Stage fighting is a skill that many actors use in their careers. To prepare students for what they will face in their careers, Pasadena City College offers workshops focused on skills such as stage combat.
An upcoming workshop production called “The Pirates of Pasadena” will run from Monday, Feb. 27, to Wednesday, March 1, at the Center for the Arts Theater and on Thursday, March 2, on the CA West Patio.
Each year, the theater department hosts 10 mainstage and four workshop productions.
The workshop productions have storylines, costumes and other elements but are usually centered around specific skills, such as stage fighting.
The theater department also has a mainstage production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” from Friday, Feb. 24, to Saturday, March 4, a workshop production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” from Friday, April 24, to Sunday, April 26, and a mainstage production of Lisa Loomer’s “Living Out” from Friday, April 21, to Sunday, April 29.
Director and Fight Director Will Hickman, PCC’s chair of theater and dance, said the workshops are based on what students and professors believe is important.
Hickman said stage combat is a skill that can benefit students.
“It translates quite a bit to a lot of different areas of the entertainment industry,” Hickman said.
The show is broken down into vignettes. Students adapted the scripts from video games, films, books and plays.
“They are taking a short section of that and creating a 2- to 3-minute dialogue that leads into or finishes off the 5-minute sword fight,” Hickman said.
The production will conclude with a battle with all of the actors.
The students will be working with rapier and dagger sets for the production. Many of them had little or no experience with stage fighting before taking the workshop.
One student did rapier and dagger combat while in a production of “Hamlet,” and another was a fencer in high school.
A few of the students have dance training, which Hickman said is helpful with stage combat.
“A stage combat fight is a dance that looks like a fight. You’ve got to effectively partner. You’ve got to listen with your partner. You’ve got to be able to cue effectively,” Hickman said. “So, it’s like good partner dancing. But you have to act the danger and act the fight.”
Hickman started by training the students in lower body movements such as advances, retreats, passes, slips and cross-steps.
“We want to get them balanced first. If they can be balanced and stay strong in the lower body, then, the upper body sword work is going to be far easier,” Hickman said.
Early on, the students worked with the swords.
“I put a sword in their hand pretty quickly because I wanted them getting used to how to hold it, how to manipulate the blade and also just strength. It takes forearm and shoulder strength to be able to use this safely and effectively,” Hickman said.
For the production, Hickman is working closely with two students, co-choreographer and assistant director Christopher Rendon and assistant director Mayari Sunsinger.
Rendon and Hickman have both studied stage combat through the Society of American Fight Directors.
The students can take a masterclass with fight directors from this organization. As part of this process, they will watch the students’ pieces and gave them notes.
Hickman said this a chance for students to learn about further stage combat resources available to them.
The workshop productions were developed by the theater students. Hickman choreographed the fight scenes, but they were responsible for other elements of the vignettes.
The students created the scripts, props, blocking, costumes, special effects and makeup.
“We want to put the focus on whatever the skill is we are training, but the students are having a lot of fun because it’s pirate stuff, pirate costumes, eyepatches and decorating toilet rolls for telescopes. They are having a really fun time creating this world,” Hickman said.
For one of the pieces, the students developed a chain with magnets, which will be broken up with a sword.
Hickman said the workshop productions really challenge the students to problem solve and think outside of the box.
“They are the creative drive of these shows. I try to facilitate, support, give them guidance and suggestions, but they are the main artistic vision for it… If you let them take the lead, they will create some really amazing stuff,” Hickman said.
The students had to find a way to create pirate looks with no budget.
“We can’t fully realize costumes from the 1700s with a zero budget and no costume team. We can put hints towards it. We can get some hats and some bandanas. We can make it fun. That’s the whole point. It should be a fun production,” Hickman said.
In the past, the theater department did a workshop production of “Macbeth” that featured stage combat scenes. For the show, the students translated parts of “Macbeth” into Spanish and Japanese.
The department has also put on workshops in which formerly incarcerated students and those who came from immigrant families were able to tell their stories.
Hickman said doing mainstage and workshop productions exposes students to different jobs in the entertainment business.
Many students find that a certain role, which they initially didn’t expect to go into, is a good fit for them.
“So many actors come into us freshman year and want to be actors. After two years with us, they are becoming directors, intimacy coordinators, stage combat coordinators,” Hickman said.
Hickman said PCC theater students gain valuable skills.
“Training in the arts makes you really good at working with a group of collaborators, staying within budget and producing a product within a certain time,” Hickman said.
“The Pirates of Pasadena”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, to Wednesday, March 1
WHERE: Center for the Arts Theater, CA 135, Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
COST: Free, but registration required
WHEN: Noon Thursday, March 2
WHERE: CA West Patio, Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena