Tess Maurici-Ryan is at it again…and loving it!!

essendon theatre company welcomes director Tess Maurici-Ryan back for it’s first show of 2011 – Living Together by Alan Ayckbourn. Living Together lies in the middle of the three plays which are collectively known as The Norman Conquests and traces the further adventures (or misadventures) of the central characters: Norman, Ruth, Annie, Tom, Sarah and Reg as they struggle to keep abreast of all things "Norman."
I spoke with Maurici-Ryan about her continuing love affair with the trilogy and Ayckbourn as well as her plans for this next instalment of the trilogy.
You directed the first of Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests Trilogy, Table Manners, for etc last year and now you are in rehearsal for the second, Living Together. This is quite a remarkable and unusual occurrence for a director to have the luxury of pursuing a themed storyline involving the same six characters spaced between such a short period of time. Can you talk about how this decision and then agreement between you and etc came about? 
The decision to continue the trilogy with Living Together was a bit of a lucky strike on my part.  We were halfway through rehearsals for Table Manners, when ETC approached me and asked if I were interested to continue with PART 2 of the trilogy.  Myself and the cast were thrilled and the opportunity. 
Most actors and directors can relate to the feeling when you have such a great time working on a production, everyone works well together, everyone is committed and dedicated to the job equally and then before you know it, the production ends…but in this case, I (and the cast) have been so lucky to have the opportunity to re-unite and do it all over again. 
  It is well known that you are an Alan Ayckbourn admirer. Is directing Living Together so soon after Table Manners a bit like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers?
Yes!! It definitely is – it’s been such an interesting journey through rehearsals so far – mainly because, the ‘character journey’ for the actors has been done…the hard work of finding and developing characters was done when we produced Table Manners…so to now come back and slip into the same character, I imagine has been much easier for the actors this time around.   
The plays in the trilogy all contain the same six characters. Was your idea to cast the same six actors from Table Manners? Why? And were you successful in achieving this? And, if so,  given the familiarity these actors now have with one another and yourself, can you talk about if your approach as director has shifted at all to accommodate this familiarity?
Yes – It was definitely the intention to cast all the same actors (if they were willing!)  The group worked so well together in Table Manners and they received such a warm response from audiences, that I always intended on having them all back.
We have all become very friendly and familiar with each other now and although I don’t think I have shifted my approach to directing, I can see that the cast has felt more open and comfortable to ‘play with things’ a little more, offer suggestions and workshop ideas.  It feels very much like a ‘group effort’ this time around. 
 Table Manners was staged in a very creative way – you chose to stage it in the round. Are you using the same approach this time? If so, why? If not, why not?
I did stage Table Manners in the round which was an interesting adjustment for all of us as we were mostly used to the traditional style of staging.  However, I have decided to go back to the more traditional staging for Living Together.  There were a few reasons for this decision, ONE: I didn’t want to exhaust the novelty of staging ‘in the round’ TWO: There are certain features of the Living room that I wanted to show case (such as the BAY WINDOW) which could not be done in the round and THREE:  I wanted to provide the audience and cast with some variety.
You have certainly set yourself a very high bench mark as Table Manners scooped the etc in-house awards last year. Firstly, can you describe your thoughts as the etc awards evening revealed its nominations and winners and secondly, do you feel any pressure ‘to do better’ with this production given these acknowledgements of achievement awarded to yourself and the cast of Table Manners? 
Yes – it was such a surprise to get such positive recognition for Table Manners at the ETC in house awards last year.  I was really pleased and proud of the cast who received nominations and awards.  Myself and the crew did put in so much work and research into the production, I was very appreciative that this was recognised. 
I was very nervous going into directing my first production at ETC, but this has given me a boost of confidence to continue. 
I have an extremely talented cast and crew. We intend to work just as hard as we did last year and hope for a positive result and audience response.  Although awards are a wonderful way to recognise talent and hard work, I really believe this is not why we do what we do.
Finally, aside from a rest what is next for you?
I know I told you this last year but I’d like to have a rest and hopefully do some acting.  So I’m keeping a look out for auditions!
Living Together by Alan Ayckbourn directed by Tess Maurici-Ryan
Venue: etc,  Bradshaw Street Community Hall West Essendon Melways: 28B3
Season: March 24 – April 2. Bookings: Eileen 9330 4808
visit: http://www.essendontheatrecompany.com/