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August 22, 2013

Mark Bedell

Off Beat: The art of staged combat

Mark Bedell is a faker, not a fighter.

But he's in great shape, so I wouldn't challenge him to a brawl if I were you.

He's made his living for more than 20 years off the art of the fake fight.

"If you kick somebody in the stomach as hard as you can, you don't have to worry about where that foot lands," said Bedell, founder of the Maine Academy of Staged Combat. "But if you're staging a fight, you need to stop that kick at exactly the right point, to have it under control."

Bedell, 47, has spent most of his adult life perfecting staged combat, as a teacher, stunt coordinator and stunt performer.

You may have seen him (if you didn't blink) as a British officer running with a sword in an early scene from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006). Or you can see him for a second handling a horse (the horse is off camera) in the 2003 film "Seabiscuit."

He's also traveled the world putting on stunt shows, and he has taught staged combat all over as well.

When he's not on the road teaching folks how to fake a punch, or faking one himself, he splits his time between Missouri and his native Maine.

He'll be in Maine this weekend teaching a couple of "Introduction to Staged Combat" classes at Acorn Studios, in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook. He's then hanging around to help prepare and participate in a staged pirate attack on Camden during the Camden Windjammer Festival.

During his four-hour staged combat courses this Saturday and Sunday, Bedell says he'll be teaching students to punch and kick in a realistic way, but not too realistic.

"We'll work some rolls and general fighting angles," said Bedell, a Saco native. "The key is don't do what you think it should look like."

The art of the fake punch is more about picking a spot to hit that because of distance and angles will look real to an audience.

"I've heard martial artists say that it's hard to fake a punch because it's hard for them to miss their target," said Bedell. "I don't want you to miss your target, I just don't want your target to be the other person's face."

Bedell said that when he started teaching staged combat classes around 2006, he would mostly get people interested in acting in live theater.

But today, with the Internet and video technology, filmmakers are everywhere. And where there's a film, there's bound to be action.

Bedell says that even fake fighting can be dangerous, if people don't know exactly what they're doing.

"It can be a dangerous situation. You have people who watch the DVD extras after the movie, about how the stunts were done, and once they see how it's done they think it's easy," said Bedell.

So Bedell thinks all would-be filmmakers out there should learn something about staged combat before actually trying to stage some combat.

Because a real punch that looks fake will still hurt, for real.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com





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