British Group Trains Southeast Students on Stage Combat

2014_VP_Stage CombatCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 21, 2014 – Students in Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance have spent their winter break getting a leg up on their competitors.

On Sunday, Jan. 19, the students completed a week of stage combat master classes taught here by Ruth Cooper-Brown and Rachel Bown-Williams who operate the British combat group, R.C. Annie in the United Kingdom.

Several of the students were selected to participate in preparation for Southeast’s upcoming production of “Peter Pan” which opens at the River Campus Feb. 26.

The need to create “spectacular movement” for Peter Pan is paramount, said Bart Williams, Southeast instructor of acting and stage combat.

“I suggested the combat course because it would also be a way to have the students get a certification that will enhance their career skills,” he said. “We are offering these classes because it is not only beneficial and directly tied to the work that will be in Peter Pan, but also because it is vital for students to have stage combat skills. There once was a pervasive idea that actors would learn on the job, or that training would be provided for a role, but increasingly small budgets mean that actors can get turned down for work if they do not have the necessary skills.

2014_VP_Stage Combat“I selected the main (Peter Pan) actors because of the combat demands of the show,” said Bart Williams, instructor of acting and stage combat. “We opened up the rest of the available slots to juniors and seniors, because being certified in stage combat will help them get work. Directors, particularly of classics, need skilled performers and don’t have the time or money to train actors on the job.”

He says stage combat certification at this level adds prestige to the University.

“It’s uncommon for programs outside of Chicago, Los Angeles or New York City, or some of the big name schools to offer this opportunity to students,” Williams said. “Hopefully, we can come to offer this opportunity on an affordable basis for future students, because it is a great recruitment tool.” Spearheading the master classes were Cooper-Brown and Bown-Williams, both leaders in the British Academy of Dramatic Art (BACD), an international certifying body of stage combat.

“When looking at the various certification options, the BADC was the best fit in terms of their focus on acting,” he said.

Students completing the master classes may now include BADC stage combat certification on their resumes.

“They were graded by an external examiner on combat scenes that are matched to text,” Williams said. “The BADC certification is not only about skills proficiency, it’s about acting effectively with sharp props.”

The “fight” encompasses three weapon systems: rapier/dagger, unarmed and single sword. Depending on their fight presentation, students can pass or fail, or receive a bronze, silver, gold or gold with distinction designation. Passing is what matters most, he said, because it means the actor combatant is certified in knowing how to safely perform a series of moves.

The classes began Jan. 10 at Southeast and were held in Parker Room 101. The classes came to an end with exam fights on Sunday, Jan. 19, in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre at the River Campus.