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Released January 30, 2004

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - Some people know from an early age what they want to be when they grow up. Scot Mann was one of those people.

Even as a child, the assistant professor of theatre at The University of Southern Mississippi stood out from the crowd. When his friends would take up arms in the neighborhood to play war games, Mann was the only kid to grab a stick and a garbage can lid for battle. "While everyone else was playing soldier, I was the one fighting in the bushes against imaginary pirates."

Perhaps that explains things. Today, Mann makes his living with essentially the same tools and the same skills that made him king of the mountain in the backyards of Georgia, where he grew up.

Whether he's fighting off two villains with a single blade, disarming a bandit with the crack of a bullwhip or falling four floors without breaking a bone - much less a sweat - Mann makes it all look easy. And very, very real. These superhero skills have made Mann a highly sought-after stage combat instructor and acting coach on both sides of the proverbial pond.

Last October, Mann, 38, spent two weeks as guest instructor in London at the invitation of the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat. There, Mann instructed professional actors, fight directors and theatre students from the United Kingdom, Germany and Malta in the use of the double-rapier for stage and screen. It was Mann's second trip to the British academy, considered by most as the cradle of stage combat.

"It's the source of our art," Mann said. "As you read Shakespeare, you realize he mentions places that are right across from the London pub you're sitting in. The whole place is just steeped in it."

Although Mann's profession might be the envy of every 6-year-old boy, his work is far from child's play.

"For every five to 10 seconds of a fight on stage, it takes about two to three hours of rehearsal," Mann said in his office at Southern Miss, which is packed with the tools of his trade: swords of all shapes and lengths, shields, martial arts weapons, even juggling pins.

"We don't use protective equipment on stage, so we have to be very precise with what we're doing."

All of Mann's stunts and fight sequences are made to look dangerous; in reality, Mann and his students take every precaution to eliminate unnecessary hazards. Steel stage swords are deliberately dulled, punches surreptitiously pulled at the last second.

Of course, maintaining such a grueling work schedule requires Mann to be in peak physical condition. Each morning at 5 a.m., Mann starts his day with a martial arts workout and strength training exercises. Staying in shape also helps Mann avoid injuries. In his 15 years working both professionally and freelance, Mann has been injured only once. "I've seen others get hurt. Our maxim is 'safety first,' though. A good stunt performer always shows up to work the next day," he said.

Before coming to Southern Miss to become a full-time instructor last semester, Mann spent about seven years studying stage combat while earning credits toward his certification. During that time, Mann traveled around the country, working with different fight instructors and acting in various productions. He eventually opened his own fight instruction studio in Atlanta, which still exists today under different ownership.

He has performed and choreographed fights and stunts in productions of Titus, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet, to name a few. One of his more memorable performances was playing Zorro's stunt double in a Houston production, replete with massive pyrotechnics. "I had the mask and the sword. The lead actor playing Zorro would disappear behind a column, and I'd come out and do the fight scenes, or swing from a rope, and then he'd come out and finish the scene. The change was so seamless, no one ever knew I'd come on stage."

Mann, who has degrees from Mercer University and Alabama Shakespeare, also teaches character movement and improvisation at Southern Miss. Possessed with a rich, strong voice forged from years on the stage, the father of a 4-year old daughter also does voice-over work for animated entertainment companies. And, he's taken his fighting techniques from the stage into the wide-open world of digital computing. "My work has bled into other things like DVDs and animated video games," Mann said. "I did some motion-capture work for a company in Atlanta. I was shooting fight scenes for about eight hours a day."

Monica Hayes, assistant dean of the Theatre and Dance Department, said that although Southern Miss has several professionally accomplished instructors, Mann is "putting us on the map in a whole new way."

"He brings the nationally and internationally elite status of Fight Master to Southern Miss, an accomplishment reserved for about two dozen people nationwide," Hayes said. "He is regularly hired as a guest artist by Alabama Shakespeare, Florida State and dozens of important professional theatres particularly in the Southeast."

"When he sent out his new contact information, they all got to read that Southern Miss hired him permanently - and that speaks highly of us. He's the best, and he's also the nicest professor I have ever met."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM