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Stage Combat -It"s a Woman"s Job - Spotlight on Lorraine Ressegger

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Lorraine Ressegger is an affiliated teaching artist with The Shakespeare Theatre and has taught stage combat for teens and young people at Camp Shakespeare for the past four years.
She has also taught stage combat workshops for teens/young people at The Folger Shakespeare Library and The Washington Opera.
Her recent choreography credits include The Silent Woman, TST; Private Lives, The Olney Theatre; Perseus Bayou and Sing Down the Moon (2002-03 remounts), Theatre of the First Amendment; Jekyll and Hyde, Toby's Dinner Theatre; and the all female Romeo and Juliet, Taffety Punk.
Lorraine has also performed as a "super fighter" with The Washington Opera's Japan tour of Otello.
Q: How would you refer to yourself as an artist? A: As a classically trained actor having been certified in the techniques of stage combat, I refer to myself as an actor/combatant.
Q: What exactly is stage combat? A: Stage combat incorporates anything from a slap, push, or fall, to a full out unarmed fight or fight with weapons that incorporate techniques and training that ensure safety for the actors.
Q: What are people's reactions when they learn of your specialty? A: A lot of people are surprised at first because it's something different.
They may initially think of stage combat as something for people who wish to play out their dreams of being a swashbuckler, but after they learn a little more about what I do, they realize it's much more than that.
Q: Being in this somewhat unconventional field, can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to this specialty? A: I was introduced to stage combat in my last year of high school.
Though stage combat perked my interest, I didn't pursue it at the time.
Later, when I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan, from where I was graduated in 1996, part of our curriculum was training in stage combat three days a week.
I found that I had a real affinity for it, picked it up fairly quickly, and really enjoyed the physicality of it.
My ballet training as a child probably helped me learn a little more quickly.
I later received my certification as an actor/combatant from the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD).
Q: What did that testing consist of? A: My testing for the certification for the SAFD was a fight that incorporated three styles - unarmed fisticuffs, broadsword, and rapier and dagger.
It was a six-week course which culminated in being adjudicated by a fight master, someone considered a master in all weapons and in stage combat.
After certification with the SAFD, I moved back to the Washington, D.
C.
, area and looked up Brad Waller who had been recommended to me by Jamie Cheatham while in New York.
Brad, who was then teaching Master Acting Classes in Stage Combat at The Shakespeare Theatre, invited me to his classes and soon afterwards I became his teacher's assistant and that opened the door for me here in D.
C.
Q: How important is it to have a mentor such as Brad in a field such as this, especially as a woman? A: In the theatre business it is always nice to have somebody open doors for you and to help you along the way as he or she had been helped.
As a woman in this field, it is even more valuable to have somebody to stand up for you and say - she's okay, she knows what she's doing.
A few years back, Brad arranged for me to join the Washington Opera's first tour of Japan as a stunt fighter in their performance of "Othello.
" It wasn't until one of the last performances when Placido Domingo came to say hello to us that he put his arm around me and then he looked at me and said - "oh, you're a woman!" That was pretty neat.
Q: How do you feel your training in stage combat has influenced you as an actor? A: I feel that some of the best acting lessons I received came through stage combat classes.
For me, violence is written into a play or story for a reason, especially when you're working with Shakespeare.
It's not a stunt show, there merely for entertainment, but it moves the story forward.
Stage combat is exactly the same as acting - being able to physically tell a story and embody a character.
It incorporates everything - the body, acting, partner work, physicalization of character, and how to portray somebody who's different from you.
A lot of us are not aggressive and wouldn't dream of hitting somebody, so how do we get to that physically? How do we realistically show and portray violence and feel safe at the same time? Training in stage combat helps us, as actors, get comfortable with safely expressing aggression and violence for the purpose of telling a story.
Q: What should students expect from an introductory class in stage combat? A: Introductory classes offer a sampling of basic combat techniques such as falling, slapping, punching, pushing, hand-to-hand combat and the use of weapons, and safety techniques.
Q: What are basic safety techniques? A: There are three basic elements to safety.
Eye contact is number one establishing communication with your partner, checking in that you're okay with one another.
Then it's distance, making sure that you're far enough away from your partner that your fist or weapon won't hit him or her.
Then it's targeting, making sure your energy is directed away from your partner, especially when you work with weapons, and keeping the points away from your partner's face and body.
You and your partner have to establish certain gestures or code words that communicate distress.
Q: Can focusing on safety cause an actor to slip out of character? A: Stage combat is like any other acting technique.
It requires extensive and consistent training to master.
The more practice and training you have in stage combat, the more comfortable you'll be when it comes to the choreography.
We sometimes see beautiful choreography and beautiful technique, but the actor has dropped the character for that piece.
Then, when the fight is over, the character picks back up again.
If you're in a middle of a piece of choreography and you forget where you're going, you should have some kind of safety net in place.
You never know what's going to happen in performance.
Just like if you go up on a line, you might sometimes go up on choreography.
You need to have a plan to get back on track.
Q: What's the difference between stage combat classes and other movement classes? A: Stage combat isn't often on an actor's list when it comes to movement classes and I think it could be better integrated into an actor's training.
Stage combat classes are fun.
People get excited about being their own action hero for a little while.
They have an excuse to be big and bold and to make bigger and bolder choices.
It's expected and everyone else is doing it so it's okay.
Many warm up exercises that I use are used in other acting and movement classes.
People tend to speed up in stage combat class, so I use slow motion snowball fights, Suzuki SloTen, and "pinkie samurai" to get students to keep the pace slow, fully engage their bodies, and learn good techniques.
Q: Have you noticed differences in abilities between male and female students? A: Men generally have greater strength and are capable of tapping into aggression more quickly.
Women tend to have better fine motor skills and are able to catch onto choreography more quickly.
Women also seem to have a better sense of balance, especially when it comes to sword work, and tend to be a little lighter and quicker on the touch with blades than men.
Q: What value is there in an actor learning stage combat? A: Stage combat is a good thing for any actor to know.
Stage combat and stunt work in film and television overlap and the basic skills and safety protocols apply to both.
Many actors transcend both worlds and are members of both The Society of American Fight Directors and The United Stuntsman Association, The International Order of the Sword and the Pen promotes the international exchange of information on staged combat for theatre, film, and television.
Q: Is combat and warfare something new to women? A: Not at all.
Armor for women from the time of Joan of Arc and the remains of women gladiators have been found.
Women dueled in Victorian times; and in Elizabethan times, women dressed as men and sneaked out to go off to carouse and fight.
Right now, an international conference of women in stage combat is in the planning, and one of the best classes I've taken was from Dr.
Marie-Heleen Coetzee of South Africa who taught and adapted for stage Zulu stick fighting.
As for organizations, there are Babes with Blades, The Lady Cavaliers, and Stuntwomen's Association of Motion Pictures.
Babes with Blades also offers workshops to teach women how to defend themselves against violence.
Stage combat is being used as drama therapy to empower women and help break the cycle of abuse.
Q: What do you recommend for actors wanting to learn stage combat? A: Get involved with everything you can.
A lot of workshops are offered in this area - the Philly Cheese Steak, the Virginia Beach Bash in Virginia Beach, and the Nobel Blades from the Reston Community Players.
The International Order of the Sword and the Pen has workshops where they bring people from all over the world.
Being involved in different societies is a great way to learn about and incorporate different cultures and different fighting styles into your work.
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