Britomartis creates novel pastiche

Britomartis’ cast of actor-directors will present their fall production, “Vile Bodies,” at the end of November. The members devised the show, adding their own flare and interpretation to the themes of Evelyn Waugh’s novel. courtesy of David Mentuccia
Britomartis’ cast of actor-directors will present their fall production, “Vile Bodies,” at the end of November. The members devised the show, adding their own flare and interpretation to the themes of Evelyn Waugh’s novel. courtesy of David Mentuccia
Britomartis’ cast of actor-directors will present their fall production, “Vile Bodies,” at the end of November. The members devised the show, adding their own flare and interpretation to the themes of Evelyn Waugh’s novel. Photo by: David Mentuccia

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but for the Britomartis Devised Theatre Ensemble, ten directors can produce a cohesive pastiche. Combining materials from novels and stories with their own content and ideas, on Nov. 21 and 22, the troupe will stage their first show of the year at 8 p.m. on Friday and 5 and 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Kevin Ritter ’15 has been working with Britomartis since the beginning of his freshman year and wrote in an emailed statement about the theatre organization.

He wrote, “Working in a devising context is always a pleasure, and it’s been really exciting to work with this group… I often blend sound design, performing, and writing in my solo work, and Britomartis is similarly structured. I love that Britomartis allows its members the freedom to work in multiple modes.”

He continued, “My other theatrical projects…can be seen as continuations of the questions that I ask in rehearsal with Britomartis: ‘How can we push ourselves and our performances?’ ‘What haven’t I seen on a stage?’ ‘What seems impossible?’ Britomartis has created a great space for collective theatrical risk.”

Some of the ensemble’s original shows in the recent past include “HEAR HERE,” “A Totally Real True-to-Life Play,” and “Game Night: A Three-Act Tragedy.” Ritter expanded on Britomartis’s most recent show, emphasizing the breadth of their form and content. “Last semester, we attempted an adaptation of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ which seemed fairly daunting,” he wrote. “After all, it is one of the most canonical pieces of English literature, in addition to parts of it, let’s be frank, being quite boring.”

Echoing Ritter’s sentiments, Sofia Benitez ’18 added that the deviation from the definitive roles of a cast member, director or stage manager make for a nontraditional first theatrical experience at Vassar.

She wrote in an emailed statement, “I love that the [actor/director] roles are outlined but not restrictive, so leadership is in a constant flux. We started from reading a text and throwing around ideas, exploring a narrative that really spoke to us.”

She continued, stating that the cooperative nature of the show makes it both belong to everyone while having personal significance. Benitez wrote, “It’s gotten to a point where I feel that this story is truly ours, We’ve put so much of ourselves into it, and the elements in the show embody strong messages that have taken different meanings as the story evolves.”

The non-hierarchical and collaborative group has been producing shows in the Vassar theater community since Spring 2011. The organization’s first show was “Letters in the Pink and Grey”. Their upcoming performance will be Britomartis’s eighth show since their conception.

One of the cast members, who all also double as a director, Derek Butterton ‘15 described the show in an emailed statement, explaining, “The show is a loose adaptation of/reaction to Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel, Vile Bodies.

The show addresses diverse topics, including party culture, the nature of authorship, the horrors of war and the failures of romance in the modern age. We chose to write a show around Vile Bodies because we felt that the novel, though set in the 1920s, bears revealing similarities to our world today. We wanted to look for the parallels between London’s Bright Young Things and contemporary Vassar students.”

Ritter wrote about the goal of the show as well, “This semester… we’ve decided to push ourselves in another way: by performing the piece simultaneously in three different spaces on the third floor of Rocky. We hope that the fast-paced, frenetic experience that the audience has will evoke the sensation of reading Waugh’s amazing novel.”

Butterton added, “Every Britomartis show is like nothing we’ve ever done before. For this production, the most striking difference is probably the structure of the show, which is radically unlike anything we’ve previously attempted. Without giving too much away, I think it’s safe to say that watching this show will be an extremely novel experience.” This novel experience for the audience applies to the cast members’ involvement in this new and different show as well.

“It’s been like nothing and everything I’ve done before because it’s about bringing together the thoughts, images, passages, words and feelings from our experiences and crafting them into something meaningful. Our bodies and minds become the tools we use to devise a piece. We keep building upon concepts, find motifs and weave the stories of characters that I’ve come to care about immensely,” wrote Benitez.

Even for Ritter, a veteran of the ensemble, Vile Bodies is a produciton which has forced him out of his comfort zone.

Ritter stated, “I’m personally trying to push myself with this show, taking on several artistic genres that I don’t quite feel comfortable in. I don’t want to give it all away, but you will definitely see me dancing!”

Vile Bodies, the only student-devised show on campus this fall, was designed to be not only exciting to watch, but also thought-provoking.

“I wouldn’t say that the show has any one message that it’s trying to get across. Instead, it’s an exploration of various issues that bear some relation to our lives today. We want to make our audience members think–not just during the performance, but afterward, the next time they pick up a novel, go to a TH party or check the news on their phones,” Butterton wrote.

Benitez commented as well on the aspect of their show that she most wants the audience to take away.

“I’m most excited about the way the audience will interpret something we have become so familiar with, and the ways in which our discourse directly addresses modern day Vassar. It hits so close to home in every way, so it’s exciting as much as it is deeply personal,” she said in an emailed statement.

As the show is very much a hodgepodge of topics and interests, Butterton maintained that there will be something for everyone, noting that he and his fellow cast members are looking forward to their performance and to presenting Vassar with their work. Butterton commented, “It’s a fun show and you should come see it! There are waterfalls, jokes, zeppelins, broken hearts, Kit Kat bars, and parties. Lots and lots of parties.”

Nonetheless, each actor has a different part of the show, they are particularly excited about. With a hint of mystery, Benitez wrote, “[The audience] should be incredibly excited about chairs.”

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