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Ava West delivered a swift uppercut to Alyssa Wagoner’s chin.
Ava matched the blow with a well-timed “knap” on the chest and Alyssa sold the strike with a coordinated, backward head snap.
They were two of eight young actors participating in a weeklong stage combat camp at The Singers Studio in Wilson.
Across the room, Lydia Denton had her hands wrapped around Jaidan Payne’s neck in a feigned strangulation scenario.
Acting teacher David Winstead demonstrated how Jaidan’s victim could more effectively sell the confrontation with a more realistic gurgle or “hrrrk” in combination with bulging eyeballs.
“Stage combat is counterintuitive in the fact that the victim is actually in control more often than not,” Winstead said. “It’s on them to try to sell and make it look real.”
But before the kicks and punches started, the group practiced their front falls, side falls and fainting falls.
Picture Scarlett O’Hara getting “the vapors” before falling out. It was fake, but “Gone With the Wind” viewers believed it.
Some students were better than others, but the whole purpose of the exercise was to keep actors from literally breaking a leg.
“A lot of the basics of stage combat comes down to knowing how to call safely, knowing how to safely execute your basic techniques — punches, slaps, things that can come up in any kind of show or situation — and be able to do it safely without hurting either party and keep everyone else safe and then further learning as an actor how to sell an injury and how to make it look real so the audience gets that great ‘ah’ moment,” Winstead said. “This is our first time doing this camp, so we are really excited that we have had this really great group of young performers in here and taking charge and taking it seriously.”
The teens have all acted in local productions before and could learn techniques for future roles.
“I think it has gone fabulously well,” said Elizabeth Winstead, owner of The Singers Studio. “These campers are smart and they have been very physically engaged. They have taken instruction well from what I have observed. To have accomplished this much in a week with stage combat I think is quite incredible.”
David Winstead said it’s “one of those things that is simple to learn and impossible to master.”
“It’s fun to beat each other up because it’s, ‘Who can make that look better?’” Winstead said. “We always want to have fun with it and see what you can do.”
Part of the training has included the use of weapons.
“We brought out the stage daggers and taught them how to stab someone and take a stab, how to slit someone’s throat, all those fun things that people want to know how to do,” Winstead said. “Sword work is a whole other set of things. You’ve got to learn where to cut and how to actually make the cuts happen.”
While the camp was a basic overview of stage combat, more serious study comes from the Society of American Fight Directors, which conducts the testing and certification for various levels of stage fight training.
“You can get certification and you can get recommendations as an actor in different things,” Winstead said. “Predominantly what we have been doing is unarmed combat, but they do certifications in long sword, single sword, rapier, dagger, single staff, knife, sword and shield. Within the theater community, if you have three certifications, you are considered an actor/combatant. If you have certifications in six, you are considered an advanced actor combatant. And after that you get toward being a fight master.”
Eleven-year-old Lydia Denton of Wilson said she enjoyed the theatrics of stage fighting.
“You get to pretend that you are hurting someone even though you are not,” Lydia said. “You get to act while you are sort of fighting in the air and not hurting someone. You’ve got to get the timing right. If you don’t, it’s not believable.”
That took coordination with her partner, 17-year-old Jaidan Payne of Wilson.
“We discussed what we knew we wanted to do individually, and we just put it together in a way that it flowed,” Jaidan said. “It is very similar in the way that you choreograph a dance with making sure we do it all together. We both know what’s happening, so we know when we have to move and what we have to do.”
Actor Zy’Miracle Kearney of Wilson said the camp broadened her acting ability.
“It’s helped me fall safer for shows where I actually have to fall,” Zy’Miracle said.
“You have to make sure you make eye contact so each other knows when you are getting ready to do the move that was choreographed for your to do, so it helps you with that,” said actor Jah’Mez Moore of Wilson, who was Zy’Miracle’s fight partner. “I think it will be very useful for when there is a show where there is a certain action that needs to be done with me or if there is a certain action that another actor may need. I can end up helping them with what I have learned here.”