Islander Thespians Undergo Intensive Summer Training to Become Certified for On-Stage Fights, Duels

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – En garde! Thrust! Parry! Nothing brings the drama of a theatrical production to life quite like a believable stage combat scene.

This summer, a group of nearly 20 Islanders have spent the first two weeks of August in an intensive late summer class that focuses on the guiding principles and tenets of onstage combat.

Stage Combat 1: Unarmed and Stage Combat 2: Rapier and Dagger is being offered by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi during a special two-week session, Aug. 1-12. The courses are taught by Jason Paul Tate, a New York City-based professional actor and fight director who is a Certified Teacher of Stage Combat with the Society of American Fight Directors. Tate, an adjunct professor, taught the classes at TAMU-CC between 2013 and 2018; this is his first time to offer the classes at the Island University in four years. At the end of the two-week period, a satisfactory performance earns students a 3-year certificate from the Society of American Fight Directors.

According to Tate, believable combat scenes all have a few things in common: good partnering, appropriate distance management, ability to understand and craft illusions of violence, and physical storytelling.

“In the unarmed class, students have explored techniques intended for the weapons of the body – hands, feet, elbows, knees, etc. In the armed class, students dove into the Renaissance-era rapier and dagger, a side sword of approximately 36” in length meant for cutting and thrusting and its accompanying parrying dagger of approximately 12” in length,” Tate said.

Tate said many of the challenges actors face in staging a good theatrical fight scene require creating solutions to their boundaries – emotional, mental, and psychological as well as physical.

“Many artists are empaths who do not inherently want to harm others. Helping them to achieve a level of trust with one another that allows them to play a character who does want to harm someone; and a trust in themselves that they can approach the precipice of real violence and rely on well-rehearsed techniques to stop short of it, is really the crux of the work,” Tate said.

Theatre major Shameka Cobb ’24 said one challenge she had to overcome was her self-consciousness.

“I went in thinking that I was going to embarrass myself and I was nervous about partnering with people, but I soon realized that everyone was in the same boat as me and we were all learning together,” Cobb said. “It’s a fun class that pushes you out of your comfort zone in a good way, and it is a totally safe environment. This class has helped me tremendously as an actor. I have learned so much in a short amount of time.”

Paige Woelke ’23 is no stranger to theatrical combat scenes. With credits in a range of productions, such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “Blood at the Root” to “Marie Antoinette,” the 2020 SAMC Awards winner for Outstanding Theatre Student is certified in Hand-to-Hand stage combat. She has also taken a master class on broadsword choreography.

Woelke says one of the most challenging things about the class is learning how to reign in the defensive instinct.

“You must let yourself miss or block in a certain way that allows for the choreography to work,” Woelke said. “We’ve learned that stage fights are ‘perfectly orchestrated mistakes.’ Real sword fights last about 3 seconds so when you need a 3-minute fight scene, you must find creative ways as to why you missed an opportunity to end the fight.”

Woelke also said working with two weapons is a unique challenge.

“Not only do you have a sword to worry about, you also have a dagger in your other hand,” she said. “There’s a lot of moments where you are tangled up and stuck with your arms crossed or one weapon in the wrong place and you must reset completely. While those moments can be disorienting, they make for a great laugh!”

For first-year Islander Nex Richard ’26, not only is the class their introduction to the TAMU-CC Department of Theatre and Dance, it’s also their first experience at the Island University as a whole.

“As an incoming student, I was anxious stepping into a brand-new environment with people I have never met before. However, everyone involved has been extremely welcoming and provided aid when needed,” Richard said.

The skills students are learning will come in handy should they find themselves in starring or supporting roles in the fall production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Auditions are set to take place in late August and the show will run Nov. 10-19. It’s been adapted and will be directed by Meredith Melville, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Theatre.

“For ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ rapier and dagger are the primary weapon, so it will be very helpful if students are certified in those weapons,” Melville said. “In addition, there may also be some hand-to-hand combat and knowing an actor already has that shared vocabulary can be very beneficial to the rehearsal process. We all come in knowing the same physical language, and that can help us tell the story.”

To learn more about the 2022-2023 Theatre and Dance season, visit