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Fight club: Stage combat course emphasizes both realistic appearance and safety

Rubber City Shakespeare Co. founder and producing artistic director Dane Leasure watches as Angelina Fox reacts to a stage punch during a recent stage combat class at the Wayne Center for the Arts. Fellow class member Abby Terwilliger watches the action from a safe distance.

Tami Lange Mosser

In an upstairs studio at the Wayne Center for the Arts, Dane Leasure offered a group of young actors some advice:

“Break, break, break,” he said. “Break each one of the fingers. ... Do it with a reaction. I want them to be really concerned downstairs.”

And the snapping started.

And the screaming.

And the howling.

Welcome to the world of stage combat, which really isn’t so much about brute force as it is about choreography.

Leasure, the founder and producing artistic director of the Rubber City Shakespeare Co. in Akron, took a few hours Saturday, March 7, to walk a group of students through the proper and safe way to punch, slap and push their way through a scene.

It’s not just making a move look realistic, he told the group, it’s also the way the actor being pushed or struck reacts. And there has to be sound. When a stage punch lands, the audience should not only see it, Leasure said, but hear it as well.

That, he said, is where the “nap” comes in.

The “nap” is the sound that approximates the sound you’d hear in real action. And, Leasure said, good stage combat requires excellent timing, so the nap is heard as the action occurs.

If the sound follows the action — or if it precedes it — the move doesn’t look authentic.

And there are some movements that just can’t be faked.

Take a fall, Leasure told the group.

Literally, take a fall.

As the group pushed backwards and slid into various falls, Leasure advised, “Land on the meaty parts. Not on the bone parts.”

“Fall wrong, hospital.”

“Fall right, no hospital.”

Leasure also offered a lesson in the physics of stage combat. Falling down on one hand pushes all the energy into that hand. Thus, he said, it will hurt. Slide into the fall and the energy spreads, making it not hurt at all.

It is the first time Leasure has visited the arts center, he said, though he’s been teaching the art of stage combat for more than four years. An actor combatant in the Society of American Fight Directors and an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Leasure learned the craft while in graduate school at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree and a Master of Arts in literature.

A native of West Salem and graduate of Black River High School and the University of Akron, Leasure was invited to the arts center by theater program coordinator Elana Kepner, who he’d met in regional theater circles. “The kids here are awesome,” he said. “They’re all very eager to learn.”

Kepner was pleased the class went so well. “Stage combat not only builds great physical and mental skills like coordination, focus and working with a partner,” she said, “but it helps young actors engage with and think about violence in a healthy way.” The center also has launched 10-week-long sessions for children in creative drama, musical theater and acting technique and will offer a one-session “Talk Like a Brit” class on May 14.

The WCA’s theater program is built on a progression, Kepner said, so many of the same classes will continue to be offered through the year even as others are added.

It is the younger crowd that often is the easiest to teach, according to Leasure, whose own company is opening “All’s Well that Ends Well” on March 19 in Akron. With adult actors, he said, the toughest part of instruction is “probably to have them not go faster.” Younger people usually seem to understand being careful and walking through a scene step by step to make sure everything is realistic, yet still is done safely.

Even with the all the attention to detail—there are special “fight calls” on the Rubber City Shakespeare Co.’s rehearsal schedules—there’s no guarantee something won’t go wrong. Leasure recalled a sword fight in the company’s Akron venue, one which features stage chandeliers. The actor “did a wide sword swing and hit the chandelier and took out a few of the lightbulbs,” Leasure recalled.

Published: March 16, 2015
New Article ID: 2015703169999