Fringe Preview: Folk-Rock Superstar
The Cassandra Team
A one-person piece written and performed by Briana Brown, Cassandra appeared at the 2006 London Fringe Festival during a cross-Canada tour. The play returns this year, but with a major change.
- Theatre in London.ca: I was surprised to see how much Cassandra evolved over the 10 days of the 2006 Fringe, and in the two months afterwards, so I’m curious to learn how it’s changed in the four years since.
Briana Brown: I did another significant rewrite after the fringe tour in 2006 before performing it at FemFest (Winnipeg 2007). The major change being that there are no longer three sections to the play. All the breaks — which were extremely helpful from an acting perspective — are gone. The pace is better now. It’s a harder piece to perform.
Since then, I haven’t made many changes apart from updating a few references for this production. Apparently Lindsay Lohan isn’t resonating these days….
- Shannon Scott: Yeah, some of my students had never even heard of Lindsay Lohan — gasp —
- TiL: Cassandra is a one-person show, which is a daunting endeavour for anyone, but this time around she’s played by Ally Connelly, who appears to be not far beyond the almost-ten-year-old main character’s age. Was it a natural development to put a young actor in that role, and how did you find her once you decided to go that way?
SS: That’s right Peter, Ally is in grade six, and has just recently turned 12.
I have trained many young women in my youth theatre training and performing company called Serious FUN!, yet it was still a challenge to cast the right girl as Cassandra.
When I saw Briana perform Cassandra at the London Fringe 2006, I knew immediately that I wanted to direct this play with one of my students. I am always on the lookout for great works with age-appropriate roles for my students and I insist on providing my students with real issues to explore. Cassandra fit the bill perfectly. I just needed to find the right actor.
It was certainly a hard role to cast: a 50 minute one-girl show, with adult-oriented humour and with themes and political and historical references that were beyond her years, it made for a challenging project for a young girl. I had to put the idea on the back-burner for a while and focus on other plays. But then along came Ally.
I first met Ally when I was auditioning girls for a play I was directing at the Livery Theatre: Little Women (Fall of ’07). Ally (who was auditioning for the role of Amy), struck me at once of being a very talented young girl — her ability to get her mouth around that very tricky, classic, text was quite advanced for a then-9-year-old. After a round of many talented auditionees, I had narrowed the decision down to Ally and one other girl, Regan Bezaire. In the end, I went with Regan, who at 12 years old was simply that much more experienced and old enough to handle such mature work. (Regan did an outstanding job by the way.) But what amazed me, was how Ally took the “defeat” — Regan confided that Ally came up to her at school the next day and congratulated her on getting the role, saying that she knew Regan would do such a great job and that she couldn’t wait to see it. I heard that, and I knew without a doubt that I wanted to work with Ally in some way. I was obviously incredibly pleased when she auditioned for and joined the SF! conservatory.
I have been blessed with many very talented students, so “being in the right place, at the right time”, so to speak, certainly played a part in Ally being chosen for this role. But after she spent two full years as a student in my company, I felt that the right time and the right person had now come together to bring my dream of staging Cassandra to life.
Directing Ally in the role of Cassandra over the past six months has been a dream project for me. Ally is an incredibly gifted actor and she has so much creativity and positivity to offer. We have a lot of fun playing around with the role and developing her skills. She and her family are dedicated and dependable — which is definitely required for a role and project this challenging.
BB: It never occurred to me that someone Cassandra’s age would ever play Cassandra. Shannon saw the play a couple of times in London and approached me with this idea years later. If I may sound particularly artsy for a moment, I think Cassandra would approve. The play talks a lot about being taken seriously and the desire to have someone place the faith in you which is deserved. The choice for a young actor to play the role seems to be in line with that. How can I give voice to someone that age and not permit someone that age to communicate it to an audience? I am truly excited to see how it will affect the piece. I’m certain I will learn a lot about this play through Ally’s eyes!
- SS: I think Ally has found so many parts of herself through playing Cassandra and has really enjoyed getting to express herself in this way. She truly does share Cassandra’s desire to be taken seriously and treated fairly, and has behaved very Cassandra-like at many times in order to ensure this!
BB: I worked with Serious FUN! last spring when I did a series of workshops with the Going Pro [Conservatory Training] class and developed a piece for them to perform called The Line. I very vividly remember watching that performance and Ally really standing out because of her timing. I was so impressed that someone her age seemed to have this inherent sense of comedy. So when Shannon told me that’s the actor she was thinking of for Cassandra, I thought it was a great fit.
- TiL: What’s it like seeing another actor perform the role you wrote and brought to life? Has Ally added anything to the character that you were surprised to learn was there?
BB: Honestly, I have not seen Ally perform much of this piece yet! I have very much entrusted the project to Shannon.
I directed another actor, Janelle Hanna (another adult), who performed an excerpt of the piece at a cabaret in Toronto recently and that was a huge learning experience. She definitely found things in the text that I did not. And really dug into the humour — approaching it from that perspective, when I think I always just approached it as a story.
You have to be ready to pass it on. And for whatever reason, I am. I don’t think there’s much more I can bring to the role, but having other actors approach it with a fresh perspective is a way of ensuring it has continued life. Because I think the play is still very much alive… but my time performing it has perhaps passed.
- SS: I feel truly honoured that Briana trusts me to share her work, and especially honoured to be the first company to perform the entire piece besides Briana herself. I hope we do it justice.
- TiL: Briana, any chance we’ll see something else of yours in London in the future?
- BB: It is absolutely my intention to come back to London. The festival is a truly fantastic one — amazing vibe, really well organized — and the audiences were very good to me. It’s just been a matter of timing and figuring out the best fit.
- TiL: Shannon, you were here last year, any plans to make it three in a row?
- SS: I love the London Fringe scene — talent galore, supportive, laid-back and friendly. I certainly have plans for many future possibilities here.