What's their motivation?

March 11, 2014

HCC alum Mike Pray squares off against Daniel Morbyne in a stage fighting demonstration during a Movement for Actors class at HCC.Theater instructor Sheryl Stoodley, center, offers some tips for stage fighting with poles.

Robyn Sutton-Fernandez and her enemy are battling over that most noble of principles:



"We haven't figured that out yet," said Sutton-Fernandez, "because we still have a lot of work to do on our fight."

Sutton-Fernandez and her classmates have been learning "stage-fighting with poles" for the HCC course "Movement for Actors," taught by Sheryl Stoodley. Performing a choreographed stage fight is part of the syllabus, an assignment on which each pair of students will be graded.

As she does every semester, Stoodley invited two members of her acting troupe, the Serious Play Theater Ensemble, to instruct her students on the art of stage fighting, an important part of any actor's repertoire.

One of guests was HCC alum and theater major Mike Pray, class of 2008, who demonstrated a stage fight with Dan Morbyrne that the pair worked out for the classic Greek play Antigone.

"I took this class," said Pray, who, like Morbyrne, was wearing a black T-shirt with the acronym SPITT printed across the chest, for "Serious Play Intensive Theater Training," the educational arm of the Serious Play group.  "That's how I met Sheryl. I've been with them ever since."

 Pray and Morbyne demonstrated a two-handed fighting style. Each held two wooden poles, one slightly longer than the other, representing a maul and sword.

"Remember," said Morbyrne, who is also the artistic director of The Drama Studio in Springfield. "This is acting. It's not combat. This is storytelling. Don't try any of these techniques in a real fight cause somebody will just beat you up."

To help them work out the movements, Stoodley, co-founder and artistic director of Serious Play, handed out a menu of different combat options students could choose for their fights, such as:

A attacks B's right leg
B parries
A scissors parry
B attacks A's head
A falls to the ground

"Think of fighting in terms of chapters, things that go together," said Pray, who also works with the Performing Arts Programs, a theater education group. "Try to do no more than three per chapter. Otherwise you might forget."

Another key element of stage fighting is motivation.

"It helps focus the quality of their fighting," said Pray, who went to Quinnipiac College after graduating from HCC.  "Are you the inexperienced hero or the big, bad villain? An inexperienced fighter will have bigger, wilder, more undisciplined movements and attacks, while an experienced fighter will be more deliberate and patient."

Even though the fighting is staged, the poles are real and made of hardwood. To avoid injury, stage fighting has rules, which Stoodley frequently reminds her students.

"Check distance. Check feet. Make eye contact," she said.

"En garde!"

Photos: (Left) HCC alum Mike Pray, left, and Dan Morbyrne, associate artists with the Serious Play Theater Ensemble, demonstrate two-handed stage fighting techniques. (Right) Sheryl Stoodley offers a tip to students in her "Movement for Actors" class at HCC. 


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