Nick Cassenbaum: Bubble Schmeisis
By Caro Moses | Published on Thursday 13 April 2017
The very quirky and clever show ‘Bubble Schmeisis’ made rather a splash up at the Edinburgh Festival last summer, not least with our own reviewer, who pronounced it to be “Effortlessly charming and infectiously funny”; and now, Londoners, it’s set for a short run in your neck of the woods. Hurrah.
The creative force behind the show is the diversely talented Nick Cassenbaum. To find out more about it, I put some questions to him ahead of his run at BAC.
CM: Can you start by telling what sort of performance this is? Is it storytelling? Theatre?
NC: ‘Bubble Schmeisis’ is an interactive storytelling show with live klezmer music. Which means it is me on stage talking directly to the audience, accompanied by an accordion and clarinet player. I want to make the audience feel like they are having a conversation with me, so by the end of the show they know me. Often people start talking to me during the show, which is fine by me! All the stories I tell in the show are true and are about things that have happened directly to me, which makes them even funnier. I use the audience directly in the stories, talking to them, asking them to do things and sometimes getting them up with me! But don’t worry I assure you nobody does anything they don’t want to do!
CM: And what is ‘Bubble Schmeisis’ about? What’s the story?
NC: ‘Bubble Schmeisis’ is about a journey to find a Jewish identity I could relate to, which ends up in an East London bath house having a schmeiss. It is centred around a trip around the North Circular to get the Canning Town. Along the way different things spark memories of failed attempts to find this identity. In this show you will hear stories about barber shops, boring football matches (Spurs of course), salt beef and summer camps. However, the crux of the show is surrounding the ancient Jewish ritual of the schmeiss. The schmeiss is a way of washing each other with a big rafia brush in the steam baths, after I had my first schmeiss there was no looking back. There is also a special mention to the bread with a hole in it… and what we should really be calling it.
CM: What made you want to create a show with this theme?
NC: Trying to formulate a Jewish identity is something that I have been trying to do for many years. It is a confusing thing for any individual to work out. I know a lot of people struggle with their identity so I thought if I made a show about how I managed mine, other people might find the route through theirs, they might see that it is not as intimidating as it feels. All of the things that lead to the schmeiss are funny stories that I love sharing. So I thought why not make a show out of them!
On another note the schmeiss is such a specific ritual that fewer and fewer people are partaking in. For me it was important to share this before it dies and goes forever. The hope is some people will see the show and take it up! I would be happy to take anyone to Canning Town for a schmeiss.
CM: How did you go about creating the show? What process did you go through?
NC: I have been honing the stories in this show for years, around dinner and pub tables. It was not until I had my first schmeiss that I realised that they were all part of a wider story and it had just been finished. I came to my director Danny Braverman with a pile of stories and together we structured them, and we hit the idea of the North Circular. The way I work, I want to get in front of as audience as fast as possible. You can not know if a story is working unless you are telling it to people. So that is what we did. I scratched it in front of people until I was happy. And the show is still developing and changing, it is different each time I do it. It all depends on the audience.
CM: The music is clearly an important element of the show. How was it chosen, and what do you feel it adds to the performance?
NC: Dan and Josh from Don Kipper punctuate the whole piece. Together we chose the tunes from their klezmer repertoire that go along with the show. It was always important to me to have music as it helps the audience access the stories easily. It creates a world for each story to exist it and takes it somewhere else. Klezmer is traditional Jewish music which tells stories. This seemed like a perfect match for the show. When I was making the show the main piece of music I wanted was Max Bygraves singing ‘Consider Yourself’ from the musical ‘Oliver’. The song is so London, and is all about people coming together and feeling welcomes, which I hope the audience feel when they come to the show.
CM: Who has supported you in this? Who else is on your creative team, and how did they get involved?
NC: I have had a lot of support in making this show from all the people down at the baths, my family, friends, the arts council and theatres such as RichMix and CPT. For my creative team I had Danny Braverman directing (who I approached after seeing his excellent show ‘Wot? No fish!!’), the musos Dan Gouly and Josh Middleton, and designer Bethany Wells. I had worked with all of them in some context before and wanted to bring them all together. They have been a great team. This show has been a family effort with my Papa Alan getting me into the baths and then every member of my family seeing it about 20 times. I have to tell you there is nothing like a Jewish mother when it comes to marketing.
CM: You seem to have many strings to your creative bow. If you had to have a concise job title, what would it be?
NC: Good question! I call myself a theatre maker. You could also call me a participatory artist as all of the work I do is focused on how we can get the audience involved in the most accessible and meaningful way. Like in this show, the focus of the creation period was always about how to really get the audience to enjoy and hear these stories. Make them feel like they are part of the process of telling. But yes, I have a go at everything, I am here for all your theatrical needs.
CM: How did you get into the arts? Was this a career you were always attracted to?
NC: I have always wanted to perform, ever since my nan used to teach me dirty jokes I couldn’t understand when I was a kid. I didn’t get the punchlines but when she made me tell the jokes to her mates, I loved the laughter. I knew I wanted to be making theatre but the form that has taken has changed over the years, I’ve made street theatre, site specific, theatre in just about any community centre, now in theatres – can you believe it?!
CM: What are your aims, as an artist? Where do you see yourself headed in the long term?
NC: I want to get people who don’t usually go to the theatre in there and enjoying themselves. At the moment I am running community story-telling projects and writing and performing. I am enjoying the journey. Exciting things are happening, and let’s see where it all leads.
CM: What’s coming up next for you?
NC: I am making a show for the Soho Theatre in Leyton this Summer and have a community project in Ilford and Hackney Wick. I will also be working on my new solo show, it’s going to be about Michael Barrymore. I am not sure exactly how but I want to explore his techniques of audience participation. I want to treat him with kindness in this show, he has had so much grief and been tortured by the press, I want to make a show that treats him with kindness.
‘Bubble Schmeisis’ is on at Battersea Arts Centre from 21-22 Apr, see this page here for info and to book.