never fight a clown...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

the victim does NOT do all the work...

I was reflecting on some thoughts and concepts that I was introduced as gospel in stage combat the other day. One of the fundamental principles I was told when I started my formal stage combat training was – the victim does all the work.

A maxim that states that while performing something like a hair grab for example the victim is the one leading the move. Here is a link to an example of the thinking I am referring to – hair grab YouTube link. (disclaimer – I am in no way having a go at this tutorial it is just an example)

Hopefully you took a quick look at the video it’s only a minute long – here is my problem with this line of thinking. The main concern for me is that the aggressor becomes a passenger in the experience. It necessitates that the aggressor must ‘follow’ the victim when in fact the image we are generally trying to convey to the audience is that the aggressor is the ‘dominate force’. It is another great example of making stage combat look stagey. Which again reinforces my notion that we should not be calling it stage combat in the first place. After all when I play a doctor on stage I’m not referred as a stage doctor am I? I’m called a doctor. But I digress.

I am curious by nature and therefore question everything; so why can’t the aggressor control some aspects of this technique? We know it’s not real… we know we are working together to create the illusion... so why does only one of the actors have to ‘control’ everything?

If we look at a waltz as correlation to the work, I am describing; the lead person is ‘guiding’ the other through two strong points of contact - the hand and the back. But even in this scenario the person being led knows the choreography it’s just these points of contact allow for subtlety and nuance in the delivery of the choreography. So why not bring the same level of subtlety and nuance via listening to combat for stage and screen?

I am not saying the victim has it easy, if we look at the dance for example the person being led must do it backwards for want of a better phrase. It’s just that I feel there is a better way to represent this type of violence. Which could be through stronger structure and alignment and guided communication from the ‘aggressor’. In the example in that video linked above - even if the male actor had grabbed the female actor’s elbow to create another point of contact he could have looked a little more involved with the picture / story.

Anyway, my one year old is hungry so must away. Hope that pricked your curiosity as well.

Stay curious...

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  1. It is a great priciple- that the victim (reciever) 'does the work' in a sustained contact technique- but yeah it is far from being altogether true. The aggressor is certainly working too! Cuing, guiding, sometimes working a shared effort.
    The language of combat for actors has changed- the 'shorthand' used previously (selling it, reverse energy, pulling punches) is acknowledged by progressive Practitioner like yourself as contributing to the hackneyed, stagey qualities of stage combat.
    Now the task is defining a new shorthand which will people will uptake.

    1. Great to have comments!! Woot! Yes 'the road ahead' what will these new terms be ? what will the push back be??

  2. Absolutely agree with you, in this kind of contact techniques I normally say that the "victim is in control" as they can let go if they feel unsafe, they have final say in how much energy are receiving in a contact punch, etc but by all means I want the attacker (in combination with the victim) leading the motions. I sometimes refer to "contact improvisation" where both partners are in control and must listen to each other, etc. Of course we don't want a dance quality but it can make actors understand the feeling.
    And I agree with you Tim, it is in our hands to re-write the "book" so it fits with the times we live in.

  3. We define it that you arent struggling against each other but with each other. We've never used the... Victim is in control.. Concept or line.. It is one of those pieces of received wisdom..
    In a hair pill the actor would be pulling the hair to control the person. The reciever would strybto control that action on the hair by controlling the actors wrist. The obstacle is the way... Look at what you'd really do and then make it safer/more controlled not do something safe and them try to make it look real.
    As dad would say reality first thearicality second.
    I've never liked the term stage combat.. Another received piece of wisdom..
    We'll call it combat for stage.

    1. Hi - thanks for the comment - great stuff, appreciate your thoughts