Field Work: Inside Vile Bodies

Image Credit: David Mentuccia

Photography by David Mentuccia/Poster Design by Sofia Benitez

Vile Bodies was written by Evelyn Waugh. But it was reimagined, transformed and brought to Vassar by Britomartis. On November 21st and 22nd, Rocky became something other than what it is. Academic space hosted savage parties, waterfalling, and drag races. The deposed King of Ruritania reworked Kesha’s Blow, and as all things do, this story too ended at Bacio’s. Well, at least one of them did.

Part of the process of deconstruction, not only of the text’s narrative, but of broader conventions, inspired the team to elaborate a scheme in which the stage was not one, but three separate spaces. Within these settings, other environments emerged with each coming scene. The notion of ‘backstage’ dissolved so that all characters were ever present in the storyline, whether they merged with the audience or ad libbed throughout the night.

Each actor’s arc was run three times per show, so that at the production’s end we had created, essentially, nine different plays. I say different because we deliberately made changes fueled by intuition. Change turned into the constant that propelled us forward in discovering the hues and textures of our characters. Each showing was so spontaneous, so dynamic, that the energy that traveled among the bodies at Rocky was almost inebriating. We danced with the audience and had them hold our shoes, they read aloud poetry and poured drinks.

As a devised theatre ensemble, Britomartis collages other texts and productions into its works. Artists like Frost and Kesha coexisted, and the most frivolous of college life exemplifications spoke to thorough existentialist deliberations. There are no hierarchies of knowledge, only snapshots of experience. Even graphs made an appearance, illustrating the ratio of fun to time, with allusions that were too, too Vassar and too, too real.

Coming up with what the show would be was nothing if the result of hours of awareness. We were constantly making connections and watching the way in which we navigate distinct spaces, generating scenes or symbols rescued from memories of everything from past shows to classes we enjoy. This sense of presence allowed us to speak directly to what the Vassar culture entails from our perspective, not as outsiders, but from a deeply immersed standpoint. We delved into the words, the people, the places of our realities.

Once we felt confident with the structure we had to gain an audience, and what better way to achieve that than by strategically placing flyers between bagels? Of course this never happened but I firmly believe it would’ve worked too. What we did do was to flood Yik Yak with what escalated to nonsensical uses of hashtags. What is #TooTooShaming? is a phrase the cast became only too happy to hear. The hashtag, an expression used for the publicity of the show, made its way to napkin dispensers and social media. This dialect didn’t only belong to the 20s society of decadence, but to a contemporary culture where new information is assimilated at ridiculously high rates. Quarter sheets with David Mentuccia’s photography featuring the cast were as ubiquitous and foreboding as any obscure figment of artistry can be.

Britomartis extended its outreach to the press, with Simeon Bea crafting a story for The Chronicle titled ‘EMS party leaves two dead, 17 wounded.’ This appearance on print was a metaphor that transcended the theater to illustrate the outrage and debauchery of the play’s protagonists, The Bright Young Things. It was almost as if the contemporariness of the show’s discourse was made tangible, indiscernible from the ‘outside’ world.

Chastity, the fallen angel that I played, wonders at one point ‘how much of it was real.’ My answer is every bit of it. The surrealism of eclectic rhythms of life, the idealized romanticism, the notion of impermanence and oblivion. In what sometimes seems to be an emotional wasteland of ‘repetition and succession of mass humanity,’ we can strive to not only find, but create meaning. It’s intricate and demanding but fulfilling like nothing else can be.

Among the things I have understood from the process, and the ones that have yet to settle in after the play converges with the past, lies the intrinsic understanding of the theatre’s power to elate. I have questioned, explored, and expanded my perception in ways that are as scary as they are exhilarating. And that’s exactly how it feels when I engage in what I consider to be worthwhile and meaningful.

Vile Bodies lives not only in November 21st and 22nd forever, but in each apple, card game, and tree of our lives. It’s there when we swipe at the Deece or get garlic knots. I can’t help thinking Ginger must’ve been a great pomeranian. And in the words of Provna, I firmly believe that ‘all of us, we are sculptors.’

Steven Williams’ fabulous photos of the play can be accessed here.

Cast: Simeon Bea as Evelyn Waugh, Sofi Bee as Chastity, Derek Butterton as Adam Fenwick Symes, Liam Collier as the Drunk Major, Megan de Koning as Agatha Runcible, Gabi Mintz as Laina, Sarah Noschese as Nina Blount, Kevin Ritter as The Deposed King of Ruritania, Christine Silviera as Lana, and Irene Tait as Simon and Provna.

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