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Learning the art of a good punch

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“One stomach punch, and then we’ll get on to chokes, kicks and gouging,” announced Brian Coffey to the score or so youngsters clustered around him.

Of course, Mr Coffey, of the performing arts training centre Stage Door Manor was talking about carefully choreographed stage fighting, in which the safety of the combatants is uppermost.

Mr Coffey has taught theatre skills at Stage Door Manor since 2000, specialising in all aspects of Shakespearean theatre. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting and is a member of the Society of American Fight Directors.

Following Mr Coffey’s demonstration, drama students from the Berkeley Institute and Saltus Grammar School entered the fray with enthusiasm, and smacks, thuds and screams accompanied the realistic struggles taking place in the Saltus drama studio on the afternoon of February 6.

Mr. Coffey’s day-long workshop, sponsored by the Bermuda Shakespeare Schools Festival, was one of four student workshops planned for the week of February 6, with the other two senior workshops involving Warwick Academy and Somersfield Academy at Warwick, and Bermuda High School and CedarBridge Academy at BHS. The fourth, for 40 carefully-selected students from eight middle schools across the island, was held at No. 6 shed on February 9.

The Berkeley students at the Monday workshop were drawn from Senior Years, 2, 3 and 4 and had been involved in Berkeley’s entry in the October Shakespeare Schools Festival, while the Saltus students were studying Drama at various levels and had all performed in the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ piece for the 2011 Festival.

“I was very pleased with my students’ involvement in the workshop,” observered Berkeley drama teacher Josephine Kattan. “They were focused and excited, and the speech and voice work in the morning really brought out my quieter students who have blossomed this year.”

The morning was spent learning how to breathe, and Saltus drama teacher Rebecca Dorrington was pleased to note how the students had benefited from the time they spent practising skills they don’t normally have time for. There were lessons in projection and enunciation and exercises and games in developing breathing techniques.

Berkeley student Krista Maria Looby observed, “It was interesting to know how the way you breathe can affect your speech, voice, the way you talk.”

Nicholas Bergquist, in SGY1, agreed. “It was interesting to learn the proper way to breathe,” he said, “and actually hear what a difference it made to how powerful the voice sounded, how loud and how clear.”

The day also left Nicholas with “a broader understanding of combat. I’d learned some basics in the past and this [workshop] rounded it more.”

Krista Maria, who “didn’t know anything about stage combat at all,” came away from the day’s activities with the sense that she can use the strategies for her final exam in GCSE Drama in a few months’ time. The day, she said, was “fun, yet exhausting. Very enlightening.”

“Fun” was also the word fellow Berkeley student Kyle Webb used to describe his experience, the highlight of which was definitely the stage combat component, though he admitted the breathing exercises were also useful.

Commenting on the opportunity to learn with students from other schools, SGY1 student Ryan Spencer-Arscott noted, “It was a good experience. It enhances your confidence to perform in front of kids you don’t know. It encourages you to come out of your comfort zone to do the unexpected, exercises you wouldn’t normally do even in front of your friends.”

Nicholas agreed, observing that the breathing exercises might look weird at first, but end up being very helpful. “Working with the kids from Berkeley,” he continued, “you had to act out more, expand yourself, be a little more social.” Everyone mixed up, he noted, and concluded, “It was a great experience.”

Learning the tricks of the trade: William Finnerty attending Brian Coffey?s workshop on February 6 at the Saltus Grammar School drama studio learned some of the finer points of stage fighting, including throttling the teacher!
Hand-to-hand: Christian Hillen and Nicholas Bergquist from Saltus Grammar School practise stage-fighting techniques learned at Brian Coffey?s recent drama workshop, sponsored by the Bermuda Schools Shakespeare Festival.
A short, sharp slap: Saltus students Kyra Hodsoll and Kenedi Edwards try out the new skills they learned during a stage fight workshop held at the school by visiting drama instructor Brian Coffey

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Published February 16, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 16, 2012 at 8:16 am)

Learning the art of a good punch

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