Polina Saran and Laura Miller

March 14, 2023

Arts and Culture

VIDEO: ‘Fight club’ teaches the art of dueling

MSU Denver Theatre professor helps students tell stories and build confidence through stage combat.

Polina Saran and Laura Miller

March 14, 2023

The first rule of fight club is… no real fighting?

“It’s basically fake fighting,” said Carrie Colton, associate professor of Theatre at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

When filmmakers in the 20th century started including swordfights and martial arts in their scripts, stage combat didn’t exist, Colton said. So directors had to hire real fencers and martial artists to get the job done.

Now, stage combat is an art form all its own. At MSU Denver, students can take a Stage Combat class with Colton, participate in Stage Combat Club and get certified as Level One or Level Two actor combatants.

“I teach my students how to fight with weaponry like broadswords, rapiers, daggers, quarterstaffs — all the weapons that you see in film and movies and on stage,” Colton said. “I can teach them and certify them in how to use those safely and effectively to tell a story.”

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Colton was introduced to stage combat as an undergraduate student through her participation in the Utah Shakespeare Festival. She went on to study the craft for four years at Dueling Arts International, where she’s now an associate instructor of stage combat.

“(MSU Denver is) the only university in Colorado that has a full-time faculty member who’s a certified stage-combat teacher,” Colton said.

In November, Colton helped facilitate a DAI stage-combat workshop with Gregory Hoffman, “one of the greatest fight masters in the world,” Colton said. The popular intensive, which is open to the public, teaches all six weapons systems in Level One and Level Two stage combat. The intensive will return May 14-28.

Learning stage combat and getting certified helps student actors become more marketable and ultimately land more jobs, said Levi Franklin, president of the Stage Combat Club at MSU Denver. And it’s completely safe, he added.

“All of the weapons are handmade by people who are trained in making stage-combat weapons,” he said. “The blades are dull, so they won’t actually cut you, and the tip is more rounded so it doesn’t actually pierce.”

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For Colton, it’s all about building confidence. She loves witnessing students transform from being scared or hesitant to use the weapons to handling themselves with grace and poise. Any student can benefit from learning these skills, she says, and she encourages non-Theatre majors to participate.

“I actually think the most valuable skill in the modern human world is being good at working with people,” she said. “And so what the class really offers is how to work as a team in a partnership to tell a story. … If you can get good at working with people, your life is going to be amazing.”


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