One Thursday night in September 2011, I walked into the Math Lounge in Rockefeller Hall and recited a speech by Hephaestus from Book VIII of the Odyssey. Afterward, I talked about my previous experience with theatre, with creative writing, and with Greek Mythology. No, I said, I’d never written a play collaboratively before, but that sounded like a really exciting idea. The project for which I was auditioning would eventually become harlot/nun, an exploration of Artemis and Aphrodite as archetypes throughout recorded history. It was the first of eight shows I would create with the troupe that—though it was nameless then—came to be known as the Britomartis Devised Theatre Ensemble. College teaches us in diverse ways. Some of them are academic, but most are not. For all the classes I took, for all the lectures I attended and the articles that I read, it was Britomartis that taught me most. Britomartis taught me that the best way to read a text is not always isolated on a page. Sometimes the Faerie Queen makes most sense when followed by a Bikini Kill dance number. Sometimes Odysseus’ plea to Calypso sounds clearest at the end of a naturalis
tic living-room drama. Sometimes the only way to understand a poem is by speaking it aloud and letting yourself live the emotions it describes, or to transform it, cut it to pieces and remake it in a strange new way. I first encountered Paradise Lost in Sanders Classroom, but I learned it best in the Shiva Theater, as a rock-concert-music-videopuppet-show-camping-trip-balloon-animal adventure.
Britomartis taught me that art shouldn’t always be easy. Often, the most frustrating, difficult, heartbreaking moments are the ones that end up making the most meaningful theatre. I’ve talked for hours about whether a
scene should be realism or fantasy, about how furniture ought to be arranged onstage, about what the subtitle of a show should be. In every case, what felt like a useless diversion ended up making a stronger play. Once, we gave up on a project and started fresh halfway through a semester—that decision, too, made a stronger play. For three days during my junior year, we lived together in a TA, in character. We ate meals as our characters, told jokes as our characters, played board games as our characters. We embraced the dysfunctional relationships of our show, the addiction and aggression and contempt, and pushed them to the point where we couldn’t tell which feelings were fictional and which were real. It was, from one perspective, probably the worst idea we’ve ever had. It was also one of the greatest acting experiences of my life, and the honest emotion born from those days ended up giving us a powerful show and—though it certainly didn’t look that way at first—making us a stronger troupe. Most importantly, Britomartis taught me about depth. So often in our academic lives we encounter an emphasis on doing lots of things, on developing ourselves through
experiences of many different kinds. Yet sometimes we develop most through one experience, through finding one great thing and loving it with as much of ourselves as we can. I did a few other shows at Vassar; I worked on other extracurricular projects. But I gave my heart to one group of people, to one organization and one set of shows, and it was that love, more than anything else, that changed me over these four years. Britomartis is the Cretan goddess of fishing: her symbol is the net. For those of us in the troupe, this image carries several meanings. It represents the way we gather source material from literature, film, music, politics and our own lives. It represents the way we bind that material together into a single, cohesive whole. And now, for me, it represents the joy of finding something worthwhile and holding onto it tight. May the Goddess grant us all this favor: to find something worth loving, and to love it as deeply as we can.
— Derek Butterton is an English and Philosophy Major. He has been a member of the Britomartis Devised Theatre Ensemble since Fall 2011.