Stunt Fighters Show Their Stuff in Library Show

January 13, 2020

Stunt fighter Jen demonstrates the rapier.
Chris applauds the performance of Jen and Mina.
Mina and Joe demonstrate fighting with staves.
Ring of Steel founder and owner Maestro Chris Barbeau at a workshop.

By Pat Maurer

“Game of Thrones” fans had a chance to see how those exciting sword fights on the series were filmed without any blood actually being spilled at all.

It was enlightening to see how it is all done – up close and personal.

Members of the Ring of Steel Action Theatre and Stunt Troupe, who are all volunteers, were on hand at the Pere’ Marquette District Library January 3rd for an action-packed educational experience when real stunt fighters were there in costume to show off their swashbuckling techniques that make stage shows, television series combat and movie action look so real.

The Troupe is a theatrical combat organization providing classes, training, custom fight choreography, fight direction, weapon rentals, professional stunt consultation and prototyping and many other services. They teach classes in swordplay and stunt work along with 15 basic combat skill areas, hold in-house workshops, film and stage choreography and basic skills and techniques for safety and effectiveness.

Ring of Steel began back in 1989, when founder Christopher Barbeau opened a facility dedicated to training combatant actors. Maestro Chris said at the production Friday that his troupe of 45 have performed in “all told about 80 films and over 800 stage shows.”

Maestro Chris has trained stunt actors for performances in many films in Hollywood and also independent films. “Stunts are called ‘gags’ in the industry,” Chris said. “The art is very sophisticated extensive training.”

He has trained stunt fighters for movies including Hook, Disney’s Three Musketeers, Master and Commander Army of Darkness and many others.

Based in Ann Arbor, Ring of Steel provides training at one of only three stunt camps found in the nation where volunteers come to learn swordplay and combat techniques that “look real” but injure no one. They also offer classes and workshops for the public including the annual summer camp that runs for four separate weeks in June, July and August.

Attendees learn sword fighting, star and knife throwing, whip cracking, archery, high falls, and mini trampoline as well as atmospheric effects, and makeup effects. Barbeau said that “safety is the Number one concern at the Ring of Steel.” He has a third-degree black belt in Akito and a second-degree black belt in jiujitsu, but stressed that what Ring of Steel teaches is acting, not actual fighting. He was also a competitive fencing artist and active in the Renaissance Festival when he began teaching stunt fighting techniques in the late 1970s…

He said, “We don’t use real techniques. With real techniques the sword actually stabs someone. We don’t want that happening on the set or on stage.”

“A sword tip travels at 200 miles per hour in a swing and has a 1,600-pound thrust. This is with our dull swords,” he said. “Our fights are choreographed to look real without injuring anybody.” He said the troupe trains ten hours a week and 50 weeks a year. They use fiberglass, aluminum and foam weapons, but “they can still hurt.”

Chris uses his 46 years of martial arts expertise in training and teaches an appreciation for historical techniques. “We fight with a wide variety of weapons,” he said. “We tell the story of the fight.”

During the presentation at the Pere’ Marquette District Library, three members of Maestro Chris’s troupe; Mina, Jen and Joe, demonstrated fights and stunts using broad swords, rapiers, staffs, and a variety of medieval weapons to “tell the story of conflict.”

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Chris said.

Their website says, “Ring of Steel is dedicated to the development, promotion and education of stage combat and the art of stunt work. No matter if it’s for stage, film, or the general public, we’ve delighted and entertained Midwest audiences with our New York and Hollywood-quality training for thirty years.”

Following the presentation and demonstrations, those attending were encouraged to ask questions and examine the collection of weapons used by the Ring of Steel Troupe.

The event was set up by PMDL Programming Director Kelly Spicer -Torres through the Library of Michigan.

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