Stage Combat at our Play On workshop

At Shakespeare Schools Foundation, we're always seeking new ways to help our Teacher-Directors bring their Festival performances to life. A highlight from our Play On workshop in London this autumn was a stage combat session, hosted by Mark Ruddick of Squire Stage Combat

From duels, to cat-fights, to big battle scenes, many Shakespeare plays call for conflict. For Teacher-Directors, knowing how to depict such clashes with a cast of young performers can seem a challenging, even daunting prospect.

For stage combat specialist Mark Ruddick, preparation is the key to success. “You wouldn’t perform a dance sequence without first rehearsing the steps,” he says. “The same goes for fight scenes.”

As part of our Play On workshop, Mark shared practical techniques on executing stage combat in a way that both looks effective and is safe for performers.

For starters, our Teacher-Directors practised ‘punching’ each other, tapping their chest with the opposite hand to simulate the sound of a landing punch.

They then progressed to ‘wrestling’ and then ‘strangling’ each other. “In order to keep things safe we use what we call ‘reverse negative energy’,” says Mark. “For example, the person who is being ‘strangled’ is actually pulling the other person’s arm towards them. The ‘assailant’ is trying to push their arm away. In this way, the ‘victim’ is in control so it’s totally safe.”

The session finished with a sword drill, with Teacher-Directors learning to parry with a sequence of four different positions. In lieu of metal swords (which theatres don’t allow), Mark advises using wooden martial arts swords which are hard-wearing and fairly inexpensive.

This Festival, Teacher-Director Josie Manning, from Bournemouth Park Academy, is directing a production of Hamlet with her cast. She said, “My students are very excited about the prospect of using stage combat. I now feel confident to pass on these skills to them. I can’t wait to show them!”

Find out more about the workshops we offer.

SSF is a cultural education charity that exists to instil curiosity and empathy, aspiration and self-esteem, literacy and teamwork - giving young people the confidence to see that all the world is their stage.

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