Bratton Late Night Cabaret weds irreverence with talent in final CTC performance

Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Ranging from slam poetry and drum performances to songs and skits, Chautauqua Theater Company’s one-night-only Bratton Late Night Cabaret is always a surprise. All 14 conservatory actors perform together for the last time on one stage.

“The most incredibly moving part of Bratton Late Night to me is that the (actors) have formed, in the period of eight to 10 weeks together, such a family and a company with so much talent,” said Vivienne Benesch, CTC artistic director.

Bratton Late Night debuts at 10:30 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater, and it is CTC’s final event of the season. The whole show is thrown together betwixt rehearsals for the final production, As You Like It, which closes at 4 p.m. today in Bratton Theater.

Directing fellow Sash Bischoff, the conservatory actors and the four design fellows organize the entire show. All of the senior staff is kept in the dark about the events of the evening, so each year lends itself to new surprises.

“I’m always moved by something incredibly unexpected from one or more of them,” Benesch said. “It can really be anything. It is usually a look back on the entire season — sometimes in parody and sometimes in tribute.

“The leadership is in some way always made fun of. People have done amazing imitations of me and Ethan (CTC resident director) over the years,” she said.

All in jest and good fun, the evening leans toward the irreverent littered with remarks about the good and bad of the summer. Typically, it has been incredibly popular and has yielded a large turnout each year, Benesch said.

The whole evening is slap-dashed together by Bischoff in her second directing debut this season. She also directed the play Mine for a one-night-only performance earlier this summer, but she is a seasoned freelance director and playwright off the Chautauqua Institution grounds.

A Princeton graduate, Bischoff concentrated in both playwriting and theater, and she has since assistant directed on and off Broadway.

In past years, she assistant directed Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe, known for playing the title role in the “Harry Potter” films.

She will return this year to assistant direct the national tour of Shrek: The Musical, which has become one of her favorite projects.

“It’s a different beast to tackle. You are working on a show that is, in many ways, a set show. But it’s a great way to rediscover a work that has already been done,” Bischoff said. “I fell in love with working on it. It’s just a fun show to work on.”

This year, she will essentially remount the show herself, meaning she trains the brand-new cast before they are sent on their tour.

She landed her Broadway gig after receiving the 2011 Traube Fellowship from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, which connected her to How to Succeed and Shrek.

A child actor, she decided to direct after completing her time at Princeton, where she directed both parts of Angels in America.

“For me, personally, I feel ultimately more challenged, and stimulated and satisfied by directing,” Bischoff said. “I love the idea of shaping a world and problem solving to make that world feel as complete and true as possible.”

Her favorite pieces to direct are new works because of the connection with the playwright. In her spare time between freelance directing jobs, Bischoff herself is a playwright.

She is a 2010 Albee Foundation fellow, and her play Elsewhere will debut at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City this fall. She also works on musicals with a composing partner.

After meeting with Benesch this past year, Bischoff landed the directing fellow position at CTC and has found the position both challenging and stimulating, she said.

She is looking forward to putting together Bratton Late Night Cabaret.

“It really is all from scratch,” she said. “It can be anything … it’s going to be a fast and furious process assembling this thing.”