Stage combat is a specialised technique in theatre designed to create the illusion of physical combat without causing harm to the performers. It is employed in live stage plays as well as operatic and ballet productions. With the advent of cinema and television the term has widened to also include the choreography of filmed fighting sequences, as opposed to the earlier live performances on stage. It is closely related to the practice of stunts and is a common field of study for actors. Several actors famous for their stage fighting skills have backgrounds in dance or martial arts training.
Stage combat training includes unarmed combat skills such as illusory slaps, punches, kicks, throwing and holding techniques; theatrical adaptations of various forms of fencing such as rapier and dagger, smallsword and broadsword, as well as the use of other weapons, notably the quarterstaff and knives; and more specialized skills such as professional wrestling and different styles of martial arts. However, stage combat can include any form of choreographed violence and the options are limited only by safety concerns, and the ability of the participants involved. As a note, most of these techniques are drawn from actual fighting techniques, but modified to be safer for actors. For example, although there are a number of ways of creating the safe illusion of a slap to the face (which is obviously something that could really be done in combat), none of these involve making actual contact with the victim's face.
The over-riding concern is for the safety of the actors and audience. This requirement has led to the adaptation of many standard martial arts and fencing skills specifically for performance. For example, many basic sword attacks and parries must be modified to ensure that the actors do not bring the points of their weapons past their partner's face or otherwise inadvertently risk the other actor's health and well-being. Attacking actions in stage combat are extended past the performance partner's body, or aimed short of their apparent targets. Likewise, whereas their characters may be trying to violently twist each other's limbs, slap, or punch, or grapple, and engaging in vicious unarmed combat, the actors must operate at a high level of complicity and communication to ensure a safe, exciting fight scene. Considerable professional judgement is called upon to determine what technical level may be appropriate for a given performer, taking into account allotted rehearsal time, and the expectations of the director.
The combat phase of a play rehearsal is referred to as a fight rehearsal. Choreography is typically learned step by step, and practiced at first very slowly before increasing to a speed that is both dramatically convincing and safe for the performers and their audience. Even stage combat is risky, and it is preferable for actors to have as much training and experience as possible. A "fight call" or a brief rehearsal before the show is performed each time, set aside for the actors to "mark" through the fight to increase their muscle memory. A show which involves fight choreography will typically be trained and supervised by a professional fight choreographer and may also include a fight captain, who runs fight calls and ensures that actors are remaining safe throughout the duration of the show. The fighting styles in movies set in the Medieval or Renaissance period may be unrealistic and historically inaccurate. Most fight choreographers use a mix between Asian martial arts and sports fencing to re-enact fight scenes.