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Matureness of the troupe "Babes with Blades"

Babes with Blades
"Double-crossing, cross-dressing and swashbuckling oh my!"
Episode of the show "Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride"
Chicago Theater Beat


About the Troupe

"Babes with Blades" is an all womens theater troupe based in Chicago. Their mission is to provide women with stage combat skills, to expand powerful fighting roles for women in drama, and to undermine the preconception that strength and power are inappropriate for women.

Violence is a part of our life and a part of the human history. And not just men participated in the history and in the violence. Thats why Babes with Blades, an all-female theatre company, uses stage combat to place women and their stories center stage and explore the full range of the human experience. Female violence adds a spicy element of danger, and even eroticism.

"Babes with Blades" often perform with an all-female cast, which on its own isnt surprising move as *Babes* is in their name. Babes with Blades is known for staging violence as *Blades* is in their name.

Because its Babes with Blades, any show has variety of dueling, fencing, fist fighting, grappling and skirmishing. Some of them are impressive and memorable as far as combative techniques, passion, grace, outright courage and femininity are concerned.

Throughout history, women have fought and participated in battle, often donning mens clothing to get into military service. Theater history also has its famous women warriors, such as Esme Beringer and Ella Hattan, aka Jaguarina. Staging the traditional combat scenes places physical demands upon actors that few may be prepared for today. To speak ones part is one thing, to speak it after a full scene of running around, swinging a sword, is quite another.

Interestingly, each "Babes with Blades" show has a "Violence Designer" and "Fight Choreographer".


From the history of the troupe

Babes with Blades
Episode of the show "Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride"
Chicago Theater Beat

"Babes with Blades" from Chicago is the nations premier all-female stage combat theatre company. Its founder is Dawn "Sam" Alden Sam is short for Samson, a nickname bestowed upon her by a former boyfriend founded the company in 1997, in response to the lack of opportunities for women trained in stage combat. The mission of this new theater was proclaimed as following: "to expand opportunities for women in the world of stage combat. By exploring theatrical violence as a storytelling tool and as a means to entertain, educate, and enlighten, we challenge traditional expectations, push personal limitations, and celebrate the historical role of the woman warrior and her modern evolution." In a greater sense, Babes with Blades was conceived as a group of women actors working with tools their male counterparts have had at their disposal for years.

She moved to Chicago after receiving her MFA because she heard it was a great fight town. What she discovered was that while she had plenty of chances to choreograph, the roles for women fighters were slim. Then an effort was made in order to create female combative repertoire. Since the late 1990s, the company has worked with other Chicago-based arts organizations to develop resources and promote awareness in the field of women's stage combat. Two collaborations with Chicago Dramatists resulted in new scripts written for female actor-combatants, and Babes with Blades' own playwriting initiatives (Joining Sword and Pen and New Plays Development Program) continue to generate new works focused on female characters in strong, complex dramatic and comedic roles. In addition to theatrical productions, the company's promotional and educational projects include stage combat and acting workshops, appearances at festivals and in the media, newsletters and demonstrations.

Alden says: Growing up as a woman, I was not taught how to handle anger or conflict. In doing stage combat, you learn to wear those feelings comfortably. Youre not scared of them you know how to work when they are upon you. Now, I can use that in my acting I have more colors in my palette. When you only play passive roles, you dont get to experience all of the emotions and all of the actions and all of the choices that are in you. Having been a warrior, I make different choices in my acting. Theyre more interesting, theyre more exciting, and theyre definitely more active.

Artistic Director and actress Stephanie Repin agrees. Once you start doing stage combat, you build a confidence in yourself as a person. I walk differently now. I couldnt throw a punch to hurt someone, but I look like I could. Its an amazing tool to increase your confidence. Repin speaks of being treated at stage combat workshops as a little sister. Or worse. Men will look at me literally look me up and down and then find another partner. Alden blames it on misguided chivalry. Ive been in workshops where my male partner didnt want to do moves with me because he didnt want to hurt me. Or a man with far less experience than I will try to show me how to do things. They assume that because Im a woman, I dont know what Im doing.

In recent years, "Babes with Blades" has moved away from the showcase style of their earlier productions, and toward more fully scripted plays. As Alden observes, You care about the outcome of a fight in direct relation to how much you care about the characters who are fighting. And as the Babes are actors first and warriors second, the progression to full-length productions was natural.


Repertoire of the troupe "Babes with Blades"
(According to the portal "Chicago Theater Beat")

Babes with Blades Romeo & Juliet
From Review by Paige Listerud

Babes with Blades has pulled out the production stops for a visually strong and sumptuous all-woman Romeo & Juliet. Theres the always-exciting stage combat (Libby Beyreis), in which the gals pack swords, rapiers and pistols into the street warfare between the Capulets and the Montagues. Brian DeLucas directorial vision suggests cyclically repeating historical patterns of social and legal breakdowna solid and sophisticated touch for revisioning Shakespeares classic tale of star-crossed lovers. All the same, theres no substitute for classical Shakespearean training and experience, especially so far as Romeo (Gillian N. Humiston) and Juliet (Ashley Fox) are concerned.


Babes with Blades Julius Caesar
From Review by Katy Walsh

The Babes went with an all-female cast, which on its own isnt surprising move as *Babes* is in their name. Still, it is an engaging angle until it isnt. Initially, the ladies address each other as sir which, at first, is a bit disconcerting. Under the direction of Wyatt Kent, over time these actors eventually lose their gender and become their masculine characters mostly. Sara Gorsky (Cassius) plays it less of a hothead and more emotionally overwrought. And the hilarious Alison Dornheggen (Casca) goes gossip girl. These choices seem to be stereotyped gender specific.

Babes with Blades is known for staging violence. (*Blades* is in their name.) So, when it comes to orchestrating battle scenes, go with the pros, go with the Babes. With violence designed by Libby Beyreis, swords, daggers and bodies flail. Raven Theatre West Stage is a small space, so the fighting is inches away from the front row. I was delighted to be in this frontline of defense. And luckily, there is always a warning before an attack. The ladies start the war cry off stage. This gave us time to un-stretch legs and tuck purses.


Babes with Blades Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride
From Review by Keith Glab

Double-crossing, cross-dressing and swashbuckling oh my!

For 15 years, Babes with Blades has been a theatre company that delivers exactly what it advertises. In the case of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, the company not only meets audience expectations, but exceeds them.

The set instantly informs the audience that they are in the Whitechapel district of London, 1888. Susan Swayne (Lisa Herceg) heads the Society of Lady Detectives (SOLD). Lurking in a hat shop front, SOLD purports to be a freelance crime-solving team, but they really spend most of their time training in hand-to-hand combat with various weapons.

The flummoxed Isabelle Fontaine-Kite (Kimberly Logan) nevertheless enlists Swaynes help to investigate her husbands suspected infidelity. They find that Eric (Kelly Yacono) has indeed been deceptive, but not quite in the way that Isabelle had thought. There is an ensuing avalanche of accusation, ardor, double-crossing, cross-dressing, undressing, and, of course, swashbuckling.


Babes with Blades Babes with Blades Trash
From Review by Lauren Whalen

"Trash", Babes with Blades world premiere of Arthur M. Jollys play, takes place in the midst of a landfill, where discards go to die or at least to be compacted. There are two estranged sisters. A search. A ticking clock. A well-designed but not always effective portrayal of death, family and whats left behind.

Babes with Blades are an all-female theatre company who use stage combat to place women and their stories center stage and explore the full range of the human experience. Trashs script is the winner of the companys Joining Sword & Pen competition, which invites playwrights from around the globe to create a new play with strong roles for women and staged violence as a storytelling tool, using a work of visual art as inspiration. Said work of visual art is the victor in a separate competition, and Victoria Szilagyis painting Erinyes can be viewed in the theatre lobby. The presented artworks were supposed to be an inspiration for the playwrights and the Erinyes perfectly illustrates the show.


Babes with Blades The Double
From Review by Katy Walsh

The Double is a triple threat as a comedy, romance, action play. The concept and setting are solid. In a nod to "Kiss Me, Kate," Barbara Lhota has crafted a backstage comedy about a flailing production of "Cyrano de Bergerac". Its 1940s. Conspirators have rallied the gang together for a staged production of Cyrano. Playwright Barbara Lhota has penned a witty tribute to the fast-talking screwball comedy genre. The Cyrano premise is a clever backdrop for three love stories to unfold. Under the direction of Leigh Barrett, the talented ensemble bond together in collusion.

Because its Babes with Blades, there are fantastic sequences of dueling. Two in particular are most memorable. Brendan Hutt (George) and Kathrynne Wolf (Shirley) use the joust as coy foreplay. Its a lovely, romantic skirmish. Later, in the showcase piece, Wolf plays the entire Mexican army. Wolf uses her physicality for impressive slapstick. In all the exchanges, Violence Designer Libby Beyreis stirs up the perfect amount of thrill and intensity without losing the playful intent of the show.


Babes with Blades Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates
From Review by Lauren Whalen

Babes with Blades, a Chicago ensemble focusing on strong women and their stories, gives the old form a new spin with enjoyable results. I found the companys signature female-driven fighting inorganic and uncomfortable. Although before I found the companys signature female-driven fighting inorganic and uncomfortable, in this show the violence (intelligently designed by JKChoreography) feels natural within the plot, adding a spicy element of danger to the crackling dialogue and sharp story.


Babes with Blades The Last Daughter of Oedipus
From Review by Reviewed by Paige Listerud

With her new play, produced by Babes with Blades at Lincoln Square Theatre, Jennifer L. Mickelson totally revises Ismenes (Kimberly Logan) traditionally meek and incidental role in Classical myth and literature. More importantly, Mickelson re-imagines her heroine within absolutely appropriate parameters of Ancient Greek religion. The characters of this drama thoroughly believe in the gods, in prayer, in ritual and in the less glowing side of Greek religion, the shadowy beliefs about the supernatural and the underworld.

Tara Branhams direction reigns almost effortlessly over the smooth flow of action from fight scene to fight scene. Additionally, her incorporation of Mercedes Rohlfs movement direction with Libby Beyreis fight choreography truly inspires and evokes stronger veracity for the plays supernatural elements.

The Last Daughter of Oedipus exhibits increasing theatrical depth for Babes with Blades, in both its writing and execution.

As for the fight scenes, standard to BWB productions, a bit too much control undoes the edge that makes for the realistic and thrilling danger of actors swinging swords around. The cast shouldnt hurt themselves, but theyve got to make it look like they could!

Of the very few venues in which Attic women actually held power, the exercise of religious offices and duties gave them the greatest social prestige and political influence. Hence, its only logical that Babes with Blades latest production sees Ismene battling with supernatural forces beyond her control. Yet, it is the their theatrical handling that displays the companys increased sophistication in its mission to train women in combat roles and develop new dramas featuring fighting roles for women.


Babes with Blades A Gulag Mouse
From Review by Paige Listerud

The young, beautiful, terrified Anastasia (Gillian Humiston) waits on a Moscow street for her husband Evgeny (Dustin Spence) to return from his service at the WWII Front after the war. We soon learn the reason for her terror. Evgenys sadistic nature and abusive relationship with his young wife quickly reveals itselfexacerbated, undoubtedly, by the horrors he has had to survive. Svetlana kills Evgeny with the knife she has brought with her, but that simply propels her into the Siberian Gulag, where she faces greater dangers from her fellow female inmates.

The story shifts back and forth from mental to physical fights for survival between the women prisoners. But this is no Co-ed Soviet Prison Sluts. Both playwright and production take their subject very seriously, although theres still honest fun to be had watching women battle each other.

Fight choreography (David Woolley and Libby Beyreis) also serves to inform the audience about a character, crafted to exhibit a woman prisoners willingness or reluctance to engage her opponents. Woolley and Beyreis do a lot with the limitations of Trap Door Theatres spacethey go almost unnoticed in the course of the storytelling.

"Babes with Blades" is close, so close, to having it all come together perfectly. Theres still some unevenness in the casting and a bit of woodenness in the acting. All these fierce women actors need is just a little more technique to sharpen the spontaneity of their performances and they would have a devastating production on their hands. Powerful women actors in powerful roles doing physically powerful things on stageits almost all there. And what is there, while not perfect, is definitely worth seeing.


Babes with Blades Babes with Blades Macbeth
From Review by Paige Listerud
A sword-rattling good time

They dare do all that may become a man in this "Babes With Blades" all-female production of William Shakespeares Macbeth from vying for honor, to scheming unholy murder; from wavering in the face of evil, to charging recklessly into carnage; from chafing under oppressive surveillance, to engaging in out-and-out rebellion; from enduring unspeakable loss, to succumbing, as ones life drains to nothing.

Directed by Kevin Heckman of Next Theatre for this production, Babes with Blades is an all womens theater troupe. Their mission is to provide women with stage combat skills, to expand powerful fighting roles for women in drama, and to undermine the preconception that strength and power are inappropriate for women. Yet their work also helps to preserve and update the craft and discipline of stage combat for all actors, which often goes by the wayside when theaters downsize casts and drastically cut scenes. In fact, removing traditional battle and fight scenes from plays like Macbeth, while understandable for the modern, minimalist, or cash-strapped production, can have the unwanted effect of diminishing the gravitas of the characters choices.

Throughout history, women have fought and participated in battle, often donning mens clothing to get into military service. Theater history also has its famous women warriors, such as Esme Beringer and Ella Hattan, aka Jaguarina. Staging the traditional combat scenes places physical demands upon actors that few may be prepared for today. To speak ones part is one thing, to speak it after a full scene of running around, swinging a sword, is quite another.

The most dramatic scene may be of Lady Macduff (Rachel Stubbs) taking up arms to defend her home and child from Macbeths assassins. Although, in the end, the showdown between Macbeth and Macduff (Amy E. Harmon) was so anticipated and so well executed, it received its own applause.

What is the theatrical impact of seeing women fight for themselves, their loved ones, their country, or their ambitions? Be prepared to see, by contrast, a still forceful yet vulnerable and human Lady Macbeth (Nika Ericson). Unlike productions that suffuse Lady Macbeth with sexual and demonic power, both Ericson and the direction show a woman as much under the influence of the Witches (Rachel Stubbs, Melanie Kibbler, and Gillian N. Humiston) as her husband.


Babes with Blades Ribera. Duel Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)
From review by Scotty Zacher

Babes with Blades has never believed in playing it safe, and this can certainly be seen in the final production of their 10th Anniversary season the world premiere of Barbara Lhotas Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished). The germination of the play all started from a rather cool playwright competition: entrants were presented with the painting Duelo de Mujeres (The Duel of Women) by Jose de Ribera, and instructed to create a play with the painting as inspiration. Out of over 20 entries, the winning playwright, Barbara Lhota, has created a raucous and sexy world where women gladly take up the sword for fun and heroism (though set in 16th-century Spain, the play seems to not be of any time-period). Using many Shakespearean devices, Los Desaparecidos explores the impact of family ties, societal pressures, and unexpected love in the lives of two sisters. Los Desaparecidos is ultimately about how the power of love can triumph over intolerance.

The performances are exemplary so full of passion and athleticism, that it leaves one exhausted. The three powerful leading women Stephanie Repin (Diana), Meghan Martinez (Isabel) and Rachel Stubbs (Eliana) truly shine in their roles.

Summary: Take a cast of passionate actors, throw in a fun script, season it with spicy sword fights and taboo romances, and if such a thing suits you you end up with a swashbuckling time at the theatre.


Blood and Beauty Blood and Beauty: 12 Combat Plays for Women by Terry Kroenung

"Blood and Beauty" offers a dozen unmatched opportunities for actresses to display their stage combat expertise. Filling a critical need in the theatrical canon, these short plays not only provide women with exciting, gripping, and frequently hilarious stage fights to perform, but also present severe acting challenges.

- "Dark Lady": Shakespeare's sonnets come to life.
- "Red Riding Hood Redux": a fairy tale heroine with attitude.
- "Death Song": a young Amazon learns the horrible truth of her parentage.
- "Assail! Assail!": the perils of shopping.
- "Thorns": a prequel to "Macbeth."
- "Surrender, Dorothy": an all-female construction crew works out a few issues.
- "Strumpet Voluntary": a true episode from the life of 17th century swordmistress La Maupin.
- "West": an SS officer seeks redemption from a prisoner he once loved.
- "Ladies First": a fight class awaits the arrival of the female Errol Flynn.
- "Boot Camp": basic training with a silly twist.
- "Fair Warning": a fine-arts auction where the bidding is literally cut-throat.
- "In Russet Mantle Clad": two Napoleonic soldiers share a deadly secret.


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