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Swordsmen take the stage

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Tybalt, played by Orion Couling, left, and Mercutio, played by Cory Wages, work on a fight scene in a class put on by Swords of the Sierra on Wednesday at Lake Tahoe Community College.
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If Johnny Depp can do it in “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” then so can Vassar graduate Ellie Nowak, who plans to move soon to New York to take up an acting career of swashbuckling.

“I think my dad expects me to go to law school, but there’s nothing they can do. This is what I want to do – go to New York to work in a Starbucks,” she quipped after working on a “MacBeth” scene in which she played a small boy.

Nowak’s fellow students and their art are taking center stage for the next week at Lake Tahoe Community College. The Swords of the Sierra workshop, which ends July 22, features theatrical skills ranging from unarmed combat such as choking and slapping to learning how to fall and die. The class costs $550 for two weeks of intensive, all-day sessions.

The class broke up in teams to practice role playing on Wednesday afternoon.

“Do it with sounds,” instructor Gregory Hoffman told the class. The class circuit runs from Japan and Las Vegas to Hawaii and Tahoe.

Here, one man threw another grunting fellow to the floor.

“That hurt – but not as much as this is going to,” the victim said. “That’ll teach you for drinking my beer.”

“Die, you worm,” the opponent cried out.

Instructors and students agreed stage combat is an extreme workout for those getting into the art of stunt work. For one thing, the sword weighs 5 to 10 pounds.

But Hoffman stressed the acting becomes as much about the emotional as the physical. Co-instructor Karl Ramsey agreed.

“If the audience sees a tiny moment that contributes to the scene, then it’s worth the experience,” Ramsey said.

The dueling arts have brought out more and more women to the sport, who made up half the class.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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