Eme Paschalides, a member of the Better Read Than dead drama society, reveals how the group’s recent public performance came about.
Please give me some background to your theatrical group.
The Better Read Than Dead Society was formed in September 2005 by my husband Philip and myself. It is an experimental drama group, which meets once a month to read a range of plays from classical to obscure. Because the Island is small and has a limited number of cultural events, you can’t go to the theatre and see a play whenever you feel like it. The society gives people the opportunity to acquaint themselves with a play that they may not otherwise see performed in Cayman. Occasionally, members of the group hold lively staged readings in public with the idea that a play is better read than dead, an expression inspired by The Globe Theatre in London. Roles for actors and actresses are pulled out of a hat and participants read their lines for the first time at the actual performance.
Why did you choose to perform The Bald Soprano by Ionesco?
Plays performed are, whenever possible, those which the audience will be less familiar with, like works by Moliere, Pirandello, Stoppard and Durrenmatt. Eugene Ionesco is one of the foremost playwright of the Theatre of the Absurd, an avant-garde phenomenon of the Theatre which developed from the late 1940s to the 1960s. The Bald Soprano is a good introduction to this genre because it is short and not too difficult to follow. It also has the right number of characters for our group and no demanding tricky scene changes.
Why was it particularly appealing to your group?
It did not originally appeal to everyone in our group. This play is challenging if you are not familiar with this theatrical genre and if you rely on logical acts, realistic situations or traditional plots. However nonsense it seems to be, the play has something to say and can be understood and the viewer is asked to draw his own conclusions, which is challenging. However, our members rose to that challenge and I am sure that they learned a lot in the process, about themselves, about the Theatre and about man in general, if only that the world is incomprehensible.
Can you give some history to the production?
This particular play holds a record number of interpretations and has become one of the most performed plays in France. It is the first play by Eugene Ionesco, who was Franco-Romanian and who is more famous for writing Rhinoceros. At the time he wrote The Bald Soprano, Ionesco was learning English through an Assimil course, which relies on the passive listening of long sentences. He was struck by the hilarious earnest statements uttered by Mr. and Mrs. Smith in his manual, which sounded like assertions about the structure of life and the universe generally, like “the ceiling is above, the floor is below” and “paper is for writing” or “and Englishman’s home is his castle”.
How difficult was it to translate it onto the small stage of The Harquail Studio?
The Harquail Studio is the perfect size for this kind of play and for creating an intimate atmosphere with the audience. We chose it for that reason.
How did the event go on the night? What was the response from the audience?
Nobody quite knew what was going to happen but we sold all our tickets very quickly and it turned out to be a very exciting and interesting evening. There was, of course, an element of chaos, since we’d never performed, read or rehearsed the play, but that was part of the fun. The readers/actors were obviously enjoying themselves and taking their time to act while instinctively filling their role. Their enjoyment permeated to the audience, who was truly appreciative of the privilege they had in participating in this rare event, although the play was perhaps a little too avant-garde for some people in the audience.
Any more in the pipeline?
We would like to put up a performance once a year or every two years, depending on whether we can find the time and a play which is suitable. The public generally prefers a comedy, and it is not easy to find a comedy which lends themselves to this kind of experiment.
Why did you choose the particular cause to benefit from the proceeds?
We are a cultural society which meets for cultural endeavours, so it only makes sense to donate the profits to the Cayman National Cultural Foundation for a cultural cause, such as the restoration of Miss Lassie’s house. It is a unique building and a rare national treasure which must be saved. Miss Lassie gained world recognition as a visionary artist and she painted every available surface inside and outside her home, with the result that her house is now an extraordinary sight.
The Society’s main activity consists of monthly meetings to read plays and members take it in turn to host the reading in their houses. The society has 63 members but on average there are 12 to 15 people at a reading. Persons interested in joining BRTD should send an email to [email protected]