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Noble Blades Choreograph Combat, Classes


"You'll put your eye out, kid."

Author Jean Shepherd's famous line doesn't just apply to eight-year-old cowboy wannabes. Grown-up (and not-so-grown-up) actors face the same potential for disaster every time their script calls for gunplay, swordplay or plain, old fisticuffs.

Several members of the Noble Blades took part in Tee Morris's "Signing with Swords" at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Clarendon, Va., Nov. 23. They included (top row, left to right) Paul Garnhart, Kevin Robertson and Audrey the Parrot; (bottom row) Karen Shawforth, Paula Coburn, Heather Gordon and Jodi Dimurro (Audrey's puppeteer). (Photos by Jean Marie Ward)

Unlike children, however, producers can't trust providence to take care of their cast -- or pay their insurance premiums. This is a job for professionals -- stage combat professionals, to be precise.

The Mid-Atlantic region's only professionally trained stage combat troupe, the Noble Blades specialize in creating visual excitement while ensuring safety for performers and audiences alike. "We do everything from rapier and dagger and quarterstaff all the way up to modern hand-to-hand combat. We have some martial arts expertise, and a couple of us are also qualified to do firearms," troupe spokesman Kevin Robertson said.

"We were founded in 1992 after a performance of Macbeth with the Reston [Va.] Community Players," Robertson added. "Several of us found we enjoyed the stage combat part of acting and solicited teachers to teach us the art. We formed as a group in earnest in 1993 and have been going forth and doing venues, teaching and providing combat choreography to local theater groups ever since."

The Noble Blades pride themselves in their ability to adapt to the needs of any theater group, whether the production calls for one-on-one fights or large scale combat involving whole armies. Their fight choreography covers all periods from the Spanish Renaissance setting of Man of La Mancha to the mid-century American stylings of West Side Story and The Fantastiks.

A question of space -- Paul Garnhart distracts author Tee Morris (in brown) while Karen Shawforth readies to attack. The photo shows some of the challenges of staging fights in a confined space like a bookstore.

But a list of theater credits only shows the tip of the sword, as it were. Noble Blades' live performances run the gamut from the Maryland Renaissance Fair to the West Virginia Highland Games to a series of very special book signings with Morevi author Tee Morris to fights in Renaissance costume at a local food vendor's convention.

Unusual venues such as conventions and book signings present a different set of challenges than working on stage or on a pre-arranged playing field. For Robertson, however, the issues all boil down to one word: space. "You have to consider you have marketable products on the shelf that you must pay attention to, and you also have non-combatants and non-participants in the nearby area," he noted.

And those non-combatants could turn into something more than an audience. The Noble Blades sponsor quarterly workshops. "Our workshops are attended by everything from folks like myself who are 'benefactor combatants' to beginners who just want to learn something. They're open to anybody who's interested in the art," Robertson said. "We also do a beginner's class, so if you are interested in stage combat, it's a good way to start."

Click here to learn more about the Noble Blades and their current schedule of events and classes.

Jean Marie Ward