“The more you know about the human body, how it moves, and how it can fail, the healthier you can be, but also you can create some rather interesting choices.”
Down by King and Bathurst, at 575 Wellington, behind the big white garage door, there is a community of loving people who, in spite of any creed, race, religion, gender, or sexual preference, share and thrive in wonderful teachings: they learn physical connectivity within themselves and between each other, they learn to express themselves, and how to extend themselves…they learn their limits and how to push them.
What are these people doing? Learning to kick ass for stage and screen under stage combat guru, and certified Fight Master, Daniel Levinson. Welcome to the wonderfully zany world of Rapier Wit.
Built from the inspirations of fight films like The Three Musketeers, Scaramouche, and The Princess Bride, and the drive to bring safety to the stage and screen for actors and stuntees alike, Daniel Levinson created Rapier Wit, a small company in the early 90s aimed at finding inventive, safe, and historically accurate ways of portraying violence.
Fast forward to 2014, and Rapier Wit is now a honed and internationally recognized company, certifying actor combatants under the official umbrella of Fight Directors Canada (FDC), using The Three S’s; a mantra through the Wit: ‘Saftey, Story, Style’.
Playing it safe, first and foremost, honing technique and ability, then making sure the fight is not just for kicks (I use the word advisedly) but to tell a story, and finally, adding that flair, that ‘je ne c’est quoi’, that style to each fight and each fighter.
I was lucky enough to spend plenty of intense and rewarding time with Daniel and the Wit family as I climbed the certification ladder. Having just achieved my Advanced Certification, I decided to sit down with Daniel and really get to the point of Rapier Wit.
Daniel: What we’re trying to get across is not fighting for fighting’s sake, but the philosophy of ‘artist as storyteller’, the artist as companion to the audience; we’re using violence, stage combat, as the lens on which to focus our art.
What the Hell is it that we do?
We create the illusion of violence and we do it for theatre, and film, and the internet, and we do it in a way that’s reproducible, because frequently, in theatre, you’ll have to do the show over and over again, and of course, in film, you have to shoot more than once [no pun intended].
Swept: So, that being said, what do you say to the actor who feels they don’t need stage combat, or simply expects to learn it as they go, if it’s required in a show? Do they really need to go through the Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced classes?
Daniel: I think every single actor who calls themselves an actor absolutely must have basic stage combat training. For us at FDC and Rapier Wit, that means:
• Unarmed: which is falls, rolls, and throws, and trips, kicks, punches, pushes…all that stuff.
• Single Sword: which is a one-handed object that is sort of the grandfather of all sword forms; it’s a general form which some people turn their nose at, but it’s key to have that foundational understanding.
• And then Quarter Staff: which is a six foot long staff. It gives you a sense of understanding of your space, of your partner, of your audience, that is so robust that it directly translates into the rest of your life as a performer.
I think if you want to be a serious actor; a true professional who really is attacking a sophistication in their work, you should go to intermediate. Why? Because then you’re working with weapons like:
• Small Sword: that is about subtlety, and speed, and precision.
• Rapier & Dagger: using two blades that are working in symmetrical and asymmetrical movements
and they, of course, are metaphors of ways to act and play these types of characters.
• We have Broadsword/Longsword: What does it mean to have a weapon of this size and dimension that can’t be heavy (To be powerful and controlling, and magnificent)?
and all these different characters; you can name the names of these people, men and women, I just described these types of characters, manifest in this metaphor of the broadsword and how you use it.
• And Martial Arts: How do you deal with speed and nimble; a Mercurial, as in Mercutio, ability: physically, so that you can do it mentally.
Because let’s face it, you can’t do it physically without engaging mentally and, quite frankly, without emotion.
So then the question is, to be a master actor, to be the best actor that you can be…then you go to Advanced.
All this time we’ve been working with scene work, and remember the techniques are a means to an end: to perform a story with character. At the end of advanced, very little should fill you with fear, as an actor, because you have the physical, emotional, vocal, and mental capacity to do remarkable things.
And even more importantly, you know your journey of learning is ongoing, and open-ended. And you now really understand, and are ready to go, and to learn. And we go from a smaller understanding of technique, to the great concept of the one, meaning the one goal of being the artist we should be. And perhaps it’s rather grandiose, but that’s my goal for Rapier Wit, that we have a world of Advanced Actor Combatants.
And I’m fully aware that it’s not for everyone: financially, time-wise, or emotionally, and that’s fine. People need to seek out and find their passion, and the world needs everybody, not just artists. I just know that, for those who are serious, this is a tremendous tool.
All sorts of people, men and women, doctors and lawyers, from Australia and the U.S., and places in between, have come and continue to come to Rapier Wit. It’s not just for the would-be actor. It’s a close-knit family focused on education, and self-actualization.
If you’re looking for a day to learn some new things and expel some energy, why not come out to a Monday night drop-in session? Three hours, from 7-10pm, where you will learn different techniques in all manner of different combat styles; there is something for everyone, and something new each week.
Or if you feel like diving right in, why not start with one of the Basic courses this Spring: running from April to May or May to June?
Even if you’re looking for your firearms license and some extra fun firing blanks, or some first aid, or even wire-work for the stunt performer in you, keep up to date by checking out Rapier Wit’s site, HERE.
As I got up to leave, at the end of the interview, Dan had one last important thing to say:
Daniel: The one thing I really, really, really feel makes Rapier Wit so very special, is the wonderful people who participate at all levels: the instructors, the assistants, the students, the ‘friends of’, and quite frankly, my wife has been such a tremendous power in helping me and us succeed.
Kirsten often dismisses her participation as a secondary, and really, the reason why we’re going to have an excellent website, the reason why people are so happy with the environment; that it’s so clean and attractive, the great professionalism…she helps create this sense, this real wonderful sense, and the people have made Rapier Wit very special.
And the brick and mortar we’re fortunate to have, the building obviously matters, but boy oh boy, you’re going to look hard, for a long time, to find people like this…and you’re one of them.
So come join this motley crew; this family of fighters. All are welcome. And who wouldn’t want a slice of this life? A cut of this cake? Who wouldn’t want to take a stab at it? Sorry, I’d been making a point of not punning. I’ll cut it out.