- Stage Combat Arts: An Integrated Approach to Acting, Voice and Text Work + Video by Christopher DuVal
Stage Combat Arts: An Integrated Approach to Acting, Voice and Text Work +Video by Christopher DuVal, is a unique workbook that joins stage combat techniques with actor-movement disciplines. As a fight choreographer and an educator, it reminds me that stage combat (while a discipline in and of itself) engages the body, voice, and mind in order to create the illusion of violence to tell a story. DuVal recognizes that the inclusion of voice and mind in conjunction with body are often excluded, intentionally or unintentionally, when first learning stage combat. He firmly situates the book as a part of an actor-training curriculum, suggesting that the basics of stage combat are not a separate skill set, but one that should be integral to actor training.
In the introduction, DuVal provides a detailed explanation that this it is not a stage combat manual, but a stage combat arts workbook. His term stage combat arts appears throughout the text with very specific intentions; he uses it to highlight the interconnectivity of breath, voice, and physicality that is integral to a fight scene, as well as to differentiate it from the discipline of stage combat. He focuses the book around three main disciplines (Aikido, Stage Combat, and Fitzmaurice Voicework), and highlights how the three disciplines complement one another and how they are intended to be used in the text. DuVal invites the reader to approach the text in “exploration mode” to “engage with an openness and curiosity to developing new patterns of the body and breath” (11). His writing style is accessible and clearly intended for a wide audience, from teachers to student actors. For example, I come to this text as an educator and fight choreographer. I have a familiarity with Fitzmaurice Voicework, but have never studied Aikido; I found DuVal’s application of these disciplines something that I would feel comfortable using in a classroom.
Stage Combat Arts is organized into four chapters that focus on individual topics designed to guide the reader’s development of “connecting the Stage Combat Arts to the overall tasks of actor training” (6). Each chapter is then further split into subcategories (framework; exploration; exercises; follow-up; further reading). All sections have video links to use as teaching tools, which provide a visual to the author’s clearly detailed exercises. What I appreciate is how DuVal identifies his influences and acknowledges sources throughout the text—even taking the text space to thank specific individuals. He also provides “teaching tip” boxes throughout. While the tips are extremely helpful reminders, during my first reading I found them disruptive to the flow of the text, specifically when they appear in the exercise sections. Upon subsequent readings of Stage Combat Arts, I found the teaching tips to be helpful in shaping lesson plans and further clarifying exercise objectives.
Recently, a local community theatre reached out to me to create the fight choreography for a production of Cyrano, and I found myself returning to Stage Combat Arts to aid me in rehearsals. As I was working with two of the actors, I noticed that one was holding his breath, tensing his body, and his defensive moves became dangerous to his partner. I separated the two and tried DuVal’s breath and extension with a weapon (basic parry-system exercise) in his chapter on “Breath and Connection.” As he points out, it is counterproductive to “explore one’s freedom and ‘relaxed [End Page 187] readiness’ in isolated exercises,” because if those exercises do not transfer into stage combat sequences the actor’s “habitual patterns of tension” will resurface (52). This particular exercise combines a basic parry drill for a single sword with a breath and weight-shift exercise, encouraging the actor to become aware of body, breath, and weapon. With each parry the actor breathes and shifts weight in the en garde position, encouraging the actor to remain grounded in stance while freeing...