Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Women in Stage Combat: A Study on Babes With Blades Theatre Company

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Other)

Third Advisor

Michael Ellison (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Member)


In my dissertation, “Women in Stage Combat: A Study on Babes With Blades Theatre Company,” I explore the practice of stage combat as performed by the all-female stage combat company, Babes With Blades Theatre Company. I interviewed eight members of the all-female stage combat company Babes With Blades Theatre Company. I co-constituted the narratives over the course of seven months using ethnographic research methods; these methods included conducting qualitative interviews, participant observations of one stage combat workshop, three fight calls, and two theatrical productions produced by Babes With Blades, and through field notes. As I am trained in stage combat, I also bring my experiences into consideration through personal reflections throughout the dissertation. In order to analyze my experience in the field and with the interviews, I engage phenomenology, feminist theory, performativity, and cultural studies in sports.

I begin my analysis by situating the Babes With Blades Theatre Company within the larger context of stage combat, a traditionally male dominated field. In chapter two I establish Babes With Blades Theatre Company as a troupe worthy of study by situating the company’s history in the larger history of stage combat. In chapter three I examine how the study participants understand and perform gender and femininity as well as how the company presents women in two productions from the 2010-2011 season. In chapter four I explore how these women experience power and agency through their engagement of stage combat. My overarching claim is that while these women’s understandings of gender and femininity are influenced by traditional social constructions of gender and femininity, their participation in stage combat and their lived experience as female stage combatants create performances of gender and femininity that nevertheless defy traditional social norms for feminine gender performance, thus, they present strong female images that challenge audiences to reassess their potentially taken-for-granted assumptions of women as combatants – as strong, athletic, and powerful people. Moreover, I also argue that insofar as Babes With Blades creates more opportunities for women stage combatants in a theatrical world that is predominated by male stage combatants, it is a company worthy of scholarly exploration.