The art of looking convincing in a sword fight or brawl is crucial to stage and screen. Punches don’t hit flesh and knives lay flat against the victim.
The audience must believe it is real and dangerous.
“When I tell them I can kill the six inches around them, they definitely give me some interesting looks,” said Emily Redfield, a Wichita State University theater performance major.
In July, WSU seniors Redfield and Cat Kee attended the National Stage Combat Workshop in Ruston, La. The three-week course offered instruction, testing and certification with weapons such as swords, shields, firearms, rapiers, daggers and quarterstaffs.
“There’s always something else to learn,” said Kee, a senior who attended for a second summer. “I really enjoy Hollywood single sword – think ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or ‘The Princess Bride.’ There’s a lot of things you can do with it.”
Both Redfield and Kee found their love for stage combat through courses at Wichita State taught by Ed Baker and his late wife, Danette. Kee, also a theater performance major, took the course as a sophomore.
“I hated the first two weeks of it,” Kee said. “I didn’t like the contact and how close we were for other actors.”
Three weeks in, the choreography, skill and drama clicked.
“There’s always an out, there’s always a stop if you need it,” said Kee, from Frankfort, Kansas. “Then I loved it and I never wanted to do anything else.”
Redfield performed in plays at Valley Center High School. At Wichita State, the courses taught by the Bakers opened a new direction for her drama career.
“It’s so interesting how intricate stage combat can be,” she said. “You’ve got to think about what angle you’re at, how to make sure the punch looks real from all audience member’s perspective.”
Both Redfield and Kee love movies such as “The Princess Bride” for their acrobatic swordplay and humor. Redfield often watches “The Hunger Games” movies to break down how those actors work.
“How did they do that – trying to see if I could catch any of the tricks,” Redfield said. “It’s something you have to carefully watch. If you’re throwing a punch, it’s about hiding the areas between you and your partner.”
Kee and Redfield plan futures in acting with options including stunt work, teaching and film or plays.