Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Theatre Students Learn Theatrical Sword Fighting

“Foiling Around” is a theatrical sword fighting workshop taught twice a week in the Don Powell Theatre.

Theatre Students Learn Theatrical Sword Fighting

SDSU Theatre Students and Faculty Participating in Theatrical Sword Fighting

by Katie Turner, PhD

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, a small group of SDSU Theatre students meets at 7:30 a.m. for “Foiling Around,” a theatrical sword fighting workshop in the Don Powell theatre. This small but mighty band of students will continue their early morning exercises for another four weeks, and will walk away knowing the basics of stage combat with court swords, rapiers, daggers, and broadswords.

These novice fighters are led by Emerita Assistant Dean Randi McKenzie, a sword mistress in her own right who at one time was second in the nation in women’s sabre fencing. Randi has generously donated her time to teach this workshop since first offering it in the fall of 2018. Randi has been teaching, coaching, advising, and mentoring students for close to 48 years. She has worked at 5 universities and 2 community colleges. Her initial background was in physical education with a minor in psychology.

Randi came to theatre after many years as a competitive fencer. She says, “My interest in theatre at SDSU grew when I was brave enough to audition for their traveling children’s theatre,” which she toured with for four seasons. Naturally, she combined her love of fencing with theatre, and began to study stage combat, including four summers with the Society of American Fight Directors. This led to her certification as an actor combatant in unarmed combat, small sword, and rapier and dagger. Following this, she taught at the Old Globe Theatre in their MFA program from 1988-1992. When asked what her favorite weapon is, she said “The small sword or court sword. I love the finesse of the movements as they are most like what I was doing in sport fencing.”

Nearly three dozen students have benefited from Randi’s expertise since she began teaching the workshops at SDSU. Students come away with a working physical vocabulary of the most common fighting maneuvers, postures and techniques for the different weapons, an appreciation for the focus required to execute fight choreography while still maintaining intention and character, and knowledge of safe practices when using weapons. Randi reflects that she hopes the students “can learn new skills, increase their physical strength, gain control of their weapons, and gain confidence from these new skills.” She also hopes they realize “how brave they are in attempting something new.”

Randi structures the course so everyone from beginners to experienced fighters can grow in skill and confidence. Some students, such as Theatre Performance major Gabe Igtanloc, are taking the course for the 3rd time, a testament to what a great experience it is. Randi generously welcomes faculty participants as well as students. I, myself, am taking the workshop a second time, and I plan to continue as long as Randi will let me.

Students will finish the course by demonstrating mastery of basic postures for the different weapons as well as the attack and defense techniques. Some students may choose an optional choreography assignment for extra credit in which they create a sequence of at least 12 moves. Don’t be surprised to find students practicing these moves on the lawn between Dramatic Arts and Love Library. Just remember, these are trained fighters—so don’t try this at home!

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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