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The Art of Ducking Punches : For these students, the goal is to land work as an actor who can pull off a fight scene or as a stunt performer.


It never hurts actors to add another talent, even when it does hurt .

Take Darren Raleigh, who has acted in plays and movies and hopes to add one more line to his resume:

Stage combatant.

"So many actors claim they can do these things," said Raleigh, 32, of Glendale, who recently portrayed one of the merry men in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." "But when this course is over, I will have the papers to prove it."

Raleigh is one of eight students taking part in a summer class, Stage Combat, organized by Richard Lane, head of the Academy of the Sword, which teaches stage fighting. Lane has taught in Northern California for seven years but this is his first class in the Los Angeles area. He belongs to the Society of American Fight Directors, which specializes in the art of stage combat.

On Sunday, the students will be judged at the Antelope Valley Motion Picture Studios in Palmdale to determine whether they will pass the test as actor combatants. On Monday, they will give a showcase performance in front of producers, directors and stunt coordinators at the Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood. After all, the goal, for most of them, is to get work--either as actors who can pull off an occasional fight scene, or as capable stunt performers.

For $900, the students spend seven weekends at a Saugus ranch learning how to duck punches, safely flip their opponents and become an expert in using a sword. Above all else, Lane emphasizes teamwork and trust.

"You have to act as a team when you're in a fight," Lane said. "If I'm a stunt coordinator on a film, and I have a group that is all speaking the same language, that will save me a lot of time and money."

Don't forget safety. Lane says too many actors get hurt trying to improvise fight scenes, instead of planning every step in advance. "If you don't have the proper technique," Lane said, "then you'll do things that are unsafe. You will violate the other person's space."

Lane never figured he'd become an expert in space. He was studying acting in New York in the late 1970s when he took a course, "Fencing for Actors," that changed his life. He and the sword became inseparable. "I could feel the energy all through my body," Lane said. "I realized it was not a foreign object. It was me." He soon turned his attention to fighting skills, and has helped choreograph fight scenes for numerous theater and opera productions.

In class, once his students have the technique in order, they can begin to learn how to act. Throughout the exercises, the fighters groan and grimace to pretend that a punch has reached its target, and they try to look as intense as possible. At Sunday's demonstration, they will be graded on technique, acting skill and safety awareness.

"You can have all the technique in the world," Lane tells them, "but if you don't prove to the audience that you got hit, it never happened."

Not everyone, however, takes the class to make it as an actor. Earl St. Clair, a North Hollywood playwright, says the course is helping him lose pounds and gain perspective. "I think it will help me understand more about what can or can't happen on stage," St. Clair said. "I can better put a moment on stage that is believable."

And it has some benefits beyond the world of entertainment. Carolyn Najeva said that learning "reel" combat has made her more prepared for real combat. "I know a lot more about self-defense now," said Najeva, who had a small role in the film "Class Action." "Being a woman, I've never thrown a punch in my entire life. This has taught me how."

Where and When What: Skills demonstration by "Stage Combat" class members. Location: Antelope Valley Motion Picture Studios, 640 E. Ave. P, Palmdale. Hours: 2 p.m. Sunday. Price: Free. Call: (818) 892-1264 for information about the class and the public demonstration.

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