Friday, August 22, 2008

Building a Demo / Telling a Story

As I think about what I'll do for my next TSD test, I'm thinking a lot about the difference between a martial arts exhibition, a demo for a skills test, and choreographing a fight scene for a play. I just told the MSCD Stage Combat class yesterday that stage combat isn't really about fighting, it's about telling a story. But these three types of staged fighting tend to get blended together in an unlearned audience's mind. Here's my encapsulation of the the three:
  1. Martial Arts Exhibition: Have you seen those karate competitions with all the spinning mirrored staffs, the aerial cartwheels, and the screaming? I wouldn't consider that martial arts, but an exhibition. I mean, look at them--they're scored based on difficulty of acrobatics just like a gymnast would be. It's not even a sport, with points scored on pins or throws. Even an exhibition like the BQC folks did a couple years ago at the Boulder Creek Fest is focused on flashy, cool-looking moves, not practical ones (though the BQC certainly were more practical than the karate demonstrations I mention), because the purpose of the demo is for spectacle.
  2. Skills Test: Again, it's about purpose. A skills test (whether in martial arts or stage combat) is meant to show a judge how well one does certain moves. So a demo for a skills test will be less overtly flashy, but still will have a prescribed number and list of moves that a judge expects to see. Again, I'm reminded (hi, Olympics) of gymnastics or ice skating, in that there is a list of certain moves that the demonstrator is expected to show, and the judgment is based on how well one accomplishes those. Showing off in a skills test doesn't necessarily get one the best score (or the certificate or next belt). The purpose of the skills test is assessment.
  3. Theatrical Fight Scene: A piece of choreography for a play has nothing to do with the above. A character is always going for an objective, a goal. She uses tactics to get the objective, and will run into obstacles on the way. A play begins when a character wants something, tension builds as the character tries to get it, then ends when the objective is achieved. In most plays, characters use words to accomplish their goals. When a character has used all her words to no avail, that's when she resorts to physicality. A fight scene erupts in a play when the characters run out of words to express themselves, and so must (so they feel) resort to violence. So the purpose of a theatrical fight scene is to further the action of the story.
My conclusion? I need to make sure, as we go through character-neutral physical techniques in the MSCD class, that I'm always reminding the students of this, so that later when we get to scene-integration, the drama won't get lost in exhibition.



Bonzuko said...

Jenn, you are my heroine but not in a creepy illegal way. :)

Astute observations on these topics. It's important and frighteningly rare that one differentiates whether they are performing a character, exhibiting a skill for entertainment value, demonstrating competency for an exam, or just showing off.

Why ya doin whatcha doin?


Bonzuko said...

I am so happy with Glen's roll in that pic! ~JAS

Bonzuko said...

It's not illegal; we're married!

Yes, and I'd direct you to that "Ne'er the Twain" article I linked on a previous post, it talks about this very thing. (It begins with a quote from a woman who feels safer on the streets at night b/c she took a beginning UA stage combat class. Yipes.)