing.

“Anytime I can take my students to an activity that will help build their skill set as actors, it is a valuable experience,” Tiger Theatre Company director Melissa Newton said. “I got to see where my students had different strengths and weaknesses. I think everyone left with one area that they really enjoyed and excelled in.”

Some of the skills the students trained in will be incorporated into the Tiger Theatre Company’s performances this year. Many of the shows have fight scenes involving unarmed altercations, swords and other weaponry.

“We gained techniques that we can share with our company,” Steele said. “It will make our program better as whole.”