Course teaches actors how to safely deliver punches


Maria Cardona

Courses, like those offered at Chicago’s Vagabond School of the Arts, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., teach students safety measures and techniques to portray believable onstage violence, according to SAFD Representative Aaron Preusse.

By Arts & Culture

To Promote safety as well as suspense and action in stage combat, the Vagabond School of the Arts, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., will offer a weekly course on unarmed stage combat starting Oct. 1.

According to the Vagabond School’s website, the course, running until Nov. 19, includes a certification test and covers communication, consent and physical skills in stage combat.

Aaron Preusse, the mid-America regional representative and certified teacher for the Society of American Fight Directors, said actors take a stage combat proficiency test to become certified in the skill. The test determines a student’s ability to accurately and safely represent violence on a stage, he added.

“[The test] is about seeing where a student is at and if they can portray a character honestly and truthfully, while also having moments of violence portrayed believably,” Preusse said.

While accuracy is a part of the certification test, Preusse said knowledge of safe stage combat is just as pertinent and is a main subject SAFD educates people on.

Evan Szewc, a junior theatre major minoring in stage combat, said actors should study stage combat to prevent injury. 

“It’s important for actors to understand the importance of physicality within theater,” Szewc said. “A lot of actors aren’t aware of ways that violence should be appropriately handled onstage.”

Columbia offers a stage combat minor for theatre majors, and students in the major are required to take at least one stage combat course, but Preusse said extra training could help aspiring students in their acting careers. 

“Taking courses in a college where there are certified teachers is a fantastic resource,” he said. “Taking classes outside [a college] allows a student to have a different teacher presenting ideas and techniques and ways of accomplishing the techniques.”

David Woolley—senior lecturer in the Theatre Department and SAFD fight master, an instructor experienced in stage combat education and judge  for the certification test—said knowledge of stage combat is important for everyone involved in theater.

“It’s important actors know how to do stage combat,” Woolley said. “It’s also important directors and producers understand the need for stage combat.”

Adequate knowledge of stage combat keeps actors safe, but the knowledge also provides better chances for actors to find employment in the theater industry.

“It’s important—and has become more of an industry standard—that stage combat training is out there, and people are taking advantage of it,” Preusse said. “It’s making people safer, and it’s also making moments of violence more interesting on stage.”

Vagabond School of the Arts could not be reached for comment.