The Cenci Profile: Cobourn Sands

The Cenci is a play written by Percy Bysshe Shelley that tells the story of Beatrice and her struggle to free herself from her abusive father, Count Francesco Cenci. This year, Professor Jo Devereux’s English 2041F class will be putting on The Cenci as part of their coursework and are staging the production from scratch––from blocking and set design to marketing and performance. The production will be double-cast, meaning there will be two casts performing on alternating nights.

I sat down with Cobourn Sands, who will be playing Count Cenci on December 4th and 6th to discuss his role in the production and his experience thus far.

     Photo credit: The Cenci at Western University on Facebook

Name: Cobourn Sands

Year: 3

Program: SASAH and English with a minor in Theatre Studies

Role: Count Francesco Cenci​

Tell me a bit about yourself:

“See, I never know what to say when asked this question because so much of my life is theatre, and I’m usually asked this question in an audition where they want to know what I do outside of theatre… which is basically nothing. I am currently an executive member with Theatre Western, and I am acting in another play with King’s Players, The Lost Boy. So, here are the shameless plugs: On November 20-23, Theatre Western presents Present Laughter in The Mustang Lounge! It’s a great show and everyone has been working tirelessly on it; you don’t want to miss it! The following week, November 28-30, King’s Players is presenting The Lost Boy in the Joanne and Peter Kenny Theatre! Come meet the man behind the legendary story of Peter Pan!

I am always down to go to Rick’s, my go-to bagel order at The Spoke is an Asiago with Plain OR Mushroom Swiss with Spinach and Feta, I love reading some Samuel Beckett and I am really excited for you all to come see this show!”

What made you want to get involved with The Cenci?

“In my first year, [the class] did the Scottish play (I’m not going to risk saying the title due to superstition) and one of my friends from the play I was in at the time was taking [the class], plus it’s one of my favourite Shakespeare plays so I had to go see it. However, at the time I never thought I’d be able to fit the class into my schedule. Then last year I had two really good friends in it, so a whole group of us went to see it to support them. By this time I had made the decision to switch into a Theatre Studies minor, and with that decision, I knew I needed to take this class, and that I would regret it otherwise. When I auditioned, I had expected to be cast as a lead in such a powerful and difficult play, so that was a nice surprise, but I really got involved because I love theatre.”

Have you been involved in theatre before? 

“I’ve been involved in theatre quite a bit over the past few years actually, so here it goes:

Our Town: Constable Bill Warden/Sam Craig, 2017

Purple Shorts: Evening at a Wartime Farmhouse: Gerhardt, 2018

Purple Shorts: The Plate Collector: Shad/Newscaster #2, 2018

POSH: Assistant Stage Manager, 2018

The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza: Simon de Vries, 2019

Purple Shorts: Happy Accidents: Friend #1, 2019

Chicago: Props Master, 2019

The Lost Boy: Sean O’Rourke, November 28-30 2019

The Wizard of Oz: Assistant Stage Manager, March 2020

The biggest thing I’ve found from my experiences with theatre is that each aspect, whether it be acting, creative team or crew, each builds off of each other, and the most effective way to perform each of those roles is from bringing in the experiences you’ve had from the others. I can definitely say I’ve become a much better actor after taking the time to see a production from the other side.”

What does your role entail?

“I play Count Cenci, the titular character, and without spoiling anything he is just straight up a bad guy. He has no remorse and little fear, which are the checks of other men, meaning on an alignment chart he is Chaotic Evil. So on top of trying to memorize each verse and say it in a way that the audience can follow the story and understand what I’m saying, I’m trying to tap into an anger and a darkness that a normal person doesn’t feel.”

What’s been your favourite part of the process so far?

“This is funny because my favourite part of the process is also what’s been the most challenging, and it is working to effectively tap into that darkness. As an actor, I love being able to push myself and grow, and this character is really pushing me to become someone that is so drastically different from myself. He is an awful character that is basically just a force of pure evil, as the other Cenci, Nawton Chiles, put it one day in class.”

What’s been the most challenging aspect of playing Cenci?

“To really get into how challenging finding that darkness that is needed to play the Cenci, I should start with the fact that I need to access a rage that a normal person doesn’t feel. In class, Professor Devereux brought up the process of method acting, which is funny because my acting process is a self-developed method acting approach which I can only describe as building the character throughout the rehearsal process and then letting the character take control once the show starts. My best friend and I have taken to calling it the 'Blackout' because we essentially blackout on stage. Yet already in rehearsals I can feel that the anger that the character creates in me is something I can’t tap into through typical method acting styles. It is a raw and visceral and primal anger, and it is exhausting to maintain. Usually when it comes to a character that is exhausting to play, the “Blackout” absorbs most of it, but I need to be able to maintain control with the Cenci so that nobody gets hurt, especially with how intense some of the fight choreo is going to be. The most challenging part has been trying to give the character as much authenticity as possible without crossing any lines.”

Why should people come see The Cenci

“People should come see The Cenci because it really is an interesting show that puts on stage a moment in history that people don’t know about, and it gives them a safe space to explore the themes of the play that are hard to approach in the clinical, academic space of lecture halls. However these are tough themes, and the show deserves a warning that physical and verbal abuse and assault are portrayed on stage, and sexual abuse and assault is alluded to heavily in the play.”

Speed Round:

Plays or Musicals? Musicals.

Favourite play? Our Town is always going to hold a special place in my heart as the first show I’ve done at Western.

Pre-show ritual? Within the two hours we have before the show I usually drink a Monster energy drink and listen to a certain playlist I have to help me feel the character. I will then just go over my lines and blocking in my head, pacing back and forth on the stage. I then always make sure to give everyone backstage a high-five before we start.

Check out The Cenci from December 4-7 at 7:30 pm at the TAP Centre for Creativity. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors and $15 for adults and can be purchased on the TAP Centre website. For more information about The Cenci, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Related Articles

  • The Cenci Profile: Nawton Chiles​
  • The Cenci Profile: Eva Alie​

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