Sticks and mistakes

Tested for SAFD Quarterstaff renewal on Monday night.  Boy… you could tell that’s something most of us very rarely use.  Sword & Shield next week- I expect that one will go a bit more smoothly for most.  Off the top of my head, I can think of a grand total of… one play in which I used quarterstaff (Robin Hood).  One movie that used spear (Gamers: Dorkness Rising), which maybe is close enough, and one play that had a brief bit with a shovel (Holes), but really, quarterstaff’s not too popular.  Still, worth d0ing, as it teaches you different ways of using your body and tools than you learn from edged and/or one-handed weapons.  Besides the space requirements for using a weapon that size, I suppose it’s also less bang for your buck, danger-wise.  That is to say, it doesn’t look or sound more dangerous than it really is; it’s a stick.  The things that make it hazardous aren’t things you can change about it readily for the prop versions: it’s a stick, it has heft, and when you swing it the end gets going pretty quickly.  At least with a sword or a gun, you can pretend it’s even more dangerous than it really is.  Sticks?  Not without having foam props or breakaways to switch out for, and that only works in limited shots on film.

Got to see District 9 last week.  Gotta admit, the film style threw me a bit at first, probably because I’d been so attuned to the premise of The Hunted from working on my episode for the contest.  Most of us worked hard to honor and justify the cinematic premise: it’s all found/captured footage.  District 9 starts out with a mix of TV Documentary style footage, security camera footage, interview cut scenes, etc- all very believably done.  Then they start using footage that there’s now way anyone was videotaping, and they switch back and forth throughout.  It works, and I don’t think it bugged anyone else in the theatre, but to me it seemed odd- why bother making half of justified footage and not all?

I suppose there’s parallels in theatre, where characters break the fourth wall and address the audience briefly, the rest of the time pretending the events on stage are really taking place.  The lines’ a bit fuzzier in film, with more levels of storytelling versus direct address: there’s the complete address, ala Ferris Bueller talking to the audience, then imitations of documentary film or staged interviews/newscasts/security cameras, use of POV camera angles, but then also smaller touches that just give the nod to the presence of the camera, like mud or blood splattering on the lens, intentional loss of/rack focus, or even lens flare.  These days the latter two are often used to try to ground CG in a more familiar and therefore ‘real’ style, as though instead of a CG spaceship you’d had a mediocre cameraman video a real spaceship fly-by (as seen I think first and best in FireFly).  It’s still not saying ‘hey, this is home video’, but trying to ground in that same reality while not denying you’re telling a story.

This kind of artistic ‘flaw’ is nothing unique I suppose- musical instruments often try to add ‘breaths’ as though they were voices of flawed creatures with limits on lung capacity, while chorus singers try to do the opposite, trying to hide and stagger breathing so the real voice can come closer to the perfection of an instrument.  Paintings sometimes try to look like photos, and photos sometimes try to look like paintings.  People like to transcend their medium.

To bring it all back to stage combat, there’s a similar premise that many of us use in trying to make fights more believable; people make mistakes.  For something to be more ‘real’, make it less perfect; have people screw up, build in character flaws, etc.  It tends to not only make us more believable, but also more sympathetic: not only is it then more like life, but it’s more like our lives.

Often it’s harder to successfully create those artistically chosen screw-ups than it is to be textbook perfect.  Tends to be worlds more interesting, though.



  1. Posted August 28, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Do you tend to use rattan or oak for your quarterstaffs?

  2. Posted August 28, 2009 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Usually hardwood, but whatever folks have handy really… I haven’t bothered even stocking them specifically as rental inventory. It’s a big stick; The storage to value ratio just doesn’t compute.

  3. Posted August 28, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I use hard wood myself–was just wondering. Yeah, I don’t keep stock of them either–bo staffs are so cheap for students to buy themselves.

    Thanks! 🙂

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