Andrew Bailey wants to tell you a story.
A whole novel, actually. And he wants to cook your meals and hunt for Easter eggs and make some tea. He wants to create the kind of communal experience people used to find at church through The Rite of James Biddle, when he reads his 70,000 word -debut novel in its entirety and welcomes the audience into activities and meals born from the text at Intrepid Theatre’s 17th annual Uno Fest.
“I hope to create a full-on shared, unique experience and make people feel that they were a part of something,” says the Uno Fest veteran known for 10 years of work with Atomic Vaudeville. “On a creative level I hope for that. I also hope that people will buy the book.”
The Rite of James Biddle is the fictional tale of an Anglican priest, “born in tweed,” lacking connection with those younger than 80 and rejecting such technologies of the day. When he falls in love and loses track of a loved one, he’s forced to face the modern world and its changes.
The writer/actor has crafted an elaborate event around the reading, presented as a service, “a giant secular Eucharist.” At the close of each chapter, which runs about an hour, Bailey offers meals and diversions. It’s also an opportunity for guests to come and go. The day begins with a breakfast germane to the story, baked orange french toast, and includes a bake sale and other Biddle-inspired creations, lunch and dinner before a post-show cake and tea.
“It’s appealing to more than just the sense of sound from the book itself, but also, to actually share in some of the stuff that people are eating and to know, when I’m describing something, what that thing is like,” he says. “If I end up breaking even, I’m happy. If I don’t, that’s fine too. I just want to make it as cool and interesting and unique as possible.”
Even though the main character is Anglican, the guests along for the roughly 12-hour ride don’t have to be, Bailey says, noting two of the project’s early supporters were a borderline communist-Catholic and an atheist libertarian. They just have to be appreciative of Bailey’s work, which in recent days has become somewhat of a worldwide trend.
On March 26 Bailey posted a video to YouTube entitled Why Rape is Sincerely Hilarious that soon made its way to the front page of Reddit and had attracted more than 500,000 views by the time of publication. The monologue, though delivered through a character, is written in response to a recurrent theme in comedy films that disturbed Bailey, the trope that guys like it if they get sexually assaulted, so long as an attractive woman is the perpetrator, and his own experience with sexual harassment as a 13-year-old. Bailey’s words connected powerfully with viewers, hundreds of whom expressed their gratitude for the work and shared their personal stories of abuse. Unable to respond individually, Bailey eventually chose to disregard advice to monetize the video with advertising, and allowed himself permission to stop answering the messages. The feedback was at times overwhelming and emotional – yet incredibly validating to the artist responsible.
“I’m always concerned that people are just being nice to me when they say they like something – even reviews,” he says. “When it’s that helpful to that many complete strangers, like complete strangers, like there are people watching it in Saudi Arabia – I’m like okay. Maybe over the 15 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve developed some skills and abilities.”
The one-time shared experience of Bailey’s The Rite of James Biddle is set for 9am May 24 at Intrepid Theatre Club (1609 Blanshard) with hourly entrances until 9pm.
Tickets are $20, with meals by donation. To learn more about the long-running festival, visit intrepidtheatre.com. For details on the full schedule, individual tickets and passes, visit ticketrocket.org.
The Rite of James Biddle is soon to be released by Bayeaux Arts.