There's a rule about Stage Combat and Improvisation: they don't mix. NEVER improvise a staged fight--it's just not a good idea--there are countless ways to get hurt.
Having said that, I know very well that none of my students obey this rule. So I must elaborate:
- If you are going to fight non-scripted, have many fight bits (or phrases) set up and thoroughly rehearsed ahead of time. That way, both actors can recognize what's coming even if it isn't planned. Think of it like the ancient commedia dell'arte: though unscripted and spontaneous, each person knew not only a general stock character, but had a myriad of zanni, or movement bits, that a simple cue could catalyze. The bigger one's movement vocabulary, the more sentences one can make on the fly. Safe sentences.
- ALWAYS always always make eye contact. Always.
- Keep dialogue going--talk to each other. Know a safety word just in case.
- If you see someone about to do something stage-combat-y to you, and you don't know what's coming, STOP. I don't care how big an audience or an ego you have. Relax. Don't do it. (Thanks Frankie.)
- Seriously. ~JennWee Katie and Loren demonstrating at the Barnes & Noble Booksigning, 2007. Safely.