Theatre Leads the Way in Stage Combat

MSU has 1 of Only 4 Women Fight Directors in the World


November 19, 2015

Knowing that Christina Traister grew up with two stepbrothers—11 and 13 years older than she, who also wrestled—you realize that her career path was probably set in motion as a child.

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

No wonder that, today, the MSU Department of Theatre Assistant Professor of Acting and Movement, and Graduate Acting Program Director is one of only four female Fight Directors in the world certified by the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD). Traister is also Head Coordinator for SAFD’s National Stage Combat Workshop.

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.

“I offer Stage Combat I & II,” Traister says. “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 & 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 & 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.”

As for Traister, she is an SAFD-Certified Teacher in eight weapons including:

Unarmed   •   Rapier & Dagger   •   Single Sword   •   Smallsword   •   Broadsword   •   Sword & Shield   •   Knife   •   Quarterstaff


She also holds a certification in Theatrical Firearms Training.

As a result, in addition to her work at MSU, Traister writes a lot of grants, and travels the U.S. 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, Christina says her ‘day job’ remains her first love: acting and teaching in Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre.

“I absolutely love working here,” she says. “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 her favorites.)

“Department Chair Kirk Domer and Associate Professor Rob Roznowski 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.”

On her role as Graduate Acting Program Director, Traister says, "Whether recruiting, mentoring, or teaching, I enjoy it all." Along the way, Traister has also carved out a niche recording audiobooks, including more than 100 titles over the past five years. This led to developing an MSU course on audiobooks, providing students with professional digital demos as a class deliverable, and even booking a few students for jobs.

“It gets extremely busy, between my responsibilities as an assistant professor, my research agenda, auditioning and choreographing,” Christina says. “And, each May, MSU hosts the ‘The Fredricksen Intensive,’ a 20-hour Stage Combat Training Intensive with options of 20 hours training in one weapon, or 10 hours training in two separate weapons to earn hours toward SAFD Skills Proficiency Tests.”

Whether referring to her MSU and other stage combat courses, TV and movie work, or Fredericksen Intensive training exercises, Traister's demeanor projects an air of controlled poise, confidence and competence prompting the question from observers and students alike:

“Where do I sign up?”

Learn more about Christina Traister: