Interview: Fight Choreographer Jen Albert Absolutely Up For The BATTLESONG OF BOUDICA

The School of Night reprises their award-winning production of Battlesong of Boudica April 9, 2023 at The Hudson Backstage

Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Skylar Astin Join Sondheim Celebration At Hollywood Bowl

Originally premiering at last year's Hollywood Fringe, The School of Night reprises their award-winning production of Battlesong of Boudica April 9, 2023 at The Hudson Backstage. Co-founder and writer Christopher William Johnson directs the cast of Jen Albert, Daniel Adomian, Tom Block, Colin A Borden, Payton Cella, Sara Gorsky, Brad C. Light, Chloe Madriaga, Christopher Neiman, Tristan Rewald, Lacey Rosewall, Lucy Schmidt, Allegra Rodriguez Shivers, Jack TenBarge, Jesse James Thomas, Frank Tirimacco and Dan Wingard. I got to throw out some questions to Jen, who's playing the titular role of Boudica. And she punched back her answers directly on target.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jen!

What cosmic forces first brought you and Christopher to start The School of Night together?

Chris had a very successful theatre company in Chicago called Defiant. That's how we met. After the company decided to stop producing, Chris shifted his focus to classical texts. He produced a Hrotsvitha play as the School of Night for a festival in Chicago. (Hrotsvitha was one of the first female playwrights that we know of. She lived during the 10th Century.) When we moved to L.A. together, our focus was on film and TV. But ultimately our mutual depression, because of a lack of creativity and love for theatre overrode our intention to focus only on film and TV. We talked about producing as the School of Night, which if you don't know and most folks don't, (I certainly didn't) was a group of poets, philosophers and scientist which included Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, who were rumored to gather together to discuss forbidden topics, like atheism, the occult and mystical poetry.

I was playing Kate in a version of Taming of the Shrew (Fifty Shades of Shrew) for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I found Fringe to be so much like the Chicago theatre community, that I came home from an event one day, and essentially brow beat him into doing Punch and Judy for Fringe. He was so used to doing these huge shows that the idea of doing Fringe was so outlandish and insane to him. But I convinced him and Punch and Judy ended up being a huge hit. It was the summer that restored our confidence and creative spirit. He suddenly wanted to do Fringe every year and started to change how what he required to produce a worthwhile show. No large sets, not a ton of tech, just clean, tight and specific. We are using techniques from early forms of theatre. Some European and Asian techniques, live music, puppets, dance, verse and highly stylized staging. Now we produce at least once or twice a year.

Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Skylar Astin Join Sondheim Celebration At Hollywood BowlHow did you happen onto the story of Boudica?

I was only slightly familiar with Boudica. I knew she was a warrior who sought revenge and that she lived in ancient times. Chris knew the history. He is a big history nerd and wanted to tell her tale. He had a real desire to do a show in verse with a ton of stage combat. He had ruminated on it for years. I rarely act in our shows and prefer to just do fight choreography and produce. But, he wrote it for me with the idea that I'd get to use all those skills. Boudica's story was quite perfect for that and the character was very much in my wheelhouse.

If you were to submit Boudica for a dating site, what qualities of hers would you list?

Oh, man. No one wants Boudica on a dating site.

Would kill for her family. Skilled in Geopolitics. Speaks Latin. Can summon War Goddesses with ease.

What character flaws would you definitely omit?

Obsessive lust for revenge which manifests in beheading and impaling.

Are all the actors in the cast members of The School of Night?

No. We have a group of actors we always go to, but School of Night is just Chris and I.

You are now an actor, producer, fight choreographer and an Intimacy Director. What did you want to be growing up?

Actor, singer, dancer. And I am sure a lot of other things I no longer remember. Oh, a rock star for sure. I definitely remember that. Also, possibly a spy.

Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Skylar Astin Join Sondheim Celebration At Hollywood BowlIf you had to choose just one career, which would you put all your talents towards?

Hmm, I have moved away from acting quite a bit. I truly hate the business of it. I just want to have fun and play. And in L.A., it just isn't that anymore. I really enjoy choreographing fights for stage, stunt and intimacy coordinating for film/TV. I continually train and am frequently hired to do both. But I also really love teaching stage combat. So really, it seems that I have already chosen those careers over acting. Though, I secretly want to abandon it all and run a cat sanctuary. Is crazy, cat lady a career?

What factors spurred you onto taking up fight choreography?

Stage combat was something I took in college and kept coming back every semester to learn new weapons. I really gravitated towards it. It was one of the reasons I think I even went to college in the first place. I also had a lot of rage. Rage informed much of my 20's.

Ultimately, I wanted to be a dancer, but I struggled with actual choreography. I eventually get it. But it takes patience with myself and from the choreographer. But my god, the amount of times I ended up in the fetal position wanting to cry. I find that sometimes dance can be too abstract. Like taking a bunch of different colored paint and throwing it on a wall, like a Jackson Pollack painting and saying, "Ok, now do that." I often say I am spatially dyslexic. Whereas fight choreography is concrete. I understand where a fist is supposed to hit. Where a sword is supposed to aim. It's pretty simple. It's how I dance.

But like most folks, I fell into it. I was in a company in Chicago called Babes with Blades. An all-female stage combat company. Folks in town knew I had training. I'd be in a random show and I'd get asked to help. Pretty soon I was getting hired. Then when I moved out here, I knew some folks from Chicago, who started to call me in. I actually never really intended to be a fight choreographer. It's just the way things went. Turns out, it's what I am most happy doing.

What is your secret to a well-executed fight sequence on stage?

Specificity, intention and what story are we trying to tell? I always tell my actors that choreography is blocking that they must be able to justify. If a move does not make sense for the character, we have to adjust it. And I am not one for "cool" moves. Those are typically unrealistic and make no sense to the story. I'm looking to do something logical, based on who the characters are. Chances are they're not a superhero. Just average humans. What is the move before, where is the body, what makes sense? What is the story? Can the character fight? Additionally, I choreograph for the actor. If they can't execute the move I created, it's never going to look right. I am not going to be happy. And they are going to beat themselves up for not being able to make it happen. I'm not precious about choreography. Clean, tight, safe and specific. And as much rehearsal as possible!

Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Skylar Astin Join Sondheim Celebration At Hollywood BowlThe position of intimacy director is relatively new. Did taking on this role come out of your close contact fighting? Or a specific intimate sequence?

You know? Folks ask this a lot. Intimacy direction has been around for a long time. We just didn't really have a name for it. I have been choreographing intimate scenes since way back. I'd be coming in to do some fights and the director would say, "There is also this non-consensual scene, can you help with that?" It happened quite a bit. A lot of fight choreographers and stunt coordinators have been doing it for years. We used the same basic techniques in use today. But now there is structure, actual training and a title.

What's in the future for The School of Night?

Chris is in the process of writing a play about the Greco-Persian War. Kind of a 300 for the stage. He's talking huge battle scenes, with a cast of at least 20. And historically accurate, because... nerd. Plus, we have our own film production company with the film version of Punch and Judy to be released soon. And many other ideas that are in the works. I think the amount of ideas will likely outlive us somewhere in the ether.

What's next on the plate of Jen Albert?

After the show closes, my plate is fairly empty. I've been fortunate enough to get work via word of mouth. Somehow people recommend me to their industry friends, which is really nice and truly a blessing. I am pretty open to whatever may come my way. I expect the Greco-Persian War play to take up a lot of my time beginning of next year. Then of course whatever stunt and IC work comes my way. But you know, a summer in Italy sounds nice. I hear there are a lot of cat sanctuaries.

Thank you again, Jen! I look forward to meeting your Boudica.

For tickets to the live performances of Battlesong of Boudica through April 30, 2023; click on the button below:


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