On this week's episode of Real Work, Real Life, I’m talking with Brittany, an executive director and cofounder of a school of theatrical violence and stage combat in Philadelphia, Argent Combat. We cover so much about this work, from the many paths you could take within this broader field, to the impact of AI on the industry, to the way Brittany’s organization is advancing equity, inclusion, and best practices around consent in this community.
If you liked this episode, you might like some of the other interviews I’ve done with people in the Arts. I spoke with Alex, a Children’s Book Illustrator and Author, Ethan, a Theatrical Lighting Designer, Kiara, Singer, Manager, and Coach and Tony, Music Producer, Developer, Manager (linked below).
After talking with all of these different people building a career for themselves in the arts, there definitely seems to be some common themes. There are all the challenges that go along with any kind of entrepreneurial field. Some instability, wildly variable pay, limited location options, and the challenges that go along with making your living from a skill that ultimately subjective. But for all the people I have talked to, it’s seems like it’s all worth it. If it’s something you’re truly passionate about, the value of spending your working time on something you love and the freedom that can come with these types of career paths, is worth all of the challenges for some.
You can find out more about Argent Combat here: https://www.argentcombat.com/
If you liked this episode, you might like these too!
If you like the show, please rate and review on iTunes and Spotify (linked below) and please share with a friend! You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Tiktok. And if you’d like to be interviewed here, or there is a particular job you’d like to learn about, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcripts are now available here: www.realworkreallife.com
Brittany Stage Violence
[00:00:00] Welcome to real work, real life, where I talk to real people about what they do for work and what that means for their lives. Today, I'm talking with Brittany and executive director and co-founder of a school of theatrical, violent and stage combat in Philadelphia, Argent combat. We cover so much about this work from the many paths you could take within this broader field. To the impact of AI on the industry. To the way Brittany's organization is advancing equity, inclusion, and best practices around consent in this community. If you like this episode, you might like some of the other interviews I've done with people in the arts.
I spoke with Alex, a children's book, illustrator and author, Ethan, a theatrical lighting designer. Kiarra singer manager and coach and Tony, a music producer, developer and manager. If you're interested in any of those, I'll link them in the show notes. After talking with all of these different people, building a career for themselves in the art. There definitely seems to be some common themes.
There are all these [00:01:00] challenges that go along with any kind of entrepreneurial field, some instability, wildly variable pay, limited location options, and the challenges that go along with making your living from a skill that can be ultimately subjective. But for all the people I've talked to, it seems like it's all worth it.
If it's something you're truly passionate about the value of spending your working time on something you love. And the freedom that can come with these types of career paths is worth all of the challenges for some.
So let's get into it.
Emily: Thank you so much for being here, Brittany.
Brittany: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for having me. I'm super hyped.
Emily: So what do you do for work?
Brittany: So I'm the executive director and co founder of a school of theatrical violence and stage combat in Philadelphia.
Emily: That is amazing. Can you share a little bit, sort of an elevator pitch if someone knew nothing about it? What do you do?
Brittany: I actually wrote this out and timed him like, okay, so this is exactly two minutes. So an elevator pitch where [00:02:00] I'm talking to a CEO, I'm talking to a producer of an entertainment industry mogul, you know, like one of those situations. We're a Philadelphia based organization of instructors, professionals, and students of stage combat.
Stage combat refers to all acts of conflict, danger, and violence performed for entertainment. A slap to the face, a fall down some stairs, an epic 15 person battle with swords and axes. All of these are stage combat. More than just set moves, True Stage Combat uses violence to tell a story, just as dance choreography, set design, or costuming can.
We teach our students how to look cool and be safe when lending their craft to create action oriented art.
Emily: that's amazing. So how did you get into this role?
Brittany: So there are two schools of thought when it comes to getting into stage combat. The first school is people want to look cool when flashing swords on stage [00:03:00] or on a film set. And the second school of thought are folks that are more Centric on safety and autonomy and agency and consent. And I'm definitely in that second school.
what happened was when I was in college, I was actually injured during a student film project and nobody's to blame. We were all kids and we didn't know, we didn't know that stage combat was an accessible option when it comes to creating safe. Action oriented entertainment. So what happened was I looked into learning stage combat fortuitously, this was an elective course at my university.
As a theater major, and I had a wonderful chance to study the craft of stage combat under a fight master of not just the Society of American Fight Directors, the Fight Directors Canada. So like one of the best of the best throughout North America. It's [00:04:00] very interesting.
Like we call it stage combat, but that seems like a bit of a contronym because it's not combative. It's not competitive. It's collaborative. It's a collaborative art. And what I learned from him was that collaborative creative spirit, how to. endow everything that I do with that same spirit.
And also even though a lot of the choreography stems from martial arts, the brink of it is more just prestidigitation and sleight of hand. It's more stage magic than it is combat, if that and that's how I got into it.
So I definitely encourage folks that, you know, really want to experience creating action oriented entertainment and art to look into stage combat because it'll absolutely shift your mindset and your physicality too. And it's really empowering and it's, really communicative and really collaborative.
Emily: That is so cool. So can you talk a little bit more about what your kind of path was to get there? So you got a degree [00:05:00] in theater to begin with.
Brittany: Yes, I had. I was a theater major at university. My concentration wasn't acting and I actually dual majored. So it was also in playwriting as well and dramaturgy. Cause I'm a huge nerd. It's what that comes to,
Emily: I love it.
Brittany: but yeah. So what happened was I had started taking stage combat courses and under the society of American fight directors, there is a skills proficiency test, and this is how people get certified into certain disciplines under the Society of American Fight Directors, and there are eight different disciplines. I got certified in four I had been certified in unarmed, single sword, small sword, and one of the first.
Of the two dual weapons rapier and dagger. So I had a dagger in one hand and a rapier in another . So I got certified. I was certified in those four different disciplines. when one achieves that they are officially [00:06:00] considered an actor combatant, it means that theater companies and film sets can look to you and be like, okay, this is a person that we can hire to do stage combat. That's great. It's a very specific designation, but there are loads of other designations. For example, my husband and the co founder of our school. We formed the school when he got his teaching certification under the Society of American Fight Directors or SAFD for short, I may say. And he also received, much like our Fightmaster, his certification to be an instructor under Fight Directors Canada or the FDC.
So in that same regard, he can teach anywhere. In North America He'd gone on a huge journeyman process. He was an apprentice for many years.
Emily: So is that the typical path you do a lengthy apprenticeship and then what is the path to get certified?
Brittany: so for certification in one [00:07:00] discipline, what you will need to do is have 30 hours of in class time
learning that specific discipline. under a certified instructor by the SAFD in, in the United States. So You would need to complete 30 hours of in class time and then move on to take the skills proficiency test, . It is audited by fight masters under the Society of American Fight Directors.
So you do your test, which is performing a scene with choreography in that stage combat discipline. that is graded, and you also have a masterclass led by that fight master. And they will kind of look at you accordingly, pull you aside, and let you know, Hey, you passed good job or Hey, unfortunately not this round.
In order to become a certified instructor, you have to do that [00:08:00] eight times because there are eight different disciplines under the Society of American
Emily: Right, okay, so did your school help people get certified?
Brittany: we do. Yeah. Every semester we host a 30 hour certification course in a discipline. Starting in October, we're going to be doing small sword, which is very much three musketeers.
You know, that style less swashbuckling, more backhanded regality. It's, it's very fancy. That's why we love it so much. but yeah, we have since 2017 every course that we've done has been a certification course. We do also offer one off weekend workshops for folks that want to kind of dip their toes into it and see, you know, if stage combat is a way that they want to Express themselves physically and they want to actually enroll in a full 30 hour course because that is, that is a dedication of time,
and physical [00:09:00] effort.
Emily: That is so cool. So to kind of help people that don't know much about this world, think about where this shows up. If you're seeing violence in a movie or fighting in a movie or on like a Broadway show or something, is there likely someone like you behind that work?
Brittany: if they're doing it, right. Yeah.
Or is it just a nice to have?
Brittany: it is required. It's sort of a sore topic for us we love it when folks realize that we are mandatory and we should be one of the first hires. wE should be the ones on the production meeting.
First thing, you folks are talking about the season of shows that you want to put on. But in a lot of cases, we wind up being the 11th hour higher.
And that is devastating to us because our MO in everything that we do is just, we want to make sure folks are safe. We want to make sure that they [00:10:00] look good and look cool.
We want to make sure also that we can do safety inspections on the props that are being used. We want to make sure that these come from a reputable bladesmith. it's almost like a, a very specific niche OSHA in a way,
So the interesting thing is that we ourselves as stage combatants, we don't have a union. Because we're kind of in that liminal space. For the most part, the majority of us, if we are union members, we are SAG AFTRA which as a lot of folks tuning in might know, hey, we, we just had a massive strike recently
and it's still ongoing.
So a lot of things are very much in flux right now. But in our specific field, we do have to, at least we do our organization present waivers of liability of ensuring, okay, folks do this under our supervision, do things as they are instructed. Don't take it outside of our class times.
Don't [00:11:00] claim to be a professional in this until you have. Things that are accredited by the Society of American Fight Directors. Until you have those accolades, until you have those milestones and benchmarks, do not claim to be a fight choreographer, a fight director. You can be a fight captain on a show because you have experience, but also, you know, we'd like some information on that just to ensure that the choreographer that you have is somebody who's Certified Judas and is reputable because the other side of the coin is that there are some folks out there that are just like, yeah, I've taken martial arts classes. I can choreograph a fight. And it's like, Oh no, buddy. No, what we're doing is not martial arts. We're not actually striking to hurt people. That's the opposite of what we're trying to do.
Brittany: So you're not a stage combat professional. You're a martial artist. Sure. But. It's a different realm, my guy, my dude.
The way that I kind of would classify myself, my [00:12:00] husband is the instructor and I'm kind of the one running the school. I'm more on the arts administrative end of things. The unfortunate thing is I can't physically participate because of that injury that actually inspired me to pursue stage combat.
My depth perception is incredibly compromised. And one of the things you don't want to do when
You don't have depth perception is hold a sword and swing it at somebody. So I unfortunately can't physically participate. So I participate in this way in which I facilitate everything that our organization does.
Emily: Yeah, which is incredibly valuable. And you found a way to stay involved in this, you know, involved in such a meaningful way in this industry that you seems like really love.
Brittany: Oh yeah. It. It means the world to me like it's kind of funny to me that good chunk of our students are around my age and older, but a few of them have given me the nickname sword mom, which [00:13:00] I hold incredibly dear. It makes me very happy. Because, because I do take on this kind of. maternal just affection towards everybody and really caring about this organization.
it's wild to think. I don't want to say that it was a very impulsive decision. we did think it through. We did have a game plan. there are so many elements of it that Definitely felt impulsive in a way, just like, okay, you want to teach?
Great. Let's start a school. Cool. I have the admin skills to make that a thing. Let's go. So it's
Well, one thing I have found talking to entrepreneurs of all, you know, shapes and sizes is that I think most people feel that way a little bit, you know, they might have felt like they planned a lot, but they're sort of. figuring it out a lot as they go along. I hear a lot of like, Oh, I Googled that one skill.
You know, how did I figure out payroll? I spent a weekend on Google, that sort of thing. So it's like, I think that is a much more common [00:14:00] adult experience than we imagine probably when we're kids thinking about our work is you just decide you want to do something and then you figure it out as you go along.
So I don't think that sounds unusual at all.
Brittany: Okay, cool. It's good to hear that we're apart for the course and not just like absolute chaos goblins,
Emily: I don't think so. I don't think
Brittany: because it has the way I can best describe the feeling is it definitely, I don't want to call it free falling. But in a way it is taking a massive leap, but you at least. know where your grappling gun is if you need to like shoot it off and like grab the edge of the cliff and like get some footing on something.
Emily: Right. Yes, absolutely. So what sort of personality do you think does well in this line of work?
Brittany: The majority of our student demographic and all of our staff, we are huge. Empathetic, communicative, softies,
which is really funny to think of because we're swinging swords. That's our job. [00:15:00] Everybody is coming from a very genuine, vulnerable place to look intimidating, which is such a fascinating contrary thing in our field. You know, we're those big muscly folks that are swinging swords and lighting ourselves on fire and doing high falls. But we will absolutely cry if our pet goldfish dies.
You know, we will be messes for weeks and we will all just give each other a hug. But we will ask for informed enthusiast consent before we give that hug
to our friend who is mourning over their goldfish. , I do personally feel that it is much harder to be a kind and compassionate person.
That is a lot of heavy lifting. That is emotional labor. And our folks are absolute juggernauts when it comes to that. I'm so proud of our student demographic. I'm so proud of our staff in that they are, absolute badasses. In that regard,
Emily: hmm. [00:16:00] Yes. That's amazing.
Brittany: And I was having this conversation with a colleague of mine on a show that we literally just closed this past Sunday. I mentioned because the show that I was in, I didn't audition to be in it.
The folks that were directing it literally just reached out like, Hey, Bernie, we've done a couple of shows together before. There's a character that would be perfect for you.
Emily: Oh, how nice is that?
Brittany: you want to show up? And I said, heck yeah, I'll show
up. That's great. This is awesome. So I'd brought up to my colleague.
I was just like, I can't remember the last time I've auditioned. And I absolutely look up to her. I mean, I recognize the fact that I'm 33 years old. I'm grown up, but I want to be her when I grow up a little bit more.
And she said, well, yeah, Brittany, of course they asked you because one of the things in our industry is showing up and doing the work and that sounds so simple, but.
If you have a consistent record of showing up and doing the [00:17:00] work,
you're an immediate higher, and that is what I think a lot of our student demographic and our staff do.
Emily: think that piece of advice of like. But if you show up consistently and you do the work, I think there are a lot of fields where it's like, of course, I'm sure you're also very good at what you do and fun to work with and all those other things. But just showing up and taking it seriously and working hard will really get you pretty darn far in a lot of fields.
Brittany: Oh, absolutely. Particularly in our industry. Let's say there's a person who masters choreography. First thing they learn it and they are very adept physically and they give good performances, but they don't show up for rehearsal.
That's a wager. You know, we'd rather take the person that consistently gives good work, but consistently shows up and is reliable.
I normally ask people what they make and what their other [00:18:00] benefits look like. And I am interested in whatever you, you know, feel comfortable sharing. I also would be curious if you know about sort of maybe expected ranges for people just generally working in this field.
thank you so much for posing this question in advance. Cause I really had to think about it. Because, ultimately, it is a very wide gamut.
And it depends on your location as well. One thing as an East Coaster I know is that we tend to be a bit more theater oriented, live theater oriented.
Whereas the West Coast, they're a bit more film oriented. And that, in and of itself, There's going to be a little bit of a deference in what pay is but at this point our organization runs as a nonprofit. So we don't, we don't quite make a lot. We're not raking in six figures, we make do and we keep our rates low for tuition just to ensure that what we do is accessible for,[00:19:00] The folks that really need this, especially because the service that we're offering is are you performing artists that wants to do action oriented entertainment and create, you know, viscerally physical art.
Well, we want to make sure that you learn how to do it without harming yourself because medical bills are expensive.
So our students tuition, in essence, goes towards operations, promotional materials, theatrical blade procurement and maintenance, staff transportation, staff reimbursement, venue rental,
and based on all those factors, the compensation really varies. Typically we calculate a stipend that meets our staff set rates as individual artists and a benefit we offer our staff members, tuition for all of our classes is free to them.
We do have two scholarships in place for BIPOC students as well as LGBTQIA plus students. We do this so that we can take them on as instructors so that we can teach more [00:20:00] than 1 discipline at a time, and they have a safety net. So we've definitely compromised a lot when it comes to monetary income. When it comes to benefits packages As I mentioned earlier, there's not a stage combat specific union.
tyPically theatrical violence professionals join SAG AFTRA as performing artists to receive any sort of benefits. And as of right now, I can't quite confirm what those benefits are
Emily: It's based on how much you make a year, right? To receive health care, or is that is it something different than that?
Brittany: it is equal parts that and also it is.
A matter of how many hours you accumulate in union theatrical venue houses
Emily: obviously it's clear that it's all over the map. It's hard to really say what one could make in this role, but do you have any sort of like, you know, you are. [00:21:00] Getting out of college, you think you really want to go into stage combat as a performer, or eventually as an instructor.
What, you know, would you say, like, move to Los Angeles, you could make more, or move to New York, you could make more?
Brittany: It's broad, yet tailored. And it's really, I'm so glad that we're having this conversation because one of our students actually asked to speak to me about this exact thing
he's been taking classes with us for since our formation. And he.
doesn't want to pursue a track in which he is an instructor. He wants to be an actor combatant in background opportunities. So for his specific case, I said, all right, well, if you're looking more for background film work, then the West Coast is probably going to be a better option for you. We do have a very healthy, thriving Indie film circuit here on the east coast, but the east coast does have a tendency to be a bit more [00:22:00] live theater oriented.
So if you were to be background here on the east coast, then you'd be looking more into environmental theater. You'd be looking more into Renaissance fairs. You'd be looking more into historical reenactments. And if that's your bag, super cool. But if you're looking more for a bit more versatility as a background artist, as an actor combatant with more consistent work, then you will want to a seek an agent and make your way west.
It is really fascinating thinking of the different tracks of stage combat because I do kind of think of it as a tree with many branches.
because you could be an actor combatant like this student that I was consulting.
You could be a bit more in the administrative field like myself and several others that are running things behind the scenes at the Society of American Fight Directors and also the Philadelphia Stage Combat Workshop. You could want to lean a bit [00:23:00] more into instructing like my husband did. And on that track it does have an upward sort of tenured track you know, into becoming a fight master.
You could become a fight director or fight choreographer, which are also certifiable positions under the society of American fight directors. You could become. just a fight person on, on stage or film sets you become a fight captain.
Emily: So, would it be fair to say to someone going in this field that there isn't really a guarantee of a level of income you will have, although there's paths you can pursue where you could make more. But it will be a lot of sort of scrapping to have a kind of consistent, steady income you can count on annually.
Brittany: Oh, absolutely. I mean, speaking personally, I have the designation, which sounds really fancy schmancy of executive director and co founder of an organization. But yeah, I, juggle different tasks. I mean, [00:24:00] not just running the organization, but also in my own personal life, I do work professionally as a performer.
I do administrative consultation work for arts oriented folks that need more artsy logic, brained oriented folk to help them develop. Their resumes and their one sheets and scripts and their branding,
A lot of us even though we're incredibly accomplished in the field of stage combat, we still do juggle other things in order to just Live a little bit more comfortably and ensure that we always have that safety net because unfortunately in America, there's not enough support for the arts.
So we kind of have to do that. we need to find jobs that have benefits so that we can have health coverage.
Emily: One thing I try to do is really help people imagine what their life would be like if they went into a field. And so, if somebody was coming to you and said like, I would really love to get into this field. I'm not quite sure whether I want to be an instructor, or whether I [00:25:00] want to be a performer, but something in there. Is this sort of a like, you know, what I might think of more like a stereotypical actor path, where you're going to be making like, maybe 10, 000 or maybe 20, 000 or maybe 30, 000 until you happen to get lucky and hit a big break. And then you could make many more, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, or you would definitely need to supplement that with, with other work your entire career, if you wanted to make more money, or is it like, Nope, most people in this job.
can kind of expect to make, I don't know, 50, 60, 70, 000 a year if they show up and get certified and, and work hard.
Brittany: Oh, yeah, gotcha. So the full rundown for folks that just want to get into stage combat and be a person with a sword on a film set, you will have to have supplemental income. Cause you're looking at maybe 10 to
on, on the [00:26:00] good end, it's a part time job.
No, I, and I think that's really helpful because there's plenty of people out there who I think are like, I'm in. You know, they hear that and they're like, great. I love that work so much. I'm happy to... either make it work with that amount of money or to find other things that I want to do to supplement my income because so many people are doing more than one thing at a time.
But then there's other people who I think are like, okay, goodbye to that dream. when they hear that amount, you just have to kind of know yourself and know what your comfort level is with your income balance with the job that you hope to have.
Brittany: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And case in point, I won't drop their name. But one of the most accomplished folks that we know. An incredible actor combatant. They have no designs for the teaching track, even though I argue they should because they would be incredible at it.
But they are a wonderful fight choreographer. They're a wonderful actor combatant. They are also a classical guitarist. They are [00:27:00] also a painter. They are also a person who is certified to instruct and guide when it comes to theatrical intimacy and consent, which are actually certifications that I'm going for as well, so that our organization can offer not just theatrical violence, but also theatrical intimacy and consent.
Emily: so needed. Good for you. That's
Brittany: yeah, yeah. And I'm also going for my certification in diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure that we are creating safe spaces for everybody, because it is a thing where these visceral acts of violence and intimacy in. In theater even a lot of them can be culturally motivated.
So we do need to have a safe space in which we can have those discussions of, okay, you feel uncomfortable with this. It was because of your upbringing. All right. So let's figure out a way to navigate this.
Emily: that sounds amazing. Yeah, I'm sure it can, but I mean, that sounds amazing. And I [00:28:00] think, anyone can read the news to know that that's just so deeply needed in so many areas, but that's really cool that you're doing that.
Brittany: I heard this expression of, are you the adult that the child version of you would feel safe around?
Emily: a great question.
Brittany: Yeah, and
it made me,
Emily: all answer. Yes.
Brittany: yeah, I, I hope we can too. But pursuing. these certifications for me and leading our engine combat and getting the affectionate moniker of sword mom. I'm just like, yeah, you know what? I, at the very least, I think child me would look at adult me as like a cool aunt,
Emily: Mm hmm.
Brittany: you know? So like, I got that going for me, which is nice.
Emily: So what are your hours like? I mean, do you feel like you have a good balance with your personal life and work life through your career?
Brittany: Yeah, I absolutely do. [00:29:00] Which is funny for me because I'm very much a type a plus personality. so boundaries are, what is that word? I need to look it up in the Oxford English dictionary. What is a boundary when it comes to work? But I do have a very cool work life balance. Granted, sometimes there is a bit of seepage
especially because we're just so personally attached to what we do.
But I would estimate that maybe 20 hours a week is. What I give to our organization which is pretty dang good. That's a part time job and it's a thing that I'm passionate about. I mean, active 20 hours. ESpecially because we have a fantastic board now. My partner is of course, along with So I'm able to delegate tasks.
Brittany: of course, we have our scholarship programs, but we do offer work study to our students as well. So there are some simpler tasks that I could delegate to them. And it's also beneficial for them because the test that I give them. are not [00:30:00] just administrative, like, Hey, help me run the social media.
But also the physical things of we need to run safety inspections on these blades. We are going to teach you how to do that. Granted, you cannot be a person that is hired by a theater venue. To do this right now, but it is a step towards the advancement of your career in learning how to do this.
And also it. Promotes our message of autonomy agency and consent, and also teaching you the language that you need to communicate those. If you are on a film set or a stage set, and you see that one of the theatrical. Blades looks wrong in some way you have the language you have that autonomy and glossary to
Brittany: something looks wrong.
We can't use this.
Because somebody's going to get hurt and here's why so [00:31:00] before we formed our board and before we started the work study program. I would say I was probably working closer about maybe 40 to 45 hours a week,
Brittany: But now that we, we have a wonderful accomplished people that are so giving of their time and their efforts.
And I'm able to delegate tasks that has made it a lot easier workload wise for me.
Emily: That makes a lot of sense. ah, that's interesting. So, can you walk me through your average day?
Brittany: I'm definitely an early riser. hope I don't sound like, you know one of those CEO influencers, cause God knows I'm the farthest thing from it.
Um, but I am a very early riser. I tend to wake up sometime around like four or five o'clock in the morning, maybe sometimes three.
Just cause I like that quiet time, you know, and that's kind of how my circadian rhythm goes. But yeah, I tend to watch a different, you know fight sequences.
Just to kind of get some inspiration and ideas you know, I'll glean memes from different stage combat [00:32:00] organizations that we follow.
I'll look into okay, today's this date. Is there anything specific about this date? Oh, circling back to the scholarship programs that I was talking about, actually every April 14th, we celebrate, we've called it ourselves. Chevalier Day. And that is in honor of the two famous sword fighters that we named our scholarships after.
The Chevalier de Saint Georges movie just came out about him. So folks get the opportunity to watch, please do. Our only complaint was that there was not enough sword fighting in it. But it was really. He was really wonderfully crafted and the acting was really wonderful. And the fight scene that we did see in it was great.
Were the two fight scenes that we did see in it were great. They were well done. And then also the chevalier de Aon, who was in essence, a spy under the Soucle de Roy the you know French monarchy. Here's the kicker though. We celebrate Chevalier Day on April [00:33:00] 14th because I found a woodcutting from the 18th century and those two people, the two best sword fighters in 18th century France, a black man and a transgender woman,
They were friends and they were the best sword masters.
Emily: that's a
Brittany: In 18th century France. Yeah, yeah. So I'm just like, Chevalier des, so we're gonna have our scholarship named after the Georges, who was a black man and virtuoso. He was the piano master and instructor of Marie Antoinette. And , Chevalier d'Eon, who was a if not a, it's, it's kind of hard to gauge because they've been dead for about 300 years now. So we aren't quite sure if they were a gender fluid person or a transgender woman. But yeah we have the Chevalier de Saint Georges scholarship for BIPOC individuals and also folks that do have musical prowess.
And we have the Chevalier d'Aon. [00:34:00] scholarship for LGBTQIA individuals that would like to take classes with us. So very cool. But yeah another part of my day is looking into what date is it? What cool things happen today? How are they stage combat oriented and how can I share this to spark social media engagement?
And then I'll usually send emails to our students, tell them no, Hey, you know, classes on for this evening. Here's what to prepare. And. Then I'll check in with all of our demo assistants, and I'll also check in with my partner and be like, Hey, what have we got going on for today? What's on the docket?
Who's coming in? Who is bringing swords? Who's doing the safety inspection? Who's doing maintenance? What's going on? So that in and of itself, like that's, it's kind of the start of the day, but it's kind of a thing that's consistent throughout the entire week,, then of course, you know, I'll check in on productions that my partner is doing choreography on and see, you know, like, yeah, how can we promote that show? Like, how can we get our board involved? Like what do [00:35:00] we need? And a lot of it is the majority of my job personally is just sharing memes on social media and correspondences with people at this point
and trying to figure out like, okay, what's the next class that we're teaching?
Like, what do we have in our armory? You know, what theatrical blades can we bring out for the next course that we want to teach?
Emily: sounds like a pretty good day all around, I would say.
Brittany: Oh yeah. I love my job.
Emily: So, what are some things that you love about your job? And you've listed quite a few already, but if you have anything to add especially if you think it's something that people might be surprised by or might not know.
Brittany: I love it when folks Who have no desire to pursue it who have no desire to become actor combatants, just decided to take a stage combat class because they want to express themselves physically in different ways. Because they want to live out their Game of Thrones and The Witcher and [00:36:00] Lord of the Rings fantasies like they just because they just want to do it.
I'd say that is probably about a fourth of our demographic and students, and I love it when they hold a theatrical blade for the first time, because their entire stature changes, something in them sparks and changes.
It's just this new found. Confidence and joy that. Maybe was living in them, you know, in sort of a dormant way and it just kind of gets sparked all of a sudden and they get the sense and the understanding that they're in a safe place where they can play and nerd out.
I mean, I, I know that so much of our stuff can seem very focused towards folks that want to pursue stage combat as a career, but it's a communicative and collaborative safe space for people to explore their.[00:37:00] visceral, confident, and maybe sometimes combative nature.
So I think it is really kind of a healing thing for anybody in any field to just go take a stage combat class.
Emily: Yeah. Oh my gosh. That, that sounds amazing. And yeah, definitely a beautiful piece about this work for sure.
Brittany: Oh yeah, I definitely have a soft spot for our students. It's like, I like being the executive director of a school or something.
I don't know?
Emily: So not to go, you know, on the negative side, and you've listed a few things that are tough about this field or your work, but is there anything that you would want to add that either you didn't expect at all, or you just didn't anticipate how challenging it would be?
Brittany: I definitely went into this knowing that it would be a challenge because unfortunately, especially in the United States. I know I probably sound like a broken record. There's not enough funding and support for the arts. Case in point, the strike. That is ongoing right now.
Brittany: And you know, this disgusting thing where there are people that are [00:38:00] cast as extras and they have to sign off everything about their autonomy and agency and physicality so that it can be lended to AI generated images for them to be extras in the background.
So that they don't have to be paid. Which is nothing short of dystopian and gross.
that's a very new and depressing thing within
You know, that our very presence can be made manifest through cheap AI re imaging
Brittany: yeah, and it's not going to be the same, you know it, it almost feels like a, a You know, the, those fables that you hear about fairy tales of how to tell if you're talking to one of the evil fairies or something like count their fingers, count their teeth.
You know, that's not a real person. If they have too many thumbs
and we feel the same way about AI at this point, it's this monolithic, terrible fade deity in some ways to us. You know, I don't want to give it too much credit though, cause I just kind of hope it dies.
Emily: It's interesting. I, right now, you know, I'm, [00:39:00] I'm kind of striving to just cover as many different types of work and industries as I can. And I do sometimes wonder how much of a time capsule these podcasts will be Because nobody really knows exactly how it will change our society or how much it will change our society in the next 5, 10, 15 years.
And I am curious to look back at some point and see like where the guesses were wrong and where they
Brittany: Oh yeah. Like, like I use AI when I'm proofreading things
it's a useful tool, but that's the thing. It should be just a tool. It shouldn't be a replacement because it's a cheap replica of the real thing. I read this article earlier this week Stephen Fry, who's a prolific.
And iconic theater and film individual. His voice was. Replicated by AI to create an audio book without his consent, and he is fighting that and gosh darn if I don't hope he wins because [00:40:00] that's terrifying to know that whatever you put out there can be replicated cheaply by AI. It's a fascinating thing to look into but I definitely would not want to fund it and I.
Don't support it when it comes to taking people's jobs. When we think of AI, we thought that they would be things that would make our mundane lives easier so that we could pursue our passions and our interest in our art, our craft.
We didn't think of them, replacing our passions and our interest in our pursuits in art. And that's kind of what AI, as it is right now, is doing. And it's very, bass ackwards. It's very cart before the horse. Like, no, no, no, that's not what we made you for. As that, one expression goes, if, I'm paraphrasing, We fought wars so that our s Our children could become merchants that our grandchildren could become artists.
Emily: Oh my gosh. Yeah.
Brittany: Yeah. So it's like, no, no, no, we, we want the AI to not necessarily fight wars, but to [00:41:00] at least take care of the mundane things so that we can advance. as a species. AI is, is a huge challenge. And that was actually a thing that came up during the WGA and SAG AFTRA strike was there were actually contracts being created by producers that extras needed to sign in order to participate.
And the signage of those contracts would, in essence, give full permission to use 3D imaging replicas of their image as an actor to put in background,
Brittany: as opposed to just hiring them as an extra. It's not even a matter of practicality at this point. That's just cruelty. So AI is definitely a huge struggle that I never imagined in my life.
I mean, years ago when I was just a theater major, this was not a thought
This is not something that was anticipated.
Emily: Right. Yeah, you can't really anticipate something like
Emily: it's so interesting to think about. Huh.
Brittany: yeah, especially because it just advances so [00:42:00] rapidly which is just terrifying and very depressing. Another thing here's a positive and a negative to this one. When I first started in stage combat, it was a very white, cisgender, hetero masculine space.
Fortunately that has changed for the better.
And I think because of our organization and our siblings organizations, that we have been very vocal about, no, no, no, this is a safe space for everybody. If you are an artist and you have autonomy and agency that you want to use to express yourselves with visceral acts of theatrical violence,
then come on down. Yeah, the last survey that we had taken about 52 to 53 percent of our student demographic and prospective student demographic were everybody but white, cisgender, hetero masculine people.
Those folks are now in the minority. Again, everybody that tends to pursue stage combat, [00:43:00] especially with our organization, our siblings organizations, very wholesome, kind folks have very feminist
inclinations. You'd very warm and accepting people. For folks that have seen the Barbie movie, all of our students are Ken of to put that in perspective, we are just a bunch of Of teddy bears with swords. Really, this is what it comes down to. So one of the other challenges that we've been facing, I think one of the reasons why our particular organization, our siblings organizations are very vocal about socio political issues.
Because there are a lot, unfortunately, a lot of fascists and alt right and Men's right activist groups that appropriate cultures that are known for their combat. You know, we see a lot of alt right folks that are using imagery from Vikings. We see them using imagery from Spartan warriors. so, so many elements of HEMA or historic [00:44:00] martial arts.
into their messaging. And it's the thing where they've been augmenting that history to better suit their own personal narrative.
Brittany: And one of the things, one of the challenges that we face is making it known. We will talk about historic martial arts. we talk about historic European martial arts.
We talk about historic African martial arts. We talk about historic pan Asian martial arts.
It's the thing we're about historic martial arts. That's the thing that we replicate on stage. our job. These guys are not us.
Brittany: If anything,
Brittany: yeah, if, if anything, we're very vocal and public about barring them from our classes.
So we do have a bit of a screening process when it comes to our prospective students to which is unfortunate, but at the same time. I think our demographic is this wonderful tapestry the way that it is because we take those actions that's actually probably [00:45:00] another part of my week is screening people that follow us on social media and seeing what is, they're talking about
Brittany: seeing the folks that inquire about our classes.
Yeah, that's honestly that's probably the roughest part of the job right now just because of our socio political climate.
Emily: Yeah. Yeah. Oh my gosh.
Emily: not easy right now,
Brittany: Yeah, it's, it's
not a thing you'd think about, like, oh, look at these, like, charming swordfighter
stage people, and oh, they have to deal with bigots.
Emily: Yeah. Yeah. It's, but it is so important to know because, you know, you mentioned how amazing the community you are a part of is, but it's also just worth knowing that there is this other component out there that. You know, if someone is working in this field for a long time, that's a part of the whole, the whole story.
And so being thoughtful about community you are in is so important.
Brittany: yeah I'm very protective of our folks.
Brittany: But at the same time, if one of our folks You know, [00:46:00] express to things that are very contrary to our beliefs in that vein of being a sword bomb. I'm not mad. I'm disappointed, which is somehow worse,
Brittany: you know, and I let them know about it. Which I think is really what is. That's, that's one of the things that's really helped us cultivate a safe and accepting community for folks that just want to learn how to express themselves through theatrical violence.
And that's the answer, isn't it? Like, being able to have respectful discussions with, people, like, you never know when you're gonna change someone's heart and mind about something really important.
Brittany: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Emily: So this is the last question I have for you. What is one piece of advice generally about work that you would give your younger self?
Brittany: I'm so glad you asked this one. Because I think of my younger self often because I was bullied really terribly.
Brittany: Um, and yeah, and, and we were talking about it earlier. You know, you want to be the grownup that your younger self could look at and feel [00:47:00] safe with them. And it is an accomplishment.
That I find in myself that I am that cool goth sword fighting and who can make a really mean apple pie and cheesecake. you know, just like total softy but would not be surprised if they were to roll up with a sword on their back and in a leather jacket on a Harley.
Emily: Yeah, yeah.
Brittany: I. The thing I would tell my younger self is, now it's become a real philosophy and a kind of a coin phrase for me.
Um, You're weird is you're wonderful.
Emily: Oh, I love that.
Brittany: It absolutely is. You know, I look back and I'm just like, if I wasn't a theater weirdo and. If I didn't go through pain and feeling bullied and thought, well, this is the thing I want to do. How do I do it so that I don't get hurt anymore and I don't hurt anybody else anymore.
If I exercise that weird thing of being kind. I can go off to do amazing things. And because I got into stage combat, I [00:48:00] met everybody wonderful that I know including the absolute love of my life, my husband and the other love of my life stage combat,
I wish I could tell my ingrown self, you're weird is you're wonderful.
That's a good thing about you. It's not wrong. It's not wrong to be weird. In fact, if you embrace it and you go with it, it's fun. So for also any folks listening in, if you have a niche, Bonkers, like banana pancakes, nutty idea.
Just go for it. Like, just see what happens. I hope for you, you will be amazed at how far it will take you.
Cause goodness knows it took me pretty far.
Emily: Ah, that is really beautiful, and I think such a good piece of advice, and if there's anything I've learned so far doing this, the people that seem the most just absolutely Psyched about their jobs are people who know themselves really well and pursued something that is like unapologetically exactly for them.
Emily: many people do not actually do if you think about them and their [00:49:00] jobs. And so I would say it seems like you. You know, hit it out of the park to use another pun.
Brittany: you know, I'm still learning how to love myself, but I definitely I like myself. You know, we're there.
I'm in the puppy love stages of self love. I'd like to say
it's So that's cool. It's the thing where I'm like, well, goodness, you know, like so many folks are calling me sword mom and, and really love and appreciate me and goodness knows my partner is very, very infatuated and loves me as well.
So I think they're really cool and I respect their opinions. So maybe I should.
Emily: That's right. That's right.
So, Brittany, where can people find out more about the work that you do?
Brittany: Oh, absolutely. So the best place is looking towards our organization's name, Argent combat. That is all of our social media handles on Facebook and Instagram and whatever it's called nowadays, the bird application.
it's just at. Argent Combat no spaces, all lowercase, of course.
And you can also check out our website, www. argentcombat. [00:50:00] com, uh, where we host all of our classes. So if you're within the Philly area and you want to come hang out or would like a consultation, hit us up. Happy to talk about it.
Emily: so great. Well, thank you so much for being here and I will link all that stuff in the show notes so that people can find you.
Brittany: Beautiful. I'm looking forward to it.
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