Category Archives: Fencing

Theatrical Combat!



That’s Nick Holmes and me performing a live bit of fencing at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.  It was part of the live entertainment at a fundraising masquerade for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

harrietfencingFirst, let me say that Harriet is the real fencer in the family. She trains, she competes, and she’s serious. I have no interest in competing and am happy to be the fencing support, bearer, photographer, and occasional armorer. But, when I found out Tim, her instructor from Presidio Fencing, also teaches theatrical fencing, I was intrigued.

I will also admit that I’ve seen shows put on by the Saber Guild, a light saber combat troupe that performs for charity events in Southern California, and I’m very interested in doing something similar.

And so, several months ago I finally started taking lessons with Tim. I love it. And I’m surprised by how much improvisation can occur when performing theatrical combat. Choreography can also be part of the performance, but I was pleasantly surprised at the spontaneity that’s possible. It warms my improviser’s heart.

By lucky coincidence, Tim was contacted by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival about a fundraising event they had planned. To support several of their programs, they planned to show the 1920’s silent film “The Mark of Zorro” starring Douglas Fairbanks, and afterwards host a masquerade at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. They asked if Tim could put on some sort of fencing performance as entertainment.

Let’s see, does Tim know someone who’d be willing to get in front of a large crowd and ham-up some sort of fencing performance? Oh yeah!

We originally planned that Tim and I would perform, but he had a conflict. So, we enlisted our friend Nick, who is a fencer and experienced at historic combat recreations (pictures from his Korean War event are amazing). He’s young, good looking, and by far the better fencer – so he was the obvious hero of our piece. I’m older, balding, and thug-like in my technique, so I’m the obvious bad guy. We practiced over several weeks, breaking one of his sabers, drawing blood (Nick’s), and developed blisters.

On August 25th we did our performances and they were quite the success! It was a lot of fun and well received. The YouTube videos from the movie and the masquerade are linked, below. My yammering at the beginning of the masquerade show was to give time for the staff to clear a space in the middle of the audience. You should also notice that we had to maneuver in such a way that we wouldn’t snag the light cords hanging overhead. That show was a particular challenge beyond the fencing.

So, in the future I’d love to do more of this. My private lessons are now over, but I’m going to arrange a special workshop with Tim for folks in the improv group. I’ll look for a chance to take other classes and see if I can connect with some sort of performing troupe or maybe put one together myself. We’ll see (as Harriet rolls her eyes).