How our founder created a safe space for actors to learn stage combat in Australia

Australian Performing Arts Conservatory (APAC) is the only education institution in Australia that has a stand-alone license to teach stage combat.

The styles of training you can receive at APAC are unarmed combat, broad sword, rapier and dagger.  Students at APAC get training on how to pretend to fight without actually hurting each other. Which is a really great skill to have under your belt when you go into the acting world.

Marcus Hogan, the Conservatory’s founder, first undertook combat training at Cornish Institute of Performing Arts in the USA before completing his master’s degree in Film and Stage Directing. Prior to that, he was originally trained as an actor at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York.

(Here is Mr Hogan in the front left-hand side wearing red.)

When he arrived in Australia after his extensive training in America in 1986, there was no safe space or training available anywhere in Australia for staged combat to actors. Actual boxers and fighters gave this kind of tuition for actors, which was a hazard because ‘they had no safe choreography expertise’.

Marcus saw this huge gap in the market; how this process was putting Australian actors in danger and jumped into action with the support of big industry names.

This is how the Society of Australian Fight Directors came to be created. Mr Hogan with the support of groups like the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) founded Australian Fight Society and history was made.

Steve Douglas Craig, a story and production executive at Sony Pictures Worldwide was the very first choreographer trained by Marcus. Other early notables like Hayden Spencer emerged from their training with Marcus to go on to win the Matilda award for best actor multiple times and work as a master comic for Cirque de Soleil. Also, female notables like Debbie Brown, choreographer and dancer for Bangarra Dance Theatre and Ana Marina who sang the lead in Phantom of the Opera with Anthony Warlow studied combat through the Australian Performing Arts Conservatory’s main actor training program.

“Students always say to me the combat section of the program is one of the most fun elements they get to experience because it has such a ‘game of thrones’ value to it,” Mr Hogan said.

What is stage combat?

Stage combat or fight choreography is a specialised technique designed to create the impression of physical combat without actually causing harm to the performers. Stage combat training includes unarmed combat skills such as illusory slaps, punches, kicks, throwing and holding techniques; theatrical versions of various methods of fencing such as rapier and daggersmallsword and broadsword, as well as the use of other weapons. However, stage combat can contain any method of choreographed violence and the choices are limited only by safety concerns, and the skill levels of the performers involved.

Why should you do stage combat training?

Safety is the biggest reason to learn stage combat. Learning stage combat allows you to create the illusion of a fight without again actually hurting your potential opponent. It is a really great skill to have under your belt when you go into the acting world. Actors need to gain these skills in order to be able to identify and actively avoid situations that might lead to injury.

How can stage combat training impact your acting career?

If a starting out actor already has combat training and is auditioning for a role where they are required to perform fight scenes; they will be more likely to be successful in the casting process than another actor who has had no combat training. Not only this, but actors with proper staged combat training are also more likely to be successful in creating a more realistic combat scene.

Is stage combat training similar to stunt training?

It is similar in the sense that both the disciplines are designed to give the audience the impression that the actors are actually engaging in daredevil acts. Stunt training involves a large number of high-risk tricks that are not limited to combat training. A lot of stunt actors are proficient in staged combat training, though most actors don’t do their own stunts. Tom Cruise, Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie are some actors who perform their own stunts as well as on-screen fight scenes.

Is stage combat training the same as combat fighting classes?

Actors famous for their stage fighting skills frequently have backgrounds in martial arts training. However, stage combat training is not the same as combat fighting classes. In combat fighting classes the opponents actually make contact and hurt each other, whereas the whole point of learning stage combat is to create a realistic illusion of fighting ‘without’ hurting the opponent.

How can I enrol in the stage combat class at APAC?

Here at APAC Combat Training is a Major Subject that is included in the Bachelor’s Degree in Acting. Students get the opportunity to learn, understand and execute fight choreography scenes under the strict supervision of experienced APAC instructors.