God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza – Playground politics leads to Carnage in Macedon –
“I feel quite blessed as I have been given a brilliant script to work with, and the four actors bring it to life with exceptional comic timing, high energy and character understanding expected of professionals." – Director, Natasha Boyd.

Peace talks between the parents of two eleven year old boys implicated in a park altercation involving stick hitting and name calling have broken down. A lounge room brawl ensued after pleasantries over coffee and cake crumbled.

Herein lies the premise of the Mount Players latest theatrical offering – God of Carnage (GOC) by Yasmina Reza, running from August 26 to September 17.

GOC Director Natasha Boyd said the hilarious expose of parents behaving badly has a punchy pacey script, and is performed to perfection, with symbolic staging and classy production values.

“The professionalism of this production is mind blowing," says Boyd. "Through the whole process, the cast and crew have praised the experience as somewhat magical. Anyone who comes to see the show is destined to witness something quite special."

Read more of the interview with GoC director Natasha Boyd as she discusses strategies for a successful pre, mid and post production as well as her passion for GoC, her cast and the magic of the stage.

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza – a contemporary play but not one that has had much stage exposure. Can you talk a little about what it is that drew you to it?

In 2009, I saw the MTC production, with Hugo Weaving, Pamela Rabe, Geoff Morrell and Natasha Herbert. It was amazing! The premise is so simple yet so compelling. Having been a teacher for 11 years, the idea of parents defending their children, and getting worked up when other people criticise their parenting style really resonated. It was also just damn hilarious to be sitting in the front row seeing all the facades of the characters initial impressions fade and crumble as things got more out of control, and the ease of movement of all 4 of them  – how real they seemed really got to me. Achieving this kind of humour and character arc in the real time of 90 minutes was a challenge I wanted to set myself. Also, most importantly, the themes in this play are a global issue – so that even though this was written by Yasmina Reza, a French playwright, and translated by Christopher Hampton when it moved to the Westend or to Broadway, it rings true for us here in Australia.

I think also what really attracted me was the idea of getting to work intently with four actors as an ensemble, where they all played an equal and important part of the overall story.  I kind of got obsessed with putting it on so checked out all I could in the productions – reading the play, watching YouTube clips of the Broadway, American amateur  and French productions, read lots of reviews. I was absolutely rapt when we were granted rights, the first amateur group to do so in Victoria I believe. And even more fortunate, that Mt Players Macedon support modern contemporary works to be staged.

It is the story of two pairs of parents who meet over an incident involving their children. Their meeting begins in a civilized fashion but deteriorates into something quite different. Can you discuss the themes Reza is exploring within this very simplistic over view?

It is a comedy about manners… without the manners. It’s also primarily about parental defence of one’s own child  – either as a victim or a bully,  and also defending the choices you’ve made as a parent in how you manage your child. But underneath the surface of these foremost obvious themes we start to see there are deeper issues about marital strain and responsibilities.

Annette is forced to do everything with the household – domestic and children whilst her lawyer husband Alain is preoccupied with matters he feels is more important in the public sphere and workplace. Michael is a laidback fellow who understands his wife
Veronica’s obsessions with art and Africa and being a good moral contributor to society, and supports her in this up to a point but can get easily ticked off about smaller things like hamsters and sarcasm of his warehouse job.

Ultimately, what Reza is trying to show is how middle class couples / parents present a facade to others about what they think it is best to be like, but when pushed to the edge, these standards quickly crumble and the real face of hostility and madness appears. In the end, the parents begin by agreeing that the children need disciplining for their actions, but end up behaving far worse than the children ever did.

Can you discuss the audition process and what, in particular, you were you looking for in terms of what actors needed to bring to be successful at winning a role?

With this kind of play I really needed four actors who were evenly matched – experience was going to be preferable because the roles were so demanding in terms of lines and stamina as it is 90 minutes with no interval, as well as a creative inventive spirit that would assist character interpretation. I was really clear that 100% commitment was needed three times a week and that a real ensemble approach to creating the work was going to be the goal as well as being able to take constructive direction (something you think would go without saying but is not always evident in auditions or productions I have been pact of as both an actor or director). People who understood the importance of rhythm of the language, incorporating nuances to create naturalism, clear enunciation and tonal vocal range as well as ease of movement around the stage were also other considerations. And finally, at the end of the day age consideration and chemistry with the other actors chosen always has to play into my decision –  I have to know that these four would be able to work well together. Interestingly, I had only worked with one of the four before (Michael), seen one of the others in two plays (Pauline), and heard about great stage work of the other two (Karen and Darren) by my producers Kaye and Sue. None of the four knew each other previously.

Can you talk about your rehearsal process and what in particular may make the Natasha Boyd rehearsal process different to another director's process?

We started about 11 weeks out from opening night but this was because we knew there would be interruptions – Michael was finishing another play (by end of our 3rd week meaning only two rehearsals a week for three weeks)  and also losing a weekend due to the Macedon one act play festival. An initial read through is always important, then a clear discussion about my vision for the show. Actors need this straight away – they like to know where it’s headed as well as how the others they do not know sound and operate.

My style is pretty open, involved and collaborative, but I do have specific things I focus on depending on the play. This play required a real flow of blocked movement and attention to rhythmic language, that then is naturally flowing and seemingly looking unblocked because it is all set in real time and in one space – the lounge room. By involved, I mean I often get up on stage to demonstrate some stagecraft element or to work through something with the actor(s). I guess this comes from the fact I was a teacher and an actor myself. Also, because this was 90 minutes straight through we needed to split up the play into parts – we started with four parts and blocked each part sequentially, and then went through it all once right through to see the overall scope and flow of the work. From here, discussion about character, voice and props became imperative. We then went through the same process but cutting it into thirds and then into halves.

Once the whole piece was coming together I like to get actors to drop their scripts at least 10 rehearsals before the end (with prompting though) because this really allows them freedom of movement and the ability to find the humour in certain lines, play around with their lines and interactions with others etc. I really concentrate on enunciation and vocal tone changes at this point, and the rhythm required for certain lines or exchanges. It’s also really important to me that actors use all the real props (especially when involving eating or drinking like this one).

About 5 rehearsals from opening night I stop prompting usually because the actors are ready and able but also because they need to get used to that spontaneity that happens when they’re on their own with each other. And all throughout this I guess you work with individuals as needed on things that are concerning them or how they’re growing their character, and making sure your attention to all people is even and positive. Also being calm and upbeat helps too – starting each night off on the right vibe!

What sorts of strategies do you employ to keep your actors focused and how do you assist and encourage your actors to act spontaneously from moment to moment and remain truthful to their character? 

Starting with the goal each session gives a sense of purpose, as well as letting them know what is the aim for the next session so they can look over those set pages etc. Always feeding back about how natural and believable I am finding it (having heard it a million times) is key. I don’t like lines or reactions looking pre-empted. And with this one, if I am still laughing at something new each time, then that’s a huge plus and something for them to work at. From here, it’s usually minor things like character nuances and gestures that suit the character and the moment, helping them decode sentences that may not be obviously making sense to them and therefore not being delivered with the right intonation or emphasis.

It’s also about getting them to milk more out of an opportunity in a scene, as well as not just focusing on the action or the lines being said but also allowing some moments to be about reaction to other people’s lines or breathing space and silences into their own lines. All the while, it pays to not always just give constructive feedback about what actors are not doing or need to do – but also about what they’re doing that is working! Positive affirmation makes you and them feel like it’s always moving forward. 
Can you talk about some of the GoC challenges that have befallen you, as director, thus far? 

I guess the biggest challenge is that the first 1/3 seems to be a pretty clear cut 4 way discussion with no seemingly obvious moments for humour. It was really important to get the characters up and about in this lounge room in this section, because watching people being seated for too long is pretty boring for them and the audience. We also really had to show the relationship between the two couples and each other early on so the humour comes through in those pages, but more importantly links in with how those moments influence and alter situations that happen in the final two thirds of the play. Physicality has also been something that we needed to create that was believable – this included both Veronica hitting Michael, Annette and Veronica slowly getting more and more drunk, as well as the challenging scene of one character throwing up. This involved asking MTC how they had done it (A very expensive pump system in the couch which we could not afford), bottles with pump straws, etc as well as the right look and consistency for spew! I am really pleased to say that the end result looks really realistic and hidden – and not overly complicated! I guess also the challenge for any director is working not just with the actors but also your production crew so all those parts are moving smoothly, and I am really fortunate that everyone on board with this project has been 100% committed, full of ideas and enthusiasm and professional attitude. All we need now is an audience!

You are both an actor and director. Which of the two, if either/or, do you prefer and why?

I love both equally – hope that’s not a cop out. I love being on stage – working with other great actors, being in the moment, adapting to funny things on stage, and really nailing the character and the play. I like hearing what people say affected them, moved them or aspect they enjoyed even if it isn’t me! Learning from other directors during this time always influences my approach as a director. I think if I don’t act at least once a year I really feel creatively caged and unhappy. But I equally enjoy the process of direction, it is so gratifying to have an idea and get others on board with it. To work with others, and learn from them, see the project grow and know at the end of the day you were one hand in the whole result – and that really no one knows how much you were part of it except the actors and producers possibly who are there from the start. I guess I don’t feel the same need to direct once a year, even though I have, because I only get the need when I read a play and then a vision of it shoots into me and I think – I must put this show on! But I am patient in this regard – timing and the right company and people are key to directing success. I waited for this one, and the time was right.

How did the decision to stage God of Carnage at Macedon come about?

I like how Mt Players operate and have known them as a company for over 12 years. Mt Players invite people to submit a play proposal. I was pretty detailed in what this play was about, and what it had to offer – as it had never been performed by an amateur group before in Australia and possibly many of the committee had not seen the wonderful MTC production. I also used Broadway YouTube clips to help sell the play so that the style of humour was possible to realise.

There is a committee dedicated to play selection, and I guess they picked it because they were willing to take a risk on a modern play, and a new director for them. I was known to them as an actor having performed in five shows of these over the last 12 years, including the 2009 VDL nominated play Minefields and Miniskirts. I was also known to them because of my direction work with Essendon Theatre Company which had seen me travel several one act plays successfully around the circuit in 2009 and 2010, and won Best Director and Production at the Macedon one pact play festival for What’s the Matter with Mary-Jane in 2009.  That show really summed up my inventive and collaborative style and how perhaps I can bring out the best in people whether experienced or not. The other advantage of this play was that it was two women and two men, and that the other two plays chosen for this year were heavily male focussed. I hope after they see the show they’re pleased with the result and ask me back!

What past experiences have you had with Macedon?

In terms of on stage work at Mt Players, I was seen on the stage in Two Weeks with the Queen, Man for All Seasons, Change of Heart, Slice of Saturday Night and more recently as the Nurse in the 2009 VDL nominated play Minefields and Miniskirts which I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt heaps from.

In terms of direction that associated with Macedon I co-directed several multi award winning one act plays for the festival circuits in 2009 &2010, including What’s the Matter with Mary-Jane? which won Best Production and Director at the Macedon 2009 festival, as well as adjudicator’s award for special lighting plot. In 2010, my play Racquet, co-written with Jason Silverii, won Best Original Script at the 2010 Gemco festival and had been seen at Macedon festival, whilst my 2010 co-directed piece Mothers Have Nine Lives won Best Staging and 3rd Place overall at the Peridot Festival in 2010 and was also seen at Macedon.

What is the ultimate message that you hope the audience will take with them after having viewed the play?

That hamsters don’t belong on the pavement and that one must always go to the lavatory if you think you’re going to spew! Seriously, I think people will see that facades are pointless, people react to stress in interesting ways, and that parent politics is very funny! I also hope people who come and see this think that Mt Players put on very high quality shows that are worth the 45 minute drive up the Calder Highway, and these are actors to watch and cast in the future –and maybe have a new director come do a show at their local theatre company because I am happy to travel.   

The play may be viewed by some as having some controversial moments within it – either through language, physicality or actions. How would you allay the fears of some who may be vacillating between coming to see the show and not?

I guess this is a contemporary play that it set in real time with real people facing real issues – it resonates precisely because it deals with the local yet global issue of parent politics and marital stress and this in many ways touches most of us. Yes there is some swearing and throwing up, but really the characters are under stress at these points and it is in context. To my mind, if people want value for money, entertainment of an extremely high standard, and a bunch of good laughs then they should NOT miss this play!

And finally, what is next for you?
I want to act next – hopefully the right role, play and group comes along soon. I did miss not doing a one act this year, so need to hunt for something. Also, I have been procrastinating with finishing writing something new although really it’s because my bookstore business has just been doing really well and keeping me very busy in my professional life. The play is a five (maybe six) woman ensemble about impending motherhood – which was really been borne out of my experiences with the last two years of one act plays. I hope to get this done by end of 2012. Also, there is another Broadway hit that hasn’t had amateur rights granted yet here that I would love to do with my two co-producers, Kaye and Sue (acting this time) but cannot name it just yet…but watch out it will come out in the next year or two at a theatre near you!

God of Carnage will play at Macedon Theatre: 56 Smith St Macedon (45 minutes from Melbourne up Calder Hwy)  Performances: Preview Fri 26th August 8pm  Gala Opening 27th August 8pm  Friday (8pm) 2 SEPT, 9 SEPT, 16 SEPT  Saturday (8pm) 2 SEPT, 10 SEPT, 17 SEPT $25.00 Concession $22.00  Group Booking Discount Available Bookings: 1300 463 224 10am – 5pm Tues to Sat or Book On Line – www.themountplayers.com Company Email: [email protected] Company Website:http://www.themountplayers.com