Watching men wearing knee-high leather boots and throwing swords across the room feels like stepping into the days of Louis XIII. But this is just a typical day in Stage Combat, a special course that takes students back to a time when conflict was dealt with by nothing but a face-to-face test of skill and swords.
Kit Wilder ’89 is currently teaching the Stage Combat class in SCU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, helping prepare actors for roles in the upcoming production of The Three Musketeers and encouraging some non-majors to channel their inner 8-year-old while learning the intricacies of stage fighting.
Wilder held his first sword in a 1982 community theater production of Romeo and Juliet and it was love at first parry. Wilder is now the associate artistic director of City Lights Theater Company in San Jose and makes his living acting, directing, and teaching stage combat to students across the Bay Area.
“When I first held a sword it was like my hand belonged to it and it belonged to my hand,” said Wilder.
Wilder personally owns about 50 swords and 18 from his collection are being used in The Three Musketeers which opens this Friday, Nov. 2. The swords are real but are made specifically for actors and do not have sharp blades or points. That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of danger. Even in practice the students do not wear protective eyewear like fencers, though they are taught various safety guidelines.
Wilder’s students are essentially getting a year’s worth of stage combat training in eight weeks.
“The best way to learn sword fighting is by doing it, experience is the best teacher,” explained Wilder.
To successfully execute a stage fight everything is choreographed, almost like a dance. Wilder explained that the key to stage fighting is that it unfolds in reverse. For example, students are instructed to wait for a partner to dodge before swinging. Precautionary techniques are what make combat safe, yet convincing, on stage.
“That’s the challenging part; we have to remember that it’s not real, we are not actually trying to run someone through,” said James Hill ’13, a senior communication major.
The class was open to both theater majors and non-majors, and there is a good representation of both in the class. Students not majoring in theater arts gain a good party trick. For actors participating in the many fight scenes in The Three Musketeers, this class provides familiarity with the play’s weaponry and choreography. Stage Combat also teaches techniques that won’t be featured in the show but are great for an actor’s resume.
Wilder has directed fights in other SCU productions, including Macbeth in 2010. Wilder also attended SCU with The Three Musketeers director Jeffrey Bracco ’89. They first collaborated—and even shared a fight scene—as students in a 1988 campus production of Romeo and Juliet with Wilder as Mercutio and Bracco playing Romeo. Now, they are working together to choreograph fights and prepare actors for The Three Musketeers.
“To see Kit and Jeff come back together and work on the same show is great because it really shows the power of Santa Clara’s alumni network,” said Alec Brown ’13, a theater arts major and actor in The Three Musketeers.
The Stage Combat course is offered this quarter to complement The Three Musketeers performance, but the theater department is considering offering the training more often. While some consider it a resume-builder, many see it as a creative outlet and childhood fantasy fulfillment.
“It essentially allows you to get in touch with another time which innately brings out a sense of romance and danger, which both audiences and actors secretly love,” said Wilder.
The Three Musketeers runs Nov. 2 through Nov. 10. Tickets are on sale on scupresents.org.