I find interesting our culture’s obsession with violence. By day, I work for Music Box Films, the film distribution arm of the Music Box Theatre. We often talk about the specific genres of films that sell well. “Action” and “Thriller” are always at the top of that list. Why do they sell well? Violence. Lots of gun play, blood, war, and death. Doesn’t it seem a little backwards that the typical parent has a problem with his children watching an intimate sex scene in a movie, but doesn’t bat an eye when there is gruesome violence in a movie? Why is it okay to watch content where life is being snuffed out at any age, but there is this strange rite of passage before you can watch content where life is being created? I suppose one could argue that the typical “sexy” movie isn’t so much about procreation as it is about lust, pleasure, and passion. If you’re the religious type, both wrath and lust appear in the seven deadly sins list, so shouldn’t both be regarded with the same weight, the same taboo, the same fear?
I’ve also always been fascinated by the psychology of violence. Why do people get violent? Taking that a couple steps back: why do people get physical? Why do people yell? Anger is what fuels it all, and anger is the harbinger of violence. Anger is usually hiding a deeper emotional truth that lies beneath it: Hurt. Disappointment. Jealousy. Sadness. Loneliness. But before we can communicate that deeper emotion, we need to stop further action. We get angry and yell and throw punches and fight and kill to make others stop. To stop them from talking, to stop their action. Simply to stop. Whether it’s war (I want your country to stop murdering its innocent citizens) or the more mundane friendship squabble (I want you to stop talking so I can participate in this conversation too), the psychological implication of anger and violence is always the same.
There are a number of “violent” moments during FUDDY MEERS. I use the word “violence” in this context to describe any moment of physical struggle. The emotional intentions and underpinnings sometimes vary, but without fail, the first goal of violence is always that the character inflicting the violent act is attempting to get the victim of the violent act to stop whatever he or she is doing. Only when the scene partner has been stopped can the action of the story move forward. “I need you to know how hurt you have made me feel, but before I can do that, I have to stop you from continuing to hurt me.” That’s a bad example, but you get my point, I hope. Whether it’s a fist fight or a sword fight, the goal is always the same: to stop. If you see the show, I challenge you to figure out what each character is trying to do in the wake of “stopping” his or her scene partner after a violent act, a shove, a slap, a disarm, etc… What deeper emotional truth are they trying to communicate to their scene partner? Do they succeed? Do they fail?
This simple action, “to stop”, carries enough importance that stage violence or “stage combat,” as many folks call it, is its own microcosm within the world of theatre. Actors-in-training can take stage combat classes where they learn to “fight” safely and effectively and with purpose. There are a number of organizations, most notably the Society of American Fight Directors, whose sole purpose is the advancement and education of safe and effective violence on stage, ranging from unarmed combat (fist fights, punches, slaps, and falls) to weaponry (small sword, broad sword, sword and shield, quarterstaff, knife, etc…). In fact, there are people that build entire careers out of designing violence, choreographing fights, and staging sword play, both in theatre and in film.
Having trained as an actor-combatant in a number of weapon styles myself, I can tell you that the training is quite useful to effectively “sell” a fight on stage in a real and believable way, but isn’t this funny? There are actually classes and workshops offered to learn how to fight on stage. To learn how to do what we watch others do in the movies all the time. To learn how to do what we see in wars on the news all the time. Makes you wonder why there isn’t a sex class where you learn how to safely and effectively fuck on stage. That’s what I’ll leave you with to ponder, and I’ll stop.
By Scott Allen Luke
Business Manager, Ka-Tet Theatre
Fight Choreographer for Fuddy Meers