- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2009

FROSTBURG, Md. (AP) | It’s all about fun — and not stabbing people in the eye.

Demonstrating a comedy scene, professional swashbuckler J. Allen Suddeth lounged in a chair, wielded a sword and blithely fended off an attacker.

The 56-year-old Mr. Suddeth, of New York, recently conducted a workshop on swashbuckling for about a dozen students at Frostburg State University.

Swords clinking, the students engaged, lunging and stabbing and shouting.

This type of swordplay is starting to make a comeback in theater after falling out of favor to more historical types of stage fighting. Mr. Suddeth is a Broadway fight director.

“It’s a style that’s sort of freewheeling,” Mr. Suddeth said. “Passionate, potentially humorous and less historical, so it’s not locked into an old, dusty book. It’s what you think of when you think of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ It’s very theatrical.”

Sean Jeffries, a senior theater major, was sweating after an hour of sword-wielding exercises on stage. “It’s just a lot of movement,” said Mr. Jeffries. “It’s like probably a cardio-kickboxing class. It’s that much intense movement.”

Mr. Suddeth, a fight master in the U.S. Society of American Fight Directors, travels the country teaching workshops and coordinating stage fights for theater.

He’s coordinated fights and stunts on Broadway, in regional theater and on television shows — mostly on soap operas such as “All My Children” and “Days of Our Lives.”

Mr. Suddeth judged six FSU theater students, grading their end-of-semester performances in rapier and dagger fighting. Everyone passed.

“I’m looking for technique; I’m looking for acting, safety, centering, breath,” Mr. Suddeth said. “… It’s complicated. There’s hand-eye coordination, major muscle groups, minor muscle groups, timing, partnering. There’s a lot going on.”

Darrell Rushton, an FSU theater professor, has trained with Mr. Suddeth and is a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors. He said that although the swords used by actors are blunt, they are otherwise identical to actual weapons.

“For all intents and purposes, they are real because they are based off of historical models,” said Mr. Rushton. “They are steel blades, but they are not sharpened.”

Mr. Suddeth demonstrated the moulinet to students.

“A moulinet is a big circle with the sword,” said Mr. Suddeth, demonstrating while standing by a wall. “Make the biggest, fattest circle you can possibly make, and don’t hit the wall. … Also, don’t cut your own ear off.”

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