The Cannibal Valour Evening of Entertainments 2014

This year we are proud to unleash a new incarnation of the Cannibal Valour, the inaugural Cannibal Valour Evening of Entertainments.

Whilst the Rep Season consists of multiple plays in multiple productions performed in repertory with a single cast, the Evening of Entertainments combines multiple plays sequentially into a single production, performed on a single night, with a single cast. The inaugural Evening of Entertainments will include the first modern performance of The Soddered Citizen, a 17th Century play thought lost for centuries, written by a highwayman sentenced to hang (John Clavell). The handwritten manuscript was discovered in 1936, and the production script has been personally transcribed from the original by Artistic Director Brice Stratford.

The Soddered Citizen will be bookended with Harlequin Sheppard, an 18th Century silent comedy, written for display at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane after the execution of Jack Sheppard in 1724 and never performed since, alongside the 10th Century originator of all religious drama, the Visitatio Sepulchri.

Performance dates, cast and venue have yet to be announced. As usual, the performance blog here will be the first place updated, and the first to receive news.

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First Meetings

by Rosalyn Mitchell (Tamyra)

Our brave band — well, many of us, at any rate — first gathered at a pub in Victoria Park. (Side note: if you’re new to London, like me, and you need to go to a pub in Victoria Park, come from any direction except Homerton. Live and learn.) I arrived somewhat nervous, of course. First rehearsals are always nerve-racking, and this more than most—this was to be my first production in Britain, everyone in the room was a stranger to me, we had not yet received scripts, and I had been given some vague impression that I might be in a leading role in the first show of the season. Add to this the image of our director I had pieced together from his online footprint (part Shakespeare scholar, part combat expert, part madman), and it can be no surprise that I walked into the rehearsal wary.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone was friendly and, more than that, compatible—logical enough, I suppose, given that we’re all the sorts of people willing to commit the rest of our year to this particular project. Brice described it in an early email to us as “quixotic.” It takes people of a certain mentality to sign up for five months of quixotic Jacobean theatre.

When we were all assembled, Brice walked us down the road to our rehearsal space, an abandoned Victorian school to which we have access 24/7 for the next few weeks. We settled into the pews in the school chapel and talked through the basics of the plan, which seems to translate roughly to “THERE WILL BE BLOOD AND RAISING OF THE DEVIL. Also, does anyone have any percussion experience? How about costuming?”

It did rapidly become clear that Brice knows exactly what he’s doing, the scripts do exist, we have a very-professional-seeming movement director (on whom I expect to depend heavily), and the energy in the room will be one in which rashly idealistic classical actors can easily bond and thrive. If we’re mad, at least we’re all mad together.

We eventually retired to the pub, where we chatted enthusiastically into the night about Bussy D’Ambois, fantasy novels, the Church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields and its reverend, Alan Carr (saved in Brice’s phone, he informs us, as “Rev. A. Carr”), ghosts, our families, and what happens if you raise the devil on stage in a church. (Does Reverend Carr know we’re planning this??) Talking with the clever, shining men and women with whom I will spend the rest of the year, I found myself swept up far more forcefully than I had expected, not exactly by the cast itself but by the process of theatre, the jumping in, the trust that yes, we can take three utterly unknown classical texts and make them not merely intelligible but ecstatic.

It was rather like falling in love.

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Audition (2)

by Rosalyn Mitchell (Tamyra)

 

There’s a certain type of audition I think any actors reading would recognize. It’s the audition for the project you know you want, the project that feels like it was created for you, the project you can’t let yourself think about too much because it doesn’t serve you to become invested in a job you don’t have. This kind of audition is rare and wonderful and terrifying.

My audition for Cannibal Valour was not this kind of audition.

It was another familiar type – the audition for the project you’re so utterly unsure about that you’re still debating canceling the audition the morning of. The project you’re not convinced you’d accept even if it were offered to you.

The casting notice for Cannibal Valour included all sorts of scary words like “immersive theatre”, “improvisation”, “devising”, and “audience interaction”. Faced with such threats, my normal instinct is to flee as far and as fast as possible. I like scripts and fourth walls. They keep us all safe.

But there was something about the breakdown that pulled at me. Perhaps it was the extremity of the role I submitted for – “part includes explicit onstage torture, intense mourning over lover’s corpse, and simulated, stylized sex (no nudity)”. (That’s something, at least.) Perhaps it was the total obscurity of the material. It may have been the simple summation, “This will be unlike anything you’ve done before.”

I chose to submit for the project.

I did not cancel my audition.

Upon arriving, I was presented with a page of text from The Unfortunate Mother and sent off to read through it a few times with Oliver Maxwell-Smith, one of the actors in the company. The first hurdle was adjusting my brain to the writing – spelling and punctuation weren’t really a thing yet at the time, and unlike Shakespeare, Nabbes hasn’t been standardized for modern readers. But once I’d cleared that, the rest was easy. Just text. Not particularly hard text. Oliver and I read through the scene for Brice, the director, and that was that.

The audition invitation had said to bring a classical monologue if we had one, and not to worry if we didn’t. I don’t really have a classical monologue at the moment. I’m bored with overexcited Imogen and don’t like manufacturing the dramatic start to Isabella, and I haven’t yet found anything I’m really happy with to replace them. I’ve been playing around a bit with Olivia – she has a speech I quite enjoy, but it requires handing a ring to someone halfway through, making it awkward for auditions. But hey, I had thought, I nearly canceled this one anyway, what better opportunity to test this speech and see how it goes? If I tank it and lose the project, oh well. So when Brice asked if I had a classical monologue, I said yes.

Don’t ignore our setting, he said. We’re in the basement of a pub. Be in the basement of a pub. Don’t perform your piece. Just speak it, the way you would say these things if you were with two strangers in the basement of a pub, which you are. This is how the productions are going to be. We will always be actors on a stage; we will never ask our audience to treat us as anything else. Be where you are, and speak the speech.

So I did. I ran into a little trouble when Oliver, to whom I had planned to give the ring, got up and left right before it was time to do that, but serves me right for not telling him I was using him. Overall, though, it went all right. I’d say it went all right.

Sitting opposite Brice a moment later, I found myself fighting an impulse to tell him why I was there, why I wanted to do this project at all, and realized to my surprise that I did in fact want to do the project. Precisely because it won’t be safe. Because sometimes safety is overrated, and I don’t want to spend my whole life doing safe art. There’s a marvelous line from the Canadian television program Slings and Arrows: “It is my belief that the best stuff happens just before the thread snaps.”

Not able to meet his eyes, I looked down at the ring on my hand and managed, “I’m very interested in what you’re doing.” It felt wholly insufficient.

I stepped out into the sunshine wondering what that audition had even been about. How well I handle text, it seemed. Ha. Text is what I’m good at. Nothing I did in the pub that day could have told Brice anything about how well I handle devising and improvisation, let alone onstage torture, mourning, or sex. It certainly didn’t tell me anything about how I handle those things. I still have yet to find out. But I guess it was enough, because five days later, I received an email offering me the very role in question.

Funny how so often it’s the auditions you almost cancel that yield the most amazing jobs.

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To sort the Wheat from the Chaff

 

To Whom It May Concern,

 

If you’re receiving this it means you’ve been shortlisted for the Owle Schreame theatre company’s 2013 Cannibal Valour rep season.

A little about the project:

We are looking for artistic and practical collaborators, not just actors. The season will belong to us all as an ensemble, and though I’ll be directing we will all take a measure of responsibility for every aspect of production – not just one’s own little niche.

We as a single cast will eventually be performing three plays alongside each other, beginning with one in September (while we rehearse the second), adding that second in for October (while we rehearse the third) then completing the mix in November. We may prepare a small, informal fourth show for one or two performances in December, also. The ensemble will be encouraged to record their personal experiences, and the aim is that the production blog is updated by alternating members of the company, providing a unique record of the process and production.

The official production run is from Friday the 13th (September) to Friday the 13th (December), but there may be a few preview shows before we open and rehearsals through August.

In terms of performances, time commitment is quite small. At most there will be 4 performances in a week, spread over three days (Thu, Fri, Sat with a matinee), though in practise most weeks have only two or three scheduled, and some only one. We will, however, be rehearsing for the next show on non production days.

This is a wildly ambitious season of work, which will quite literally be making history. It is not going to be polished or slick; it will be raw, ramshackle and risky. It might not work. Two of these plays will be performed for the first time ever, whilst the third for only the second time in living memory. All will be performed at the burial site of their authors. We are receiving no funding, and in the (very) unlikely event any profit is made from ticket sales (they are only £5 each) it will go towards building a memorial to these forgotten playwrights and our productions of their work. We will be publishing our production scripts, with full cast lists and rehearsal notes – these will be available from Amazon for the foreseeable future, followed by our full-cast audioplay recordings of the productions.

As part of the jig and finale for each play we will pass hats around the audience, encouraging donations. At the end of every week these donations will be divided up equally amongst the cast as remuneration. Everyone (everyone) involved is involved on a voluntary basis (even the venue is provided at cost), with these donations a happy bonus. The audience capacity is 300 (we will probably never sell out).

Our priority is not financial, and I am prepared for the production to run at a (complete) loss. This season is being produced out of a Quixotic belief in the artistic and historical importance of keeping these plays alive – of raising the dead. Tickets are cheap, and many will be free (though for those that want them there a few £20 tickets for seats onstage) – our aim is to build an audience, to get these seen. Success will be judged by the intensity of applause.

This will be like nothing you’ve ever done. Often, throughout rehearsals and performances, you’ll be angry, scared, unhappy. Often you’ll be ecstatic, excited, enthused. It will not be easy, but it will be fun, and it will be important. You will be making history.

I understand that with this in mind you may not want or be able to be involved, and if this is the case I understand completely and wish you the best of luck.

If with all this in mind you are still interested in auditioning then please take a look around: http://www.CannibalValour.com

If you’re still eager, reply to this message – tell me why you want to be a part of this, and what your availability is like to audition this week (Wednesday/Thursday, specifically) in East London.  Attached is a performance calendar and a flyer.

 

Regards,

Brice Stratford

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It Begins.

 

Three intensely obscure 400 year old plays.

Two of them World Premieres.

 All performed on the Authors graves.

 No funding except for an overdraft, no help except for what’s offered for free.

My Assistant Director quit ignominiously a week ago, a trail of unfinished work in his wake.

 I am now alone.

 This is the first entry in the production blog for the Cannibal Valour Rep Season 2013.

 It is a ridiculous project, and in the unlikely event it is successful will be so against all odds.

 I’ve transcribed the scripts from the original publications, I’ve arranged the venue (The Poets Church, St Giles-in-the-Fields, near Tottenham Court Road tube), I’ve spent too much on instruments and weaponry, and I’ve got 500 applications from various artists who think (poor fools) that they want to be involved.

 

I am homeless, currently.

 

Next come the auditions. We’ll spend August rehearsing the first play (Bussy D’Ambois), opening in September. Between shows we’ll rehearse the second (The Unfortunate Mother), incorporating that in October as we rehearse the third and final (Honoria and Mammon) which opens November. We might throw in some Mystery Plays at Christmas for good measure.

 

All three (or more) will share a single cast, and play alongside each other.

 

We open and close on Friday the 13th.

 

 

We need all the help we can get.

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