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Dec. 2, 2015

Christina Traister: Leading the Way in Stage Combat

Dec. 2, 2015

Christina Traister is an assistant professor of acting and movement in the Department of Theatre and the director of the graduate acting program. Prior to joining MSU, she was a San Francisco-based actor for 12 years. She is one of only four female fight directors in the world certified by the Society of American Fight Directors. Traister is also head coordinator for SAFD’s National Stage Combat Workshop. She is an SAFD-certified teacher in eight weapons including: unarmed; rapier and dagger; single sword; smallsword; broadsword; sword and shield; knife and quarterstaff.

I grew up with two stepbrothers—11 and 13 years older than me, who also wrestled. My career path was probably set in motion as a child.

The whole tomboy thing; that was me. I got my first snowmobile at nine and a motorcycle at 11. In fact, I still own a Harley. Oh, I was a gymnast, too, and Pearl Jam was my go-to soundtrack.

Stage combat is a broad term covering acts of conflict, danger and/or violence performed for entertainment — from a slap to the face, to a fall down some stairs or an epic 15-person battle with swords and axes. True stage combat uses violence to tell a story, as does dance choreography, set design or costuming.

Stage combat classI offer Stage Combat I & II. In Stage Combat I, the emphasis is primarily on learning all of the basics of theatrical unarmed combat, as this is the foundation of theory and technique for all of the techniques. There are also sections where we physically explore quarterstaff and single rapier. At the course’s end, students can do a skills proficiency test for an SAFD fight master. If they pass, they are then SAFD-certified in unarmed stage combat.

In Stage Combat II, we pick up where we left off, focusing primarily on quarterstaff, and rapier and dagger. Again, at the course’s end, students can do a skills proficiency test for an SAFD fight master. Those that pass are SAFD-certified in quarterstaff, and rapier and dagger. Students who pass all three weapons, earn actor/combatant status with the SAFD, which is a big boost to the 'special skills' section of their resume.

I have traveled the United States and internationally to Canada, the U.K. (England, Scotland, Ireland), Germany and more. This includes jobs such as working with the stunt team on the set of History Channel’s “Vikings” television show. Still, my ‘day job’ remains my first love: acting and teaching in MSU’s Department of Theatre.

I absolutely love working here. But, to be honest, I never thought I’d find myself in academia. Theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, was what I most enjoyed; and I played a lot of ingénues.” (Beatrice, Ophelia, and Juliet are a few of my favorites.)

Kirk Domer, chairman of the department, and Rob Roznowski, associate professor said, “You can teach Shakespeare, acting and fighting,” and it wasn’t long before I realized, “Oh, my god! I love this!” We quickly went from zero stage combat courses in the department to curriculum that included Stage Combat I and II.

Top photo by Peter Johnston; second photo by Kurt Stepnitz

Reused with permission from the College of Arts and Letters.