CCSU class takes the fight to students

By Greg Gelpi

Students gathered around as David Coyle punched Marcus Durham in the groin and the two continued to fight.

Although it appeared to be a real brawl with sounds and all, it was not. Taking notes and asking questions, the Clayton College & State University students were learning stage fighting techniques from Durham and Coyle, freelance instructors with the Atlanta Stage Combat Studio.

The class, which brought together both theater and music students, is a six-week intensive course, focusing on unarmed and single rapier fighting to make the university's performances that much more real.

"I like the learning how to do it because I see it in the movies," Ashley Floyd, 20, said. "It looks real too."

Floyd and Jennifer Phelps, 20, are taking the class as part of their opera studies. Both said that the class is "relevant" to their studies as a tool to enhance their performances.

Vivian Clifton, 18, likened the sword techniques to those of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Floyd said that the university has already had its one opera this year, and the fighting in it was limited.

"In the opera this year, there was only one slap and it was bad," she said.

The class will expand the university's abilities to offer a variety of productions in the future, Phelps said.

"We don't have to do just comedies," she said. "We can do drama."

Durham said that some of the students, particularly those who are familiar with movement, are picking up the fighting techniques.

Unlike the fight scenes of television and movies, live theater has "nuances," such as knaps, slapping noises made by the actors, Durham said.

Durham, along with his assistant, Coyle, demonstrated a choreographed fight, along with variations, showing the students how to communicate with each other, time moves and take advantage of space.

"There's an element of danger to all of this," he said. "If you're doing Macbeth, you're working with swords. There may not be a point or an edge, but you're still going to have a four to seven pound sword."

Durham rehearsed a basic fight sequence for the students, illustrating the techniques he taught.

"Contrary to the usual notion of the 'dusty old poetry reading' myth of Shakespeare, Shakespearean theater had action," B.D. Stillion, faculty adviser for the Clayton State Theatre Society, said. "Because these works were so full of action, it is absolutely essential that Shakespearean actors be trained in safe stage combat."

Clayton State Director of Vocal Activities and Opera Kurt-Alexander Zeller said that the class will help actors look dangerous, while being safe on the stage.

"Being a singer is hard since one has to be 100 percent a musician and 100 percent an actor," he said. "This workshop will help opera students develop the multifarious skills that a singing actor must have in order to be successful in the opera world."

The class continues next week as the students learn how to use swords for stage fights.

"Dr. Zeller and I both share the dream of integrating musical and theater arts at Clayton State to provide a unique learning experience for our students," Stillion said. "We look forward to creating truly collaborative performances across modalities."