“Imagine I give you the 100 percent undiluted apple juice. What happens now? You have already suffered.”
Last Saturday, the student theater troupe Britomartis presented “Shitty Little Umbrella,” a show created and devised by the collaborative effort of all 12 members. The organization writes, organizes and performs a production every semester. Its theme and style vary each time, depending on the group composition and dynamics.
Britomartis consists of a diverse ensemble of artists and welcomes all modes of creative talents: actors, writers, directors and musicians. Biology major Megan de Koning ’18 has been part of Britomartis since her very first semester at Vassar. She described the group as a non-hierarchical society, commenting in an emailed statement, “I think we change our process every semester to suit the needs and strengths of the group so I really can’t say that we divide up the labour at all.”
Music major Ari Bell ’18 has been involved with the organization for a year. He spoke of what led him to join Britomartis through email: “I’d seen a couple of their prior shows and really fell in love with how quirky and poetic their shows were. I was also looking for a way to synthesize my interests in writing and theatrical performance, and Brito seemed like the perfect outlet to explore alternative ways of expression.”
Britomartis attracts students from across all majors and class years. Their different personalities interact and result in innovative and unique projects.
The opportunity for creativity drew many members to the group. Elinor Qiao ’20 expressed her appreciation for the diversified voices and inclusiveness of Britomartis, stating, “We are all different people with different ideas coming together and the process of seeing how those ideas blend together is fascinating. Also there’s no fixed role in the group. You are given the chance to try out everything and to explore all aspects of theater and better understand different perspectives.”
She continued, “We are the rule breaker for traditional theater. We are the proof that a clear hierarchical division of roles is not a necessity for the theater making process.”
The whimsical nature of the group is shown through its members. Studio art major Lilly Yichan Wang ’18 defined Britomartis in her unique way via email, “We’re actually an oreo-centric cult that worships the moon goddess who is the guardian of chaotic nights and last-minute-all-improvised-theatre production. My personal experience in performing this piece is that all of mankind should kiss the ground I walk on and plant flowers there, because why not, we need more vegetation.”
In addition to the creativity Brito affords members, it also allows them to gain a wide range of experiences.
Sabrina Surgil ’21 acknowledged that she joined during her first year because of her interests in acting and writing and Britomartis provides a platform for both.
She expressed her love for the group, especially their unique perspectives and energy. She remarked in an emailed statement, “My favorite memory, though, is probably the time we had tried to plan a group camping trip (gramping) but ended up stargazing at the farm. We watched a meteor shower together, and it was so beautiful.”
Britomartis brings much laughter during rehearsals and unexpected moments often spring from meetings. De Koning shared, “I have so many beautiful memories of Britomartis! I remember hammering the rice, and playing miniature tanks, and fur coats and crystal flutes, and howling to lady moon.”
Bell disclosed that preparing for the show has been a magical ongoing process. During the start of the semester, members met to brainstorm and gradually assembled a script. He highlighted that the production went through many changes before the show: “Performing this particular piece was in many ways a hectic process. Our original concept for the show was ‘Lost and found,’ and each of us brought a very different perspective to that theme, making the synthesis part of the semester particularly difficult.”
He elaborated, “I think what allowed our show to come to life was freeing ourselves from very specific and personal concepts of what our show might be about, and instead embracing the absurdity of our world and exploring our texts and ideas through that lens of a world where anything can happen.”
The show on Saturday emphasized audience participation. Spectators were free to move across two rooms and a hallway, choosing the scenes they want to see at will. Sometimes they are asked to draw an umbrella on the wall; sometimes they are handed a balloon to toss around; sometimes they are invited into the crowd dancing and carousing.
After her first Brito show, Surgil noted, “Performing this show was so different than anything I had ever done. It was a very unorthodox but rewarding experience, and I’m excited for the future.”
As a tight-knit group, Britomartis holds a lasting impact on its members even after they graduate. Sarah Noschese ’17 returned to campus and shared her reaction watching the performance from the perspective of a former member.
She commented in written statement, “The thoughts and feelings I have from last night’s performance can’t all be put into words, but their show was a work of beauty they brought into the world. It was refreshing and genuine and stirring and fun and relatable and ridiculous because it came from people who are such. It was a celebration of theatre and whimsy and life, and I’m so glad I’ve got to be in the audience to experience it.”