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Clash of swords draws would-be knights to theatrical combat class in Philly

Learn the art of combat the way actors do it at the Philadelphia Stage Combat workshop.

Have you ever wanted to be a swashbuckler like Captain Jack Sparrow or Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates of the Caribbean? Even though Johnny Depp got his swagger from Keith Richards, someone had to teach Depp stage combat, right? Well, Philadelphia Stage Combat class can to teach you the swordsmanship that make celebrities look like heroes.

With a slew of the best teachers in the area and growing popularity, the once-a-year workshop which focuses on teaching historically accurate styles of combat is growing more popular each year, with some teachers and attendees even participating now in weekly classes.

“Once I had a sword in my hand, my arm was finally complete,” said Ian Rose, one of the main fight directors and professor of stage combat for Philadelphia Stage Combat Workshop. “I have always loved the swashbuckling films, especially Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Zorro, the Black Pirate, Prisoner of Zenda, etc. I didn't realize there was a career in it until I was in college. I was at the time already enrolled in fencing and enjoying that, but then I just got lucky and the very first workshop of the Society of American Fight Directors happened at my school. It was something I just had to do.”

The Philadelphia Stage Combat Workshop was created in 1999 by Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) pros John Bellomo and Charles Conwell. The Philadelphia Stage Combat Workshop, known as the “Cheesesteak,” is an official SAFD-sanctioned regional workshop that has been held annually since 1999.

“It is real fighting styles, not fake for stage ... [but] with real violence, the idea is to harm,” Rose said. “Stage violence is to simulate actual violence whilst being entirely safe. We do all that we can to prevent injury, but this isn't an exact science. We have a pretty good track record with safety, I would say better than most."

Jacqueline (Jax) Holloway, 34, is a fight choreographer, actor and stunt performer who is a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors and Fight Directors Canada after training under Rose for seven years. She runs her own fight school in Philadelphia called Arte Violenta and is the main coordinator for the workshop this year.

“Stage combat is the illusion of violence," said Holloway, who runs weekly summer drop-in classes at Clark Park and an all-female fight group called Galhalla. "It is a storytelling tool used to enhance the performance and keep audience and performers physically and emotionally safe at all times.”

With the theme of safety in tact, Roses urges all ages to come.

“All kinds come. Mostly actors, but not entirely. It’s for anyone who has a spirit of adventure and a love of swashbuckling,” he said.

All weapons are provided forclasses and of course you can BYOW, as long as they meet the safety requirements and pass inspection.

“Where else can you get stabbed through the eye and do a gruesome death where people applaud?” asked former attendee A.J. Gagliardi.

The “Cheesesteak” workshop will take place from Oct. 6 to 8, 2017 at the Gershman YMCA, on the University of the Arts campus.Contact philascw@gmail.com for more info.