OffWestEnd talks to Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong who is directing a double bill of opera in April 2023

Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong is an actress, singer and theatre-maker from Croydon passionate about new writing in theatre and opera. Cassi studied Music at the University of York and then trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Music. Her portfolio of work encompasses writing, directing, devising, dramaturgy, performing, composing and workshop facilitation and she is a co-founder of Speaks of Rivers. Cassiopeia’s work has taken her to Camden People’s Theatre; Regents Park Open Air Theatre; Arcola Theatre; Soho Theatre; National Theatre Studio; Glyndebourne; Almeida and English National Opera as well touring across the UK and Ireland.


What first attracted you to the theatre?

My first introduction to theatre was through performance. Growing up I took part in school productions, community theatre groups, choirs – everything! I think when I was younger I loved the escapism and the way a show could transport you to a totally new world, but growing up I’ve realised that what’s kept me hooked is theatre’s power to bring people together and that unique collective experience you get when you’re watching or creating a show.


If you could pick any one person or theatre/opera company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

I would LOVE to see a collaboration between Pegasus Opera company and Little Angel Theatre – I think the combination of puppetry and opera and creating something for Young Audiences would be electric!


What is your opinion of Off West End theatre and opera in general?

I think it’s a really vibrant and exciting scene. There are so many interesting cross-genre collaborations happening that are really expanding ideas of what each art form is capable of.


What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?
Ooooo most inspiring ever is a hard one! But something that really captured my imagination was Birmingham Opera’s 2009 production of Verdi’s Othello which was a site specific production set in a disused factory that I just happened to chance upon when it was streaming on sky arts when I was supposed to be revising for my GCSEs. It was INCREDIBLE in terms of its scale, its ambition, the way it brought together so many different people from different backgrounds and creative disciplines. I think it definitely had a lasting impact on my creative practice and if I hadn’t caught the opera bug by then, I was definitely hooked after that!


What piece of work are you the most proud of?
Shuck ‘n’ Jive which I co-wrote with Simone Ibbett-Brown. It premiered at Soho Theatre in 2019 and it was also published by Oberon Books at the same time. The day the playtexts arrived was one of the producest moments of my life – and the fulfilment of a dream I never even knew I had.


What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you direct?
The best advice I ever got was from my mentor Yshani Perinpanayagam to “be your whole self all the time” so I try to bring all of me to every rehearsal process. A key part of that is knowing that everyone in the room has a unique creative perspective so I tend to use a lot of devising work and keep a lot of things unknown until we get into the rehearsal room so that there’s genuine space for collaboration across the whole company and room for everyone’s input in the development of a project.


Are there any actors/actresses you would like to direct?
Anyone and everyone who’s passionate, driven, and brings good vibes are my dream collaborators!


Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?
Ahhhh so many people are doing such awesome things! Creators whose work I’ve loved engaging with recently are Ingrid Mackinnon; Ruth Chan; Osnat Schmool; Lakesha Arie-Angelo; and Yojiro Ichikawa who I’m privileged enough to be working with on our current project with Pegasus Opera!


Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?

We have just started rehearsals for two incredible contemporary operas by Philip Hagemann. Ruth – a biblical tale of devotion, displacement and cultural acceptance, as in the face of a devastating loss a woman leaves everything she knows to follow her mother-in-law to an unfamiliar land. And The Six of Calais – a character comedy based on George Bernard Shaw’s play which sees King Edward III face off against the bourgeoisie of Calais as they surrender during the Hundred Years War. Both operas are being performed as a double bill produced by Pegasus Opera and Hagemann Rosenthal Associates. It’s been so brilliant to meet the cast and team this week and we’re right at the start of an amazing journey to build these stories together. There’s a great energy in the room and I’m hugely excited about what we’re going to create and can’t wait to share it with everyone at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre from 21-23 April 2023!