If you’re looking to take your acting work to the next level — or just cruising for a good time — try taking a violent punch to the face and falling down.
Thankfully, there are myriad ways you can do this and many other stunts onstage without actually hurting yourself. And after back-to-back 12-hour days at SlapCon, an annual slapstick convention, I may have learned them all.
The brainchild of Hollywood entertainer and pancake juggler Scot Nery, SlapCon is in its second year and has more than doubled in size since its inception. Held this year in Echo Park, the convention draws together actors, comedians, circus performers and slapstick enthusiasts of all backgrounds and levels of experience for a marathon of loving hurt.
All precautions are taken to ensure a lack of actual physical hurt: Workshops are taught by performance professionals, mats are laid out, and there are plenty of breaks for rest and food. The more physical workshops are spread out amid calmer sessions, including lessons from a prop master, an object manipulator, and a Q&A with an old-school clown.
We kicked off the convention with clown teacher Michael “Tuba” Heatherton’s workshop taking us through a safe framework for a slapstick routine. It was a good idea to start this way: as 40-plus attendees hailing from all over the performance world, we weren’t all ready to be beaten up.
Matching slow slaps with careful preparation and eye contact, we would end 10-second mini-brawls by slowly introducing our butts to the floor, finishing with a limp shake to convince the audience of impact. Sped up, it was really fun to watch, and if you did it right, there was no bruising.
Once we understood the basics of the fight and fall, we got crafty. We worked fake kicks and punches into five-minute acts and dance routines, added cartoonish sound effects, and performed a gigantic piece of clown choreography that devolved into a full-room bar fight.
It brought out a lot of feelings.
“[Slapstick] is just a cathartic experience that you get from other people’s pain,” says Jimmy Slonina, an actor and clown from Las Vegas and one of the SlapCon instructors. “Whether it’s from laughing or crying, slapstick fulfills this need.”
Slonina’s workshop had us partner up to “slap a story together” using at least three slapstick actions — a punch, kick, fall, choke, nudge — and choosing from a list of characters that might have a motive to fight.
This workshop was held toward the end of day two, and at that point we were all pretty slap-happy. I teamed with TV actor Davis Neves, who chose to play a doctor hellbent on a malpractice suit. After testing my reflexes with a punch to the face, I got surly and did my best to wrestle her to the floor — only to be thrown flat on my back and given a tremendous wedgie.
Crawling up from the floor, I sat back down and watched the other performers — some with serious chops — enact ridiculous stories with physical punchlines.
I laughed as long as I could before the adrenaline wore off. Even when staged, two days of violence is exhausting.