When Charlotte Josephine’s not kicking butt in the ring at the Islington Boxing Club you can find her writing , directing , playing the sax or even acting alongside London’s top talent. Josephine is fresh out of the critically-acclaimed , gender bending performance of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse and will be performing in her own one woman show, Bitch Boxer , at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until March the 9th. Bitch Boxer is about a female boxer who while training for the fight of her life, is left winded by two life-changing events. I asked this busy woman to tell me more about she got inspired to write a play about a female boxer and what it was like to do Caesar with an all-female cast. Here’s what she had to say:
HH: After looking at your Bio, you seem like quite the Renaissance woman. Director, writer, actress and even a saxophonist? How do you manage to balance them all?
CJ: Haha thanks very much. Yeah it’s hard work. I’ve been passionate about them all since I was little so I’ve had to get good at juggling. It used to bother me a lot when I was younger that I couldn’t pick one thing to pursue, particularly between acting and jazz, I was really passionate about both of them. One of my jazz-hero’s Clarke Tracey sat me down one day, whilst we were recording some stuff for a youth-jazz-group in Hertfordshire. I shared my fear that I was becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none, he said these days it’s better to be a jack of something than a master of fuck all. So yes, the work is hard and the hours are long but if you’ve got “the bug” in the first place you’ll get it done. The logistics of my time-management takes a lot of boring preparation and planning, I can’t be in two places at once so I often have to sacrifice things and that can be hard . For me the different titles are all the same, they all help and feed each other. For example I know from my experience of acting what makes a good script whilst writing. I can use my knowledge of music to “hear” the peaks and troths in a scene whilst directing.
HH: What inspired you to write and perform Bitch Boxer?
CJ: Boredom. A terrible boredom and a mad fear of not having a career in something I loved and had trained in for three years. The world isn’t waiting for me; there are plenty of other talented people out there to chose from. I wanted to perform, no one was giving the opportunity to, so I made one. I was lugging boxes into a storeroom at the coffee shop I worked in, when a passerby made a comment about me not looking very ladylike. For some reason the comment stung, and I wrote a rant on my phone on the way home that night.
It was a general moan about knowing I’m physically strong and yet living in a world where as a woman I’m meant to behave and look a certain way. A few days later I re-read it and tidied it up into a monologue, seeing a character really fighting for something she believed in. Then I read in a newspaper that women were boxing in the Olympics for the very first time. It all slotted into place. I developed it at the Soho Theatre Young Writer Labs and a scratch of it was performed there. I got good feedback so started writing more for it and I also started training at Islington Boxing Club for research. I fell madly in love with the sport. I applied for the Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh Season 2012 in collaboration with The Underbelly on the Ideastap website for a laugh the day before the deadline. I got short listed, auditioned and I won a spot on the season. Suddenly I was taking the play to the Fringe and had two months to build a team, finish writing it, find some cash and rehearse it. Working with Daniel Foxsmith, Bryony Shanahan, Seth Rook-Williams and Kay Ogundimu has been brilliant!
HH: What are some of the challenges of performing such a physical piece?
CJ: I’ve been training at Islington Boxing Club for a year now. I’m now a carded boxer, I’ve passed my medical test, the doc says I’m fit to fight. I’ve had to turn down opportunities to fight for IBC in London and internationally because they’ve clashed with Bitch Boxer or Julius Caesar performances. I get a lot of sparring at IBC and I feel ready for my first fight but obviously my career needs to come first right now. So the physical fitness from training definitely helps me in the play. Moving around a lot and speaking clearly can be tough, I think my saxophone playing maybe gives me the lungs for it. My main problem is letting the adrenaline and nerves take over and speaking too fast, Bryony Shanahan who directed Bitch Boxer has helped me find ways to stay calm and slow down. Snuff Box Theatre founder Daniel Foxsmith also reminded me to find the spaces in between the words, letting moments settle, this allows the audience a chance to catch up and also gives me a sneaky rest-breath or two! My mum reminds me often to eat well and sleep well. I drink gallons of water. But yeah, I’m generally a sweaty mess by the end of it.
HH: You said that you fell in love with the Islington Boxing Club while doing some hands-on research there, what did you find so exciting about your experience ?
CJ: I love it so much I’m still there at least three times a week. It was a huge surprise for me to fall in love with the sport and to find I’ve got some ability in it. Islington Boxing Club has a particularly warm and welcoming atmosphere, it’s a family run organisation which does a lot of community and charity work. I’ll admit I was surprised by how friendly, warm and welcoming I have found the boxing community considering it’s such a violent contact sport. I was writing the script whilst training so listening out for phrases and ways of speaking. There are so many sayings the coaches shout at you, things to do with the sport but they struck me as big beautiful metaphors for life. Like, “train hard, fight easy” , “go hard or go home” and “the harder I train, the luckier I get”.
The musicality of the gym, the sounds and the patterns of movement are beautiful and they’ve affected the speech-patterns I wrote the play in. I had never really paid attention to the sport before and I think boxing is beautiful to watch, it’s like a dance, like a game of physical chess. I think lads learn from a young age their own physical strength, by scrapping in the playground. It’s not ladylike to fight, so I’ve never known how strong I am, how hard I can punch, that’s been interesting to learn. Also taking a big hit on the chin during a sparring session and finding myself still standing, and throwing a shot back, was a nice surprise. The discipline it takes to be a boxer is hard work, but it’s carried through into other aspects of my life. Also I’ve never worked so hard in my life as I do when I’m training, it’s really intense. So setting yourself goals and pushing through to achieve them is a fantastic feeling, I leave the gym feeling tired but happy, much calmer and about 10-foot tall buzzing off endorphins.
HH: You’ve recently finished performing in the all-female production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse, can you describe the experience of working on such a notoriously masculine play? How was it to work with director Phyllida Lloyd ?
CJ: Julius Caesar has been my first proper paid acting job, and it’s been amazing. Working with giants like Dame Harriet Walter, Phyllida Lloyd, and Jennie Jules to name a few, and to find them really open and giving. We’ve had such a laugh, you wouldn’t believe the messing about that goes on before we walk on stage. It never bothered me that it was an all-female cast, I was just surprised it hadn’t been done before. It was amazing to work with a big group of strong women. I’ve learnt a lot, both personally as a woman and professionally as a performer. We didn’t want to pretend to be men, we wanted the audience to forget the gender and just think “oh that’s Brutus” not “oh that’s a woman, pretending to be a man called Brutus” . I got to play saxophone in it too, which was a nice treat. I don’t get to play as much as I’d like these days.
HH: The Julius Caesar production at the Donmar has been dubbed as one of the most important theatrical events of the year. Has performing in it inspired you to want to take on other famously male-dominated roles?
CJ: I think it’s great! Most classical female speeches are crap and most audition panels insist on women picking speeches written for women. Give me Mark Anthony or Mercutio over Portia or Juliet any day! Luckily there are some fantastic contemporary writers giving great speeches to women. I feel really proud and honoured that so many young actors have been in touch asking for bits of Bitch Boxer for their audition speeches. That’s one of the main reason I’ve chosen to get it published in time for the run at Soho.
HH: The Snuff Box Theatre Company ‘s aim is to “tell good stories” so what other stories can we expect to see in 2013?
CJ: We’ve recently been appointed the associate company at Redbridge Drama Centre and are developing new work there. The Altitude Brothers is our new piece, written by Daniel Foxsmith (who’s just about to return from a huge international tour with The Gruffalo) and directed by Bryony Shanahan and will be on at the Brighton Fringe in May. Bryony will have directed four shows due to be on at this year’s Brighton Fringe; Bitch Boxer and The Altitude Brothers with Snuff Box Theatre, You and Me with Little Solider Productions and also Chapel Street with Scrawl Theatre Company. Chapel Street will also be going on a Double-Bill-National-Tour with Bitch Boxer straight after our run at the Soho Theatre, which I’m really excited about!!
All dates and details: www.sohotheatre.com