The “just a slap” fallacy
If you ever hear yourself say the words “it’s just a slap,” please pause. Reflect. Then google “fight director [your city].”
I understand the temptation not to. It’s one slap in a two-hour show. There’s probably someone in the cast who could figure it out. If they put together a good-looking stage slap, where everyone feels safe and in control, great! But if it doesn’t look good, you may be tempted to scrap it — or maybe there seems to be no way to hide a stage slap in the first place.
I am writing to tell you that a contact (“real”) slap is not your only recourse. Hand meeting face on stage isn’t a real slap, anyway; it requires more control than a non-contact slap, and more rehearsal, not less — precisely because the motion is so close to being natural, and happening in an emotional moment, and there’s less than an inch of leeway in each direction: ear in the back, nose in front, eye above, jaw below. If a contact slap is really the best choice, a fight director will take your actors through a series of lead-ups and help them communicate in order to keep them comfortable and safe — yes, both of them — the slapper needs confidence in the process as much as the slappee. It’s also entirely possible that a small adjustment to the orientation or hand placement will make a stage slap work.
There’s something gendered about the “real slap,” too. It’s likely that in your play, a woman slaps a man. All actors — hell, all people — are under pressure to be good sports, and on top of that, the male slappee is immersed in cultural narratives about toughness and manliness. But he has feeling in his face, and maybe he has feelings in his brain about not wanting to get slapped. In this as in all things, drawing boundaries is the healthy thing to do. If your actor doesn’t want to be struck in the face repeatedly, he should feel comfortable speaking up.
Have you ever seen a man “just slap” a woman on stage? I’m not dismissing the possibility, but I haven’t.
If anything’s going to take away from your scene, it’s not the audience seeing the knap or a little air between hand and face — it’s your actors anticipating the moment with distress, tensing up, flinching, and generally feeling uncomfortable in what should be a safe space. The audience will worry for them. Please say you would, too.
Peace, love, and illusory ass-kicking,
Your friendly local fight blogger
Photo by Juin Hoo, CC-licensed for noncommercial use.