Out of the 62 colleges and universities in Louisiana, Jennifer Bouquet came to Southeastern Louisiana University last fall in order to fill an opening and strengthen the theatre department. “What I enjoy about the department is it’s kind of small, and there’s the potential to have the major by next year,” she said. “I’ve been given the opportunity to come in and give you guys the best education I possibly can.”
Bouquet believes even though Southeastern does not have a theatre major, she is thrilled to contribute her unique vision and style to the students. “My technique is different than the other instructors here, and I’m giving everyone an extra tool in theatre to further their skills and techniques.”
After she earned her undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University in 2010, Bouquet began looking for positions in the talented arts with major difficulty. “Life happened, and I took jobs which didn’t have anything to do with theatre, and didn’t give me the opportunity to act,” she said. Upon rejection from several interviews in order to teach talented theatre around local parishes, Bouquet realized despite her experience, she lacked the necessary credentials to do so. “A lot of what I needed to do was based off of getting an MFA.”
In order to procure this crucial document, Bouquet knew the best place was across the pond. “Going to school in England was kind of a dream,” she said. “I had gone there when I was in my undergrad, stayed there for two and a half months and fell in love.” The school she attended in England was East 15 Acting, and it is the only institution in London which offered an MFA as the terminal degree. “I had a private audition with one of the East 15 faculty members in Nashville, and then I went to audition for two more schools in Chicago.”
By the start of the following week, Bouquet received her acceptance letter to East 15. “It was cheaper for me to go to a two-year university in London than it was for me to go an out-of-state university for three years in the United States of America, so it was kind of a big push for me.”
Last semester in the spring, Bouquet helmed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, which she described as “a huge undertaking for a smaller, personal show,” and saw it in person during her undergraduate career in 2007.
“It spoke to me artistically in the way it was written, but also spiritually in what I was going through at the time,” she said. “It epitomized what I felt about my faith, and it still challenges me and the ideals I believe in. We are taken outside of our comfort zones; if it challenges you, it’s going to reiterate your strength and opinion in what you’re saying.” Bouquet believed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is the epitome of what a good show is and chose this production as her first show because of the journey which resonated throughout.
“Jenn motivated me to hone my craft and enhance my skills,” said Madison Paulus, stage manager of the play. “It was my biggest challenge yet, although she made it a truly memorable process.”
The production ran during the first week of April and was very successful for Southeastern theatre. Furthermore, two of her students, Alexis Durante and Shelly Sneed, won the Vonnie Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, in May.
“When she announced my name at the ceremony, it felt like a dream; I was in complete shock,” said Sneed. With the show officially concluded, Bouquet reflected on any changes she would have made.
“Anything can be improved; nothing is perfect, especially in the theatre world,” she said. “The part which was lacking for me was the production side of things. If I had more time, I would have given my designers a clearer picture of what I wanted.”
Other elements Bouquet felt needed more attention to detail included the costumes, set design and props. As for the acting, she said, “You can always find new nuances even if it looked perfect.” Despite these flaws, she is satisfied overall with her show.
Recently, Bouquet directed A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Romeo and Juliet with the 30xNinety Theatre in Mandeville and described her personal connection with William Shakespeare. “I love Shakespeare, but originally, I was so scared of it before I went to graduate school,” she said. “I wanted more of a classical training, and I’m the type of person where if I’m afraid of something, then I want to face it.” Bouquet thought if she didn’t study Shakespeare, she would have cut a whole genre of plays from her career, and felt the Bard was timeless and relevant as his works are always being performed.
“We did a two-week internship at the Globe, and I had a four-hour session with Giles Block who is the Master of Text for the theatre in London; when I had this revelation, I knew his plays were meant to be seen, not read, and you have to take it from an actor’s point of view.”
Also, Bouquet played the role of Innogen in Alpha Psi Omega’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and created a “Shakespeare intensive” in order to help her fellow cast mates understand the material. “I wanted them to have something to take home and reference so they wouldn’t forget what they learned during rehearsal.”
Some of Bouquet’s biggest inspirations are Sonia Ritter, Tracy Collier and Christina Gutekunst who taught her acting, laban and voice respectively. “Anyone who pushes me to do better and challenges me to be better is an inspiration to me,” she said. Bouquet has encouraged her students to create a character instead of copying iterations from other actors. “In order to fully captivate the audience with my role in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, I wrote five full pages because of Jenn’s influence,” said Durante. “It helped me craft a backstory for my character which made my performance stronger.”
Having spent a full year on Southeastern’s campus, Bouquet plans to stay to help nurture the talent she has seen. “I’ve gained relationships with a lot of the students, and a lot of the stuff I do is because of the students,” she said. “Students don’t deserve any less of an education just because we’re not LSU.”
In just a short amount of time, Bouquet has grown as an actor and instructor and is constantly inspiring young minds who return the favor. “Students teach me as much as I teach them, if not more.”