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  • Christopher Crider-Plonka

National Stage Combat Workshop 2021: Day One


After a long weekend of driving, I finally arrived at the Society of American Fight Director's (SAFD) National Stage Combat Workshop (NSCW) yesterday.


It's an absolute pleasure to be among a group of people so passionate about creating conflict on the stage, and the energy is palpable here in Ruston, Louisiana as we all gather on this battlefield together.


Today was the first proper day getting in the gym and working with each other at the Advanced Actor Combatant Workshop and it was spent entirely on unarmed combat in pursuance of recertifying in that skill with the SAFD.


We were thrown right into the fray: dusting off moves, learning some new ones, and building chemistry with new partners who in some cases, had slightly different vocabulary and techniques due to training backgrounds.


While I won't be revealing any dark and desirous secrets in this blog (you have to pay and attend these workshops to get those), I do want to take a few moments and talk about what I'm working on and some things I'm learning for those who are interested in actually reading what I say (I can't imagine there are many!).


A lot of the fundamentals are swirling in my head as I organize my thoughts and write this post, which is great. Sometimes it's easy to go on autopilot and start coasting through the fundamentals when they're familiar, it's important to check in with yourself and remind yourself to be present and in the moment. This is not just for you, but for your partner AND the audience. You're trying to keep each other safe while telling a good story.


Intentions are key. It's not enough to just do the choreography and do it well. Sure, that's important, but if it's disconnected from the story and emotionally neutered, why am I watching it? Just like with any acting, break down the character and the beats in the fight:


Who am I?

What's the relationship in the center of the conflict?

What's the trigger event?

Do I want to fight?

Am I fighting to escape, maim, kill, etc.?

Am I good at fighting?


The list continues on from there, but you need to ask yourself all this to turn the violence from a story requirement into something interesting and engaging for an audience. Find the psychology of the violence.


A few physical rules of thumbs that I need to remind myself of occasionally and may be helpful to you:


1) Pace Yourself. Take those breaks when you need it. Drink water. Don't run out of gas before the final showing. Even in intensives, you need to know what your end goal is and work your way towards that. If you keep pushing past your point, you will get diminishing returns. Your stamina will build, don't feel the need to prove yourself to anyone else.


2) Breathe. I say this for two reasons. The first reason is that from an acting standpoint, the breath tells the story. You won't be able to produce effective sound to help tell the story without effective breath support. So much of staged violence relies on the aural landscape, so do yourself a favor and breathe. From a more technical standpoint, if you're not allowing yourself to breathe effectively, you're creating tension in your body. If you create tension in your body, everything becomes more difficult and you're more likely to injure yourself. Again, do yourself a favor and breathe.


3) Muscle not bone. Especially in unarmed, you're going to be finding yourself with a lot more contact hits and falls. Be careful with those and ensure your impacting muscle and fat as cushion for these impacts rather than your bones. Maybe you're young enough that your knees are okay slamming down on the ground, but I certainly don't recommend that. Higher risk of injury and the wear and tear of that day after day will hurt you later in the run and later in life.


For now, I will leave you with that. I probably won't be able to write a post every day while I'm here, but I will write when I can, so stay tuned!

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