Devised theater troupe Britomartis focuses on family ties

Britomartis, Vassar's devised theater group, has produced a new play that focuses on various, and sometimes problematic, iterations of family relationships. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.
Britomartis, Vassar's devised theater group, has produced a new play that focuses on various, and sometimes problematic, iterations of family relationships. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.
Britomartis, Vassar’s devised theater group, has produced a new play that focuses on various, and sometimes problematic, iterations of family relationships. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.

Part classic American family drama, and part murder mystery, this semester the Britomartis Devised Theater Ensemble will examine family dynamics in their show Game Night: A Three Act Tragedy.

The show will premiere on Friday, Nov. 22 at 8:00p.m., in the Kenyon Club Room, with additional performances on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 8:00 p.m.

Game Night: A Three Act Tragedy is centered on the theme of family dynamics, including sibling bonds, unconditional love, grief, family activities and addiction.

The show is about a family: four siblings, two cousins and two family friends who are stuck in a house together, and the mayhem that ensues. The show explores the different traumatic experiences in the family members’ lives and how they, collectively, remake the image of their family.

Britomartis is a devised theater troupe that works collaboratively and non-hierarchically to co-write and co-direct theatrical productions. Through a process of storytelling, trying out different activities and working in-group improvisation, the ensemble troupe of thirteen members—eight of whom are actors—created a fictional family in their sixth production.

Along with drawing on different cultural traditions and the works of Shakespeare and the Fairie Queene, the show is grounded in the members’ personal family experiences and lives. Lyla Porter-Follows ’14 said, “We all have families. The family we created is not representative of any of our families, but certain themes and ideas, or situations that are really different from our own experiences that we are fascinated about and we wanted to try to explore.” She continued, “[This] was a fun way to reflect on what we have or have not lived through, and hear stories from our peers”

Utilizing oral tradition, storytelling and memory to create Game Night: A Three Act Tragedy, Britomartis engaged in a series of modules to create an authentic perspective.

“We had to break into small groups and tell silly family anecdotes to people in our small group, and then come back into the larger group and trade stories in some sort of different way in order to present the story in a different perspective. On another day I asked everyone to come to rehearsal as if they were little kids, so we were at a summer camp and some people were camp counselors who made us do activities, and some people were ten year olds, and six years old, and that was kind of hilarious and fun. One day we just told stories in the dark, in character, trying to play it out, and that actually ended up being brought in the show in the end, and we never know what we are going to do, but we always throw a lot out there, and take away just pieces of it,” explained Porter-Follows.

The show questions the idea of family, and what qualifies a group of people to be considered a family, especially if this qualification should be limited to individuals who are related by blood or by choice.

While exploring this difficult question, the troupe engaged in many discussions about gender, race and class, and how these issues will be addressed in the production.

“We jump into these characters’ mindsets and become these people for the day, which is very scary, but I also think this allowed us to feel connected to the characters in the show, and this might not have happened if we had actually lived their life for a couple of days, so we are all very connected to what we are producing,” explained Andrea Negrete ’15.

The show explores the tension between tragedy and comedy, as well as the duality of realism and absurdity.

“We entered this process thinking we will come out with this realistic, naturalistic style, and that is not what we have come to, but I think we have something really fun, and it has these naturalistic moments but also super absurd moments. We like to think we are taking the audience on a journey through genre,” said Corrine Hastings ’14.

The play, which is set in a house, discusses what families do with each other when they are actually living in the same space.

“The artists and designers have created the physical environment of what this family home looks like. We really want to think about what stuff is in the room, and the texture of that space, so it has been really cool to have our artists and designers go out and find things for that space” said Porter-Follows.

All of the characters are relatively close in age, ranging from 20 years old to 30 years old. Two of the characters in the show are away at college, and they must deal with family relations when they come home for break.

“There is so much you are learning [in college] and your views are being changed of the world, and you’re coming back to something that you thought you have known so well, and something that may have been constant in your life, and how do you react to that?” Negrete mentioned.

“It is easy to be here and forget about your family, and that they exist, and how you relate to them, especially when you go back home,” continued Negrete.

The Britomartis ensemble troupe hopes to break down family clichés by presenting a story rooted in honesty and reality. “Hopefully, it will inspire people to call their mom or their dad, or even share a story with a friend,” said Negrete.

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