Stage Combat Plays Key Role in “She Kills Monsters”

“Alright, it’s 7:00,” called out director Darrell Rushton. “Fight call, guys.”

Actors scrambled to grab their weapons and get into places to begin rehearsing fight scenes for the show. Cling and clang went the swords as they crashed into each other. A villain grimaced as actress Maureen Groff ripped her sword through him.

(Brad Kroner)

Stage combat plays a prominent role in “She Kills Monsters,” which is based on the classic game “Dungeons and Dragons.” Several fight scenes occur in the play, and the combat is crucial to the plot.

To the audience, the fight scenes may look chaotic and unorganized, but there’s nothing chaotic about them; every action is deliberate and rigorously rehearsed.

During fight call, one of the actors, Deion Dawodu, fell to the floor motionless. “Hold!” yelled Rushton. “Deion, are you okay?” Then, one of the actresses began cackling like a hyena.

“Dang it,” said Dawodu, finally getting up. “My moccasin broke, man.” The top of Dawodu’s moccasin was ripped clean off, but not by a sword, thankfully. Rushton gave a sigh of relief.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” said Rushton, “but we shouldn’t be wearing moccasins for fight call, should we?”

Safety, of course, is a primary concern when dealing with stage combat. The actors wield authentic weapons on stage, so any miscue could result in serious injury. Rushton is a certified stage combat director and teaches a stage combat class.

Rushton helps a student with fight choreography. (Brad Kroner)

Above: Rushton works on fight choreography with a student.

Later in the rehearsal, an actor grunted as a blade grazed his hand. He seemed to be okay, but the action stopped.

After making sure the actor was fine, Rushton said, “There’s no sucking it up, guys. This is serious stuff. If you get hurt, let us know.”

Rushton has worked extensively in stage combat, going back to his days at Florida State University. “I first started stage combat at Florida State University (the other FSU) with Certified Teacher Dan Carter, who is now chair of Penn State’s Theatre Department,” he said.

He continued, “I loved it then, and he suggested that I attend the National Stage Combat Workshop, which took me until I was thirty plus to be able to do. There, I fell in love with the art, and in particular, realized that I wanted to teach stage combat more than anything else I had thought about doing before.  After that, someone asked me to do the sword fights for I Hate Hamlet, and the audience loved the fights.  I kind of realized I was good at this, so I just kept doing it.”

Rushton also supervises the Savage Mountain Stage Combat club. Having this club on campus has proven helpful when preparing for shows with stage combat.

(Brad Kroner)

“We didn’t require anyone to take the class at FSU or be in the club before they were cast in the show,” said Rushton, “but believe me I can tell (and so can the audience) who works on stage combat outside the production and who does not.  For me, it’s like any other skillset an actor can learn; the more you know about anything, and in particular physical skills, the better you are as an actor.”

Having done stage combat as an actor, Rushton knows how difficult stage combat is for actors. He explained, “[Doing stage combat as an actor] was really humbling.  I had to do my own fights consistently in a production of ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged’ and realized how hard it is to do what I ask actors to do.”

To help out with the stage combat direction, the FSU Department of Theatre and Dance sought the help of Michael Chin, a fight director who has worked on Broadway. Chin also worked as the fight director on the original production of “She Kills Monsters.”

“Fight Master Chin and I have known each other for years now, taught together and he has done more adjudications for our students than any other [fight master],” said Rushton. “We’ve never worked together as a collaborative team on a production before, but I know we would both jump at the chance to do it again. I think he appreciated having a director who actually understands what he does as a fight director, and can add to his vision, and create something together.”

Rushton also gave a lot of credit to FSU student Jackson Emch, who served as the Assistant Fight Director. Rushton explained, “He’s the best fighter we have in the Stage Combat Club right now, and it was crucial to have him when Mike was gone for two weeks between visits.”

(Brad Kroner)

“She Kills Monsters” begins after average Agnes’s little sister Tilly passes away and Agnes comes across Tilly’s old Dungeons and Dragons set. Agnes begins playing Dungeons and Dragons to better know her nerdy younger sister. As she gets deeper into the game, she finds that Tilly’s character, Tillius the Paladin, has lost her soul. Tillius the Paladin, Agnes the Asshatted and their nerdy friends embark on a journey to recover Tillius’s soul—and a relationship between two sisters.

Balancing reality with fantasy, the characters struggle with imaginary demons—and real ones.

“She Kills Monsters” opened on Friday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances will take place on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Thursday, Oct. 23 through Saturday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Individual tickets are $12 for general admission and $6 for students.

For information, call the Theatre and Dance box office at 301-687-7462.

All pictures credited to Brad Kroner. 

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