'Battle!' With Jeffery Da'Shade Johnson

May 24, 2017

If you go to two different performances of Battle!, there's a pretty good chance you're going to see two very different shows. And that's by design. Created by Jeffery Da'Shade Johnson, Battle! will feature a rotating lineup of performers, and will also evolve over time based on conversation with and input from the audience. 

"We start something at the first show, and if we have a completely eight-armed artistic beast by the sixth show that works, I want that," says Johnson. "And I want the audience to be the driving factor. [With] small inputs from each of the five previous shows, by the time we get to sixth show if we have something that doesn't look like the first show, I'm happy with that. And if it looks exactly like the first show, I'm also happy with that."

Johnson's desire is to bring together diverse artists and start a conversation between those artists and the audience itself. "It's such a rare opportunity to sit in a room and connect with people," he says. For Johnson, after-show talkbacks are great, but not enough. "We're going to try to keep an interactive relationship with the  audience throughout the show. Not just after the show, throughout the show."

Battle!'s lineup will change from show to show, but it'll always include hip-hop, dancing, spoken word, and a special focus on stage combat, the speciality of Johnson's production company Cry Havoc Action Choreography. He's hoping to re-introduce their brand of stage combat to Austin with this show. "Cry Havoc Action Choreography hasn't been onstage since about 2007... and that's due to us all of us just being busy," Johnson says. "It's not just myself -- it's Brian "Tree" Fisher, John Satberry, Da'Mon Stith, and myself. All four of us come together like Voltron and we're Cry Havoc Action Choreography. And we wanted to put that back on display and actually use it in a manner to empower and provide catharsis."

Fighting the good fight is the theme of Battle!. "I don't think it's a bad thing for us to fight," says Johnson. "Especially when there's injustice, especially when people feel they don't have a voice. It's funny that people don't fight for fear of ridicule. People will let things happen to them because they don't want to be ridiculed for fighting against it."

Battle! is onstage at the Austin School of Film through June 3.