The downtown Camden Opera House is generally a genteel venue, but this weekend will be the site of hand-to-hand combat, knife fights and sword play. Yes, the pirates are coming to town — actually, the Pirates of the Dark Rose are based in nearby Rockport — gathering for a two-day stage combat workshop that also is open to the public.

The Theatrical Violence Weekend will be led by Angela Bonacasa, a Certified Teacher of Stage Combat with the Society of American Fight Directors. Midcoast theatergoers may be more familiar with her as a stage director for the Belfast Maskers, for whom she currently is directing a spring production of “Steel Magnolias.” The steel she is most interested in, however, is that welded to a hilt and wielded with panache.

“The single sword, the kind of swordplay Errol Flynn is known for, is by far my favorite weapon to do,” she said from her home in Castine a week before the workshop.

Theatrical violence is part of theatrical storytelling, and the storylines that entail that single sword are based in a very specific world, she said, one where you could safely have one hand on your hip and the run of the house.

“It’s fast, light and full of pithy dialog,” she said of the style.

Other types of stage combat disciplines that the Society of American Fight Directors train and test include unarmed, knife, rapier and dagger, quarterstaff (she uses wooden poles in lieu of spears), and other light and heavy weaponry. The Theatrical Violence Weekend will offer an overview of a variety of genres. Classes are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4.

Bonacasa will supply theatrical weapons, although most of the regular Pirates have their own. Other participants may bring their own as well, but she will inspect all that arrive for suitability and safety.

“They have to be theatrical weapons, which are designed to handle repetitive use and not break,” she said.

This is the second time Bonacasa has worked with the cutlass-wielding Pirates, who sail their topsail gaff yawl Must Roos up and down the East Coast every summer, coming ashore to stage “invasions” at various festivals. Although the Pirates use lighter weight weaponry, some of the weekend’s work will be with heavier weapons such as broad swords.

“I think the heavy weapon training really teaches you to use your body better … you learn control and how to make specific movements,” she said.

Bonacasa also has worked with Bates and Bowdoin college troupes, Penobscot Theatre Company and the Theatre at Monmouth since moving to Maine. In addition to her stage combat work, she currently works full-time in a dressage program. Swashbuckling, it seems, is in her nature.

Bonacasa had just earned her bachelor of fine arts from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts when she was introduced to stage combat. A roommate was signed up to take an unarmed fighting class and she decided to take it too. It did not take long to discover her calling.

“About a half hour into the first class, I though this was the most amazing thing I’d ever done,” she said.

In her work as a just-out-of-acting-school actress, Bonacasa did a lot of Shakespeare. She often was one of the few troupe members with stage combat training, so she would end up assisting the fight choreographer or being asked by directors to serve as same. With training, testing and experience, she moved up in the ranks to the point she was working full-time as a stage combat instructor and fight director.

“I could do that because I was working in Chicago and New York City; here, you have to be more creative,” she said.

Bonacasa has taught at numerous institutions including Roosevelt University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Maine; and her fight choreography has been seen in theaters across the country. At one point, she was helping coordinate the big national conferences mounted by the Society of American Fight Directors. Her passion for stage combat is driven by her love of its physical challenge and her love of acting.

“If you do it right, it’s still about the storytelling — it’s really about character and relationships. Some people can get so caught up in the coolness of it that they can get separated from their character,” she said.

Relationships between performers is a vital component of stage combat as well, as combatants have to rely upon and take care of each other “because the potential for bad is there.” It takes a tremendous amount of skill and focus.

“Real violence is easy! To not hit someone and make it look like you have is really hard,” she said.

When Bonacasa first got into her field, in the mid-1990s, she was among the few women pursuing the discipline. Now, she said, at least half of the fight directors, sometimes more, are women. Many stage plays, however, cast female characters at the receiving end of violence, which is a particular challenge technically, “to look like you don’t know what you’re doing in a fight.” With the more recent trend towards female characters well able to physically fend for themselves in video games and films, she thinks a change in coming.

“I’m waiting to see these kind of characters start showing up in theater,” she said.

Fee for the Theatrical Violence Weekend is $30 for one day or $50 for both. To register, contact Bonacasa at 610-9970 or For more information about Bonacasa’s work, visit The Pirates of the Dark Rose will hold a recruitment open house in April; for more information about the crew, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to