Starting during this summer session (2009), a core group of Sword Club members is again practicing theatrical swordplay with our unique "form-follows-function" methodology. We will be using the original Musketeer swords as well as purpose-made German longswords. Interested persons should attend summer session meetings. We expect to do a "demo" performance at the Saline Celtic Festival July 11.
It has been 20 years since we did this regularly. During that time, the public has been exposed to much good and bad movie combat, but live theatrical swordplay has evolved but little. At the same time, we have seen — and participated actively in — a Western Martial Arts revival which has seriously upgraded our concept of what period combat might look like. We look forward to combining this new knowledge with our existing combat "platform" to create a new experience for our audiences, whoever they may turn out to be.
||Davids Hoornstra and Glauser @ Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio, where they did a demo at an SCA event.|
Ann Arbor is rich in all the arts, and theatrical combat is no exception. There are at least three methodologies active here, all of them valid each for its stated purpose. We have no bone to pick with SAFD or The Ring of Steel, both very successful in their own arenas. What follows is the story of how our particular methodology evolved.
A Little History
Theatricals and swords have been entangled since long before Shakespeare’s time, stretching back at least to the gladiators of Roman times. Fencers have often been called in to help create the illusion that something truly dangerous is happening – exactly as it should, so that the audience does not get distracted from the plot.
In the case of the German “sword jugglers” who fought as entertainment at fairs, no plot was involved. As with the gladiators before them and those “playing their prize” after them, the display of skill was enough in itself.
The Ann Arbor Sword Club is so named because it frankly acknowledges, celebrates and indeed sometimes gets involved in theatricals. The club itself began as an Ann Arbor Recreation Department Fencing class taught by Bob Asprin, who played the role of Valvert in the U-M Professional Theatre Program’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac in 1973. Valvert has the toughest fencing to do other than Cyrano himself. The instructor who took over from Bob and founded the Sword Club had a Theatre minor in college, and choreographed the minor fight in Twelfth Night at Lake Superior State in 1968.
||AASC’s David Hoornstra (right) with Paddy Crean (left) and one of Errol Flynn’s swords. |
AASC members got involved in the Ann Arbor Medieval Festival in 1976 and began doing rapier fights as Intermezzi acts that year, using, it must be admitted, modern epee blades in cheap brass hilts –the one dangerous, the other fragile, which we proved with blood and broken brass. We tried schlager blades for a while with limited success until member David Craig bought us a pair of swords made for the 1974 movie(s) Three (and) Four Musketeers starring Michael York, Oliver Reed and Racquel Welch. The fight director was Bill Hobbs, whose one-man revolution in movie combat had begun with Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). We tried to imitate what his musketeers were doing, using our own system. David Glauser, Jim Vesper (now coach at the U-Mich. Fencing Club and a USFA rated official) and Craig Hartley excelled at this.
In the later 1970s we bought a pair of steel wall-hanger “bastard swords” and began to play with them. Our fantasy combat was based on Egerton Castle’s rough description of medieval/renaissance German “sword jugglers.” We knew they were supposed to be convincing but not supposed to get hurt doing it. We got in the habit of making sparks fly –literally– at the Medieval Festival during the 1980s. Our system of attacks and parries made it pretty safe for us, but we had no notion of how little it resembled the well-established schools of German swordplay of the time.
||AASC live at the Michigan Theatre 1985.|
In the summer of 1980, the club met on a plaza under the U-M dental school. We were discovered there by Erik Fredericksen, a faculty member in the Theatre Department who fenced a mean sabre. He also happened to be president of the fledgling Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) whose acronym suggests its main concern: safety. Erik, under the auspices of the Professional Theatre Program, was hosting the SAFD’s first annual Fight Choreography seminar with Rapier, Quarterstaff and Unarmed Combat weeks. AASC instructor David Hoornstra helped put together weapons for the event and got to enjoy Rapier Week taught by Patrick “Paddy” Crean, once Errol Flynn’s coach. It was traditional, predictable fight choreography at its zestiest.
||Lancelot takes on five in Wyandotte Community Theatre’s Camelot, 1998.|
Our performances continued – in our own methodology – at the Medieval Festival for about ten years, after which we let the SCA have sole possession of the combat concession. We had one appearance at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in its first year.
In 1985, we appeared onstage at the Michigan Theatre in a “live prologue” to the silent “Three Musketeers” with Douglas Fairbanks. And in 1998, David Hoornstra was Fight Arranger for the Wyandotte Community Theatre production of Camelot, wherein (they decided) Lancelot’s escape from the bedchamber would be actually acted out on stage.
We have no idea where our next gig will come from, but we know the fight will have a very different character from those that went before.