In Renaissance fairs across the country human chess games, where actors play the roles of chess pieces and do battle on the board, are common. The idea has roots in a number of literary works, including Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Kurt Vonnegut's All the King's Horses, and, of course, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The city of Marostica, Italy has even hosted a live human chess game every two years since 1923 in honor of a legendary game played in 1454 by two young gentlemen who were trying to settle a dispute over who should woo a fair lady.
In Human Combat Chess, which takes place this weekend and next at University Baptist Church in Minneapolis, performers use nine different weapons, including porter staffs, spears, fencing weapons, and "exotic East Asian weapons." There will also be unarmed fights that bear a striking resemblance to martial arts. The costumes the performers wear are free-form, Lubke says, due both to budget constraints and artistic reasons. Performers wear a combination of modern athletic wear and nicer clothes in which they can easily move in.
There are about 35 performers in the show, with a little bit of leeway as some people are performing one weekend and not the other. In addition to the 16 players on each side, there's one martial, one referee/announcer, and two commentators that offer a play-by-play throughout the action.
Another aspiration of Human Combat Chess is to "fill a gap in the entertainment market," Lubke says, "in that there are frequently shows that have violence in them, but don't have fight choreographers." Sometimes the result is actors getting hurt or having action that doesn't have emotional weight. In Human Combat Chess, there are four trained choreographers working on the show. "We want to showcase those resources to the community," he says, as well as provide an opportunity for the cast to learn about stage violence and stage combat. According to Lubke, the Twin Cities lacks stage combat in theater curriculums.