SPT Do's and Don'ts
After judging over one hundred Skills Tests, I have a few anecdotes I'd like to share. I name no names, nor identify any institutions where these things took place, but offer these examples to others embarking upon this unique journey, the "fight test."
- Two actors had never rehearsed with a pivotal prop before showing up for the test. The prop in question was a large corn muffin over which they fought, the scene being about starvation. Unfortunately the prop exploded as they grabbed at it, sending corn meal over a large portion of the stage, making it slippery as an ice rink. Result: no injuries, and no pass. Lesson: never add a prop at the last minute.
- Two actors had never rehearsed a piece of business in a scene whereby the gentleman in the scene was to smash a telephone with his sword to stop it from ringing. During their test, he came down so hard the sword broke, the blade flew off stage, and their shock and embarrassment affected the rest of their performance. Result: no injuries, but no pass. Lesson: never leave to chance a piece of business, rehearse it several times, and never hit anything as hard as you can with a sword and not expect it to break.
- An actor violated the spirit of the rule, "No downstage disarms toward the audience." He had placed his quarterstaff upon another, after performing a quarterstaff fight, and moving on to another weapon. The slight rake of the stage, and gravity allowed his staff to slowly roll downstage, and off the apron and into the first row. Result: no injuries, and no pass. Lesson: you can't ever threaten the audience.
- Another actor violated the downstage disarm rule by over zealously tossing his dagger straight at this adjudicator, where it came spinning along the floor straight toward me. Result: no injuries, I stopped it with my foot, and no pass. Lesson: don't toss daggers at the judge.
- An actor laid the (blunt) edge of his broadsword against the deltoid muscle of his partner during a broadsword fight. Unfortunately, the blade had not been filed recently, and a sharp shard of metal neatly sliced into her, leaving a bloody line. Result: slight injury, no stitches, and no pass. Lesson: check your equipment carefully before testing and after rehearsals, and wear clothes to the test that will protect the skin.
- Boyfriend and girlfriend once signed up for classes, but on test day she was so nervous she accidentally punched him square in the right eye. Result: swelling to his eye, tears from her and a sobbing exit from the room. Result: relationship salvaged, but no pass. Lesson: don't partner with a loved one.
- During the course of a skills test, the actors used music stands to delineate their playing area. During a particularly athletic sequence, while one actor was running backward, he lost track of where he was on stage and crashed into one of the stands. Result: no injury, but no pass. Lesson: always know where you are on stage.
- One actor's broadsword broke and fell to pieces in his hands on the first move of a broadsword test fight. The blade, pommel, and guard hit the floor at his feet, and left him holding nothing but the handle. After a beat, he picked up the remains, walked off stage, got another one and re-entered, resuming the scene. Result: no injuries, both actors passed. Lesson: check and re-check your equipment, and always have spare swords placed off stage. Also, keep your head during the test, just as you would during a performance.
- During tests, we often see one actor who's performance anxiety gets the better of them, and they can either freeze like a deer in the headlights having forgotten the fight, or endanger their partner by suddenly speeding up, or even inventing new choreography on the spot! A savvy partner will sometimes pull his errant friend through the scene and the fight, even whispering or indicating the next move, or back away from dangerous or unfamiliar fight choreography. Result: one partner often passes, while the other doesn't. Lesson: Lot's of rehearsal, and a "bail out" plan in case of memory loss.