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STAGEFIGHT was established by Raph Aldis in 2004 in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom to fill a gap that had developed in stage combat tuition outside of the London area. For many years, actors wishing to train in stage combat were forced to travel to London for regular training or would have to wait for the occasional workshop to be run locally. With the aims of supporting central and northern based actors STAGEFIGHT offered the opportunity to train and qualify in stage and screen combat without the added expense of long distance travel and accommodation. It was a difficult start and an uphill struggle as the general mindset was if I want to learn stage combat I have to go to London. Slowly, over the next few years, STAGEFIGHT began to be recognised as a teaching alternative to the London-based organisations and began to attract attention from actors and theatre production companies from the South West all the way up into Scotland. Being centrally based made it easier (and cheaper) for actors to train closer to home, while allowing STAGEFIGHT to travel all over the country to choreograph shows and run stage combat workshops and courses.
‘THE QUALITY CONTROL BUILDING’ STAGEFIGHT’s training venue in the old Tomkinson’s Carpet Factory in Kidderminster. The site was redeveloped to build a supermarket and housing estate.
In 2006, STAGEFIGHT moved into the ‘QUALITY CONTROL BUILDING’ that was part of the derelict Tomkinson’s Carpet Factory in Kidderminster. It was an old and drafty building with holes in the walls, gaps around the windows and no heating. After repairing the floor and cladding the walls, this became the home of STAGEFIGHT for several years. The building was always cold. In winter months dedicated students trained in multiple layers of clothing, wearing woollen hats or balaclavas. This made classes look more like a thieves convention than stage combat training. STAGEFIGHT also began to run basic stage combat qualification courses, using the set fight routine method used by many stage combat organisations. The turning point for STAGEFIGHT came in 2008 when Raph was invited to judge at a medieval and renaissance stage combat tournament held annually in Northern Italy. The tournament called for the performance of historically accurate stage combat routines and not the Hollywood style techniques that were traditionally taught by stage combat organisations. During the event Raph met Alberto Di Candia, an Italian fight director, historical combat practitioner and stage combat instructor. This meeting began both a friendship and a dialogue that planted the seed for the future growth and development of STAGEFIGHT and its training method. Returning to Italy the following year, STAGEFIGHT members Ian Page and Ben Hart presented an 18th Century smallsword fight based on the techniques of Domenico Angelo. This was the first time a British team had ever performed at the event. The routine was well received and awarded fourth place. The seed that had been planted in 2008 quickly began to grow. Having shared similar experiences during their early tuition, Raph and Alberto felt that stage and screen combat could benefit from going beyond the set fight routine methods which were traditionally taught by stage combat organisations. Both had come from a martial arts and fencing background and believed that adopting a mechanics and techniques approach would not only increase the safety of performance combat, it would also improve the historical accuracy. A mechanics and techniques approach to training would also introduce students to many of the beautifully illustrated manuscripts and historical fight manuals that were being studied by historical combat enthusiasts. Since the late nineties historical fight books from the early medieval through to the renaissance were being studied, revived and developed into the combat sport of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts). Traditional stage combat tuition tended to ignore these resources in favour of teaching a set fight routine using a range of different weapons, that effectively used techniques that were largely based on Modern Olympic Fencing. Although this approach could create very dynamic and exciting fight routines, it encouraged the belief that all weapons (particularly swords) were used in exactly the same way, and that western weapons, such as medieval swords and rapiers, were inferior to their Japanese and Chinese counterparts.
‘BRAVING THE COLD’ Training in the The Quality Control Building
Since its birth in 2004 STAGEFIGHT had always believed in the journey of learning, discovery, trial and development. STAGEFIGHT instructors had travelled all over the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, attending classes, trialling workshops and developing a performance combat system that was based on techniques drawn directly from historical resources, but could also maintain the flare and dynamism of Hollywood-style fights. Meeting and working with Alberto helped to direct the pathway of discovery. Late in 2010, Raph Aldis and Ian Page travelled to Alberto’s home in Turin, Italy to finalise the performance combat system that began its development in 2004. A training scheme that offered basic, intermediate and advanced level stage and screen combat qualifications, taught with a martial arts mechanics and techniques approach. The system was flexible enough to encompass a range of weapon systems and would ensure they were presented with historical accuracy and dynamic flare. The system was christened the EUROPEAN CERTIFICATE OF SKILLED PERFORMANCE COMBAT or The ECSPC. It would be taught initially in Italy by LAME REBELLI (Rebel Blades) Alberto’s school in Turin, and by STAGEFIGHT in the United Kingdom.
‘STAGEFIGHT ABROAD’ Ian Page (left), Raph Aldis (middle) & Ben Hart (Right). Presenting a smallsword fight based on the methods of Domenico Angelo in Italy (2009)
The ECSPC training scheme was launched in the UK during 2011. Weekly classes began at The Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham that quickly became popular and fully booked. Intensive training courses followed at Easter and during the summer. Since it’s launch our classes and course development has gone from strength to strength. ECSPC basic, intermediate and advanced qualifications rapidly became industry accepted, with many of our students gaining combat orientated roles in both stage and screen productions; in many cases being complimented on the skill, competence and professionalism they displayed. Shortly thereafter followed screen combat training, theatre and film firearms tuition and in 2015 the Level-4-Instructor Training Programme. STAGEFIGHT has grown out of a passion for performance combat and historical combat research. Our success is largely based on the dedication of its students and instructors. At STAGEFIGHT we believe in quality and not quantity. Classes are kept small and manageable to ensure our students receive the maximum exposure to training and tuition, while maintaining a safe and fun environment in which to practice. STAGEFIGHT has earned a reputation for ensuring the highest levels of safety and developing well- trained, skilled and highly motivated actor-combatants. STAGEFIGHT is certainly not the largest performance combat training school, but it is certainly one of the best.
‘EXAM DAY 2015’ Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Level students enjoy exam success and two new instructors (Dan Gough and Marc Alden Taylor) qualify as ECSPC Instructors.
‘THE BLUE ORANGE THEATRE’ Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, United Kingdom