Taking swipe at the traditional subjects
Stage and screen combat tutor Roger Bartlett
Fancy taking a course in stage fighting? Colleges now offer some unusual options, writes Jane Wild
THERE aren’t many college courses where you’d spend the entire lesson trying to slice someone apart with a sword, but that’s exactly what happens during lessons in Advanced Studies in Rapier and Dagger.
It is one of the more unusual courses running in the borough, putting paid to the idea that college courses are all languages or computing skills.
The class has been running for more than a decade at Holborn adult college City Lit, and, along with Great Stage Fights and Fighting for Film, are the only courses of their kind in central London.
Successfully completing the course gets you an internationally recognised certificate from the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat.
Roger Bartlett has been tutor of the three-stage combat courses for the past six years.
He said: “For people training to be actors, it’s a good addition to a drama course. Having a stage combat qualification is one more thing to add to a CV, and, the more things you can do, the more chance you have of getting employment.
“But we also get a number of people who have never done any acting.”
Students are taught the essential safety basics about handling the weapons, some of which are over a metre long.
As stage weapons they only differ from the real deal in that they have blunt edges and rounded tips, but are still more than capable of inflicting serious damage.
They include ferocious-looking thin and swishy rapiers, glinting daggers, heavy medieval-style broadswords, and what Roger refers to as the “swashbucklers” – commonly wielded in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s.
“At a basic level students learn how to control their weapon, how not to hurt, and always to keep the thing well away from the face,” said Roger.
“We start with horizontal strokes to the body. At the beginning it’s all very slow, but we still aim for pace and energy.
“If you go to the cinema you don’t want to see safe and careful, you want to see two characters trying to kill each other.”
According to Roger, there are numerous all-round benefits to be gained for students opting for stage combat.
He said: “It’s not just about picking up swords and learning how to kill someone, theatrically speaking. It’s a very valuable thing people can learn.
“One of the advantages is that it is a personal challenge. You are learning what many people consider to be an alien skill, so the confidence people get from achieving that skill is quite remarkable.
“People have come along who are quite shy or who may consider themselves not very physically gifted.
“By the end of the course they’re charging around stage fighting and loving every minute.”
There are also many other transferable skills picked up in the process.
Roger continued: “You learn cooperation, interaction and communication skills.
“There are physical skills like movement and balance, and you get to meet a completely new set of friends.
“But the biggest thing is having fun – if you can’t have fun, what’s the point?”
As well as stage-fighting there are plenty of other extraordinary courses being studied at Camden colleges, including: accents, circus skills, children’s TV presenting, magic, professional patisserie making, London, and making soundscapes.
City Lit principal Peter Davies said: “People are often amazed when they open our prospectus and see subjects like Korean hand massage and beginner’s Gaelic.
“If you have an interest in anything that’s out of the ordinary, there’s a real sense of excitement when you discover that you can actually take a course in it, and meet others who share your passion.”