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Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Stage Combat

Rae Bradley's tips will serve her well beyond her Shakespeare scene from Taming of the Shrew.

Words (and a diagram) of wisdom.
(© Rae Bradley)
"Pleasant, Gamesome, Passing Courteous" -- William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

It has only been six weeks into the semester and I have learned a great deal in my Combat for Actors class thus far. Not only do I know how to throw a fake punch now (having taken karate in the past puts all these new skills into perspective—i.e.: Don't hit your scene partner!), but I have also gained some general rules to follow in life. Most of these are lessons I have already acquired through the years, but these five have particularly made an impact on my everyday life—as well as on my midterm scene as Kate from Taming of the Shrew.

Life Lesson #5: Sell, Sell, Sell.
The ability of making something look good even when it doesn't look great is a tremendous skill. Even if a punch doesn't look great, if you sell the impact, the action is sold. I hear a lot about plays that are not-so-well-written, but under certain circumstances, they can be transformed into remarkable productions. Being able to sell a scene evokes a kind of confidence unlike any other. Knowing that you've hit the mark, or brought an audience to tears or to their knees with laughter, is like a hit of caffeine or adrenaline into your system. However, it doesn't work in reverse: a wonderful play that isn't well-produced will not have good reception—same with a punch. A great punch that isn't sold is, well… Like my professor says, "A punch without a knap (the sound that sells an attack) is like a day without sunshine."

Life Lesson #4: Look At Your Target.
Combat has taught me the value of aim. I've done sports before, but kicking a soccer ball into a net never really had much meaning to me until now. It's not so much about the net—it's about the target or the goal. (Maybe I'm just not a sports person, haha.) Combat class has trained me to recognize: if I don't aim correctly… I will hurt my partner—which is NOT good. Over the last few years, I've come to realize that, without a goal to keep my eyes on, I'm lost. Going through life without a clear destination in mind doesn't work for me. Aiming has taught me that much. (That, and if you miss, you'll kick your partner in the crotch…)

Life Lesson #3: Pay. Attention.
I have this nasty habit of not getting enough sleep. Last year, my first at Temple, I pulled at least ten all-nighters over the course of the semester. Never again. If there's one thing I learned from an 8am Combat class, it's this: PAY ATTENTION. I forgot this tidbit in my Karate class the other day and I paid for it dearly by getting hit in the head. (Don't worry, it's all good!) Unfortunately, sleep is a luxury most of us in this profession do not have, but catching a snooze whenever you can is vital. When you don't get enough sleep, your reaction time slows—and you should always be aware of your surroundings. I still don't get as much sleep as I should, but it is more than last year, and just enough to get me through my day.

Life Lesson #2: Remember… Hospital vs. No Hospital.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in school, jobs, life, we forget the simple things. Silly things. Stupid things. Essentially, what this boils down to is common sense: Watch where you walk, so you don't trip or slip on anything… look above you, so you know what's there in case anything falls… and always tuck your thumbs in if you're slapping or punching someone, so you don't break your thumbs!

Life Lesson #1: Trust.
If you don't trust your partner, you're bound to get hurt. You have to commit fully to a decision and push on with it. If you second guess your partner or yourself, you can not only hurt yourself, but your partner. You have to believe that if you fall, they will catch you… or at least, try and break your fall. Oh, yeah—this applies to jumping on your partner's back, too. That's definitely what I just described… :)


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