Fight! : My First Experience with Stage Combat

Jennifer Butler

Fight choreography is a unique part of theater storytelling. It is done because we want to make a scene appear as real as possible without anyone getting injured. Fight choreography isn’t just involved when the actors are called to fight but also when weapons are involved. In the past three years, I have been involved with several shows where I got to see this happen. I was able to watch right from the start and see how the actors first learned the safety aspect of things and then how to make it look real.

I never thought once that I would get cast in a show, let alone be one of the actors, who got to learn and participate in the fight scenes of a show. Or that when actors were called for fight call, my name would be on the list. That all changed when I was cast in a musical this past summer. It hit me while I was reading the script through for the first time. The character of Donatella had a small fight scene and I was cast as Donatella. 

I don't think I had ever been so excited for a rehearsal as I was the evening that we blocked Act 1: Scene 7. I had been having a lot of theater firsts with this being my first full scale production on stage and for some reason or another, I was excited to be a part of fight choreography. I suppose it had to do with the newness of it all. That's what I love about theater; feeling like there is always something new to learn. Something new to be a part of and in this particular case, it was the fight choreography because that was something I had not participated in before. It was something new that I could add to my resume. When people ask how I like being in the show or question why they should come see the performance, I would almost always respond with “because I get to do fight choreography in a wedding dress”.  I am not kidding when I say how much I enjoyed doing this scene and playing this character.

Being a part of a fight scene was just as much fun to be a part of, as it was for the audience to watch.  Although, I will admit, that at the end of the scene, after being carried off stage, I broke into hysterical laughter because that is what the audience was doing while we the actors were fighting. It wasn’t the fight itself that was difficult for me, it was the “don’t break character no matter what” rule that I had to adjust to and adjust quickly. I learned very fast to hold it in until I was off stage.

During this production, I also learned just how important it is to do a fight call before every run through, whether it was just that one scene or the entire show. I can also say that I know from experience now just how important fight call is to the safety of the actors and that doing it prior to each run through is a great reminder of how to be careful and be mindful of what to do. I know because we did not do a fight call before one rehearsal run through and during my fight scene I hit my knee too hard on the wooden floor. Nothing too serious resulted in that incident but I did limp around for a couple of days and was left with a nice bruise to show for it.

Fight choreography is done because we want the scene to look as real as possible without anyone getting injured. The whole point of putting on a play is to both entertain the audience and to make our story as believable as possible. We want the audience to feel like they are part of the action and when fight choreography is done properly, that can be achieved at the highest levels.

Photo: University of Wyoming