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Exam Has One Requirement: Fake It With Flair

For their final, acting students at Cal State San Bernardino must stage a sword fight -- safely.

June 16, 2005|Stephanie Ramos | Times Staff Writer

Ahou Mofid, a soon-to-be college senior, arrived early for her last final exam Wednesday morning. She was prepared, but not with pencils and pens.

She came armed with bright green tights, a green bodice and a little makeup. For this final, she would become Peter Pansy.

Mofid is one of 25 students at Cal State San Bernardino enrolled in the theater arts department's Beginning Theatre Movement course. The 10-week class teaches students the basics of stage combat and movement, from fake sword-fighting to face-slapping, with an emphasis on safety.

"That's one of the most important things," said instructor Steve Earnest.

"But it's more about acting than fighting, really. We just want to give them an immediate opportunity to apply what they've learned into a scene."

The course has been mandatory for theater majors for the past dozen years, but the final requiring a live performance is relatively recent.

Kathryn Ervin, department chairwoman, said the requirement is especially important because actors must know how to move onstage -- from throwing a realistic punch to performing a high-flying dance step.

"It's not just the combat part," she said. "but also the ideas about the sculptural nature of the body and stage, and how that impacts how the scene looks, which the course also covers."

Other courses' exams are tension-filled, but this final was sprinkled with laughter and applause and made for a pleasant experience for the students, more fun than final.

Besides safe combat, the aspiring actors and actresses had to perform an original five-minute skit with a sword fight, a clear plot and possibly some fisticuffs.

Many students took it further, using gymnastics and incorporating costumes and props.

Sarah LeDema Jones, one of Mofid's comrades in the spoof of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," said performing outdoors beats sitting in a cramped classroom sweating out a final.

"For a performer, it's about being there, onstage. We knew about this all along, and we were all excited to work toward this," she said. Some skits were fanciful and lighthearted, others not, but this pleased Earnest and Ervin, who said the range of topics showed imagination.

Amanda Rosas and Gregg Kennen performed their interpretation of a scorned bride's revenge with intense dialogue, sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat.

"Of course, it's always good to have the woman beat up the man," Kennen joked.

Rosas was inclined to agree. Although Rosas, as the angry bride, had to initiate and bear much of the burden of the fight, she was not anxious about her role.

"Really, it's just fun, it's about performance," she said. Also a dancer, Rosas is accustomed to being onstage. "If I had a real test, now then I'd be scared."

No chance of that, Kennen explained. The class "was about body movement; I don't think we ever sat down in chairs."

Jessica Lynne Whitford, another "Peter Pan" aficionado, echoed his sentiments about the course, and the swordplay especially:

"It's something that you do so much as a little kid, but now you can really learn how to do it, and with this final, we get to learn and show that."

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