Associate Professor of Theatre Allen McCoy directed the 10 actors and actresses as they mock-fought, jousted and tumbled across the floor in his stage combat class, a theatre elective for upper level students. The class is part core conditioning and part basic unarmed fighting – except for jousting swords students use to act out a fight between Romeo and Tybalt in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The core exercises are a form of Pilates that fortifies the back muscles. Students also practice centering exercises that come from ballet. The moves strengthen the thighs for when they’re crouching in their maneuvers.
“It’s a combination between a dance class and an acting class,” McCoy said.
The class gives students a competitive edge when they graduate, because they can add to their resumes that they’re adept at the basics of hand-to-hand combat and fight sequences with a sword. That’s a plus when acting, singing or dancing is not enough to land a part, said Sarah Byrd, a senior studying theatre.
The staged violence isn’t easy – at first — for students who have never thrown a punch before, said Kendall Taylor, a senior studying theatre.
“It helps with confidence overall, knowing how to hold yourself,” Taylor said. “It’s getting us out of our comfort zones.”
The students start with basic punches and tumbling and work their way up to headstands, kicks and forward and backward falls, said Aszkara Gilchrist, a senior studying theatre. Near the end of the class, they spend three weeks learning how to wield swords.
At the end of the semester, the students incorporate what they learned into a fight scene from dramatic literature. McCoy enjoys seeing some of his most advanced students apply their acting skills to a new challenge.
He views stage combat as an analogy for life.
“You learn how to get knocked down and get back up again.”
Photo 1: Kendall Taylor and David Carleton act out a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in Associate Professor of Theatre Allen McCoy's stage combat theatre elective.
Photo 2: Students do core exercises that are a combination of dance and Pilates in Associate Professor of Theatre Allen McCoy's stage combat class.