‘Duking it out’ on the stage

TYLER – David Berger of Pipestone, along with his siblings, William and Jacqueline, looked over the arsenal of weapons Aaron Preusse brought to his course on stage combat Saturday at the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council’s artist retreat at the Danebod campus in Tyler.

“Are these real?” David Berger asked as he glanced at the mallet, swords and cleavers. Preusse, who teaches stage combat at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, said they were, but weren’t as sharp as they’re used onstage.

“Have you guys ever looked at movies or films, seen a sword fight, a guy falls from a tall building?” Preusse asked the workshop attendees. He said he was going to give a glimpse of what it is like to do stage combat.

“So we’re not going to sword fight?” asked William Berger.

Preusse said he was going to teach fake fighting without people hurting each other.

“You don’t want to do that at all,” Preusse said. Even in a movie, several takes are done during a fight scene, he said.

Preusse started out the workshop by talking to the attendees about a simple punch to the face that is used on stage.

“Who wants to get punched in the face? Not me,” Preusse said. “I’m not going to subject my actors to getting punched in the face.”

He said the things he was asking the group members to do was dangerous, but if they followed some safety measures, they wouldn’t get hurt executing the moves. Besides throwing a punch, Preusse taught people how to do a push and how to do a choke.

As the workshop attendees gathered in a circle, Preusse said that was the place where they work, explore and where they trust each other.

“It’s also about caring for your partner,” Preusse said about stage combat. “It’s so much a collaborative thingHowever violent it is, it is me taking care of you.”

After demonstrating a simple push on Eukariah Tabaka of Marshall, Preusse had the attendees break up into groups of four to work on their technique.

“As a fight director, I talk with the director and actors on how the fight should be,” Preusse said. For example, in a comedic approach to a push, the lightest touch and “I go sailing across the floor, that can be funny,” he said.

In throwing a punch onstage, distance and eye contact are a couple of factors, Preusse said. You throw a punch to the side of the face, not directly, he said.

“If I don’t have eye contact, I’m not throwing the punch,” he said.

The workshop’s participants tried their hand at throwing a punch, which included a sound effect, a hand clap.

“Less than one percent of the time is anyone getting hit in the face on stage or on film,” Preusse said.

Then the group moved into learning about a choke hold. Preusse demonstrated the proper way to stage one.

“The victim needs to be in control, the victim controls the violence,” Preusse said about doing a choke on stage.