It’s been an action filled summer for stage combat enthusiasts at King’s Christian Collegiate. Students dedicated to the art of illusionary hand-to-hand combat and to the theatrical wielding of weapons like the rapier, the dagger and the broadsword, had the chance to advance their training through a Fight Directors Canada (FDC) workshop, taught at the Oakville high school in early July.
It was an event sparked by The FDC’s decision to create a new youth level of certification, for students aged 14 -17. Participants in the two week training program (twelve from King’s and one from another school) focused on improving their combat skills with the goal of taking a certification test from Fight Directors Canada.
“Nobody has ever been certified this young in any country that we know of,” says Theater Arts Teacher Timothy Veenstra. “They’re as qualified to work in the field as most professionals now.”
Stage combat has been a significant part of the school’s theatre program for the last four years, with courses designed to teach aspiring actors how to enhance the effect of staged aggression in dramatic presentations—and, most importantly, to do it safely.
“Our primary concern is that kids will be safe on stage,” says Veenstra.
“When you’re putting a weapon in a student’s hands, and they are not completely aware of how that weapon works,then it becomes a very unsafe situation. Our students are doing stage combat and we need to use the right training if we’re expecting them to do that.”
Fortunately for King’s students, the right training has been within reach. In their theater classes, they have had the opportunity to train under FDC certified instructors, who help students hone their craft with the necessary caution and confidence. Spanning about six months, the classes are similar in format to the Society of American Fight Directors courses that Veenstra took as a young stage combat artist.
Before learning hand-to-hand combat, students take time to understand how their own bodies move. This part of training is a lot more akin to dance, says Veenstra. It’s heavily choreographed and allows students to focus on distance and communication tricks. The aim being to stay safe, while making it appear that the physical conflict is real.
The first weapon that students learn how to handle is the rapier. “Rapiers take a lot of skill and that’s why we learn them first. It forces the student to think about what they are doing,” says Veenstra. After that, the class might move on to using weapons such as the long sword, axe or dagger.
Students have been able to demonstrate their mock fighting techniques in various school shows, like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Cyrano.
Although stage combat is often captivating for audiences, Veenstra points out that it’s not about an adrenaline rush or “what looks cool.” His experience working as a professionally trained actor in classical theater showed him that violence can be an essential component of good storytelling. Showing physical conflict on stage is one way of portraying the world that we live in, which can be a violent place sometimes, he says.
“We see combat all the time, on our television sets, we see it on stage, in amusement parks, but we don’t put a lot of thought into how it’s done.”
For King’s graduate and training program participant Timothy Bender, thinking about how “how it’s done” is all part of advancing as a stage combat artist. In his experience, the satisfaction of delivering a well executed stage combat routine is worth the physical and mental demands that accompany the task.
“It is an incredible skill that can bring any dramatic performance to life,” he says. “It is incredibly rewarding when the final product is performed.”
Interested in talking more with Timothy Veenstra about the King’s Christian Collegiate’s drama program? Connect with him on his eCurriculum wall!