Of Mice and Men hounded Samuel Audas-Ryan.
Everywhere he looked, it was there: in books, in TV shows, in shops, even in journal articles prescribed by his uni lecturer.
“There are a million pop culture references to it. It just kept appearing,” says Sam. “When I finally got down to reading it, I was blown away by its progressiveness. I knew it was a play I had to campaign for.”
Sam will direct the classic novel-come-play for Full Throttle Theatre Company at this year’s North Australian Festival of the Arts (NAFA).
Of Mice and Men and Modern Audiences
“Of Mice and Men is a classic tale about two drifters with a deep connection,” says Sam.
“They’re chasing the American dream and have finally found the sliver of hope that pulls them to work harder. Then things start going wrong and you really feel for them.”
While the story is set during the Great Depression, many of author John Steinbeck’s observations on humanity remain timely.
“When you think about a male author writing about minority characters in the 1930s, you expect some pretty heavy stereotypes and not too much empathy,” says Sam.
“But Steinbeck has written a lot of these minority characters in a way that brings light to how poorly they’re treated. I love the fact that the play says ‘Hey, we should change the way we treat people’.”
Staged in the Open Air
The show comes in the midst of a tricky season for Full Throttle Theatre Company, who have been displaced from their usual home while the Courthouse Theatre undergoes renovations. Of Mice and Men will be staged in the open air at the Crossed Boomerang Amphitheatre in the NAFA hub.
Sam says his cast and crew have risen to the challenge of leaving the safety of a traditional performance space.
“It was difficult originally. Especially knowing we’ll be in an open air space with no head mics,” says Sam. “We also only get one rehearsal in the space before opening night to work out any kinks.”
“It’s meant that I’ve been telling them to project over and over again during rehearsals, like the Big Bad Director, but it’s paid off. Everyone’s working hard. And it’s an interesting space. It’s new and exciting. I think everyone enjoys that shake-up.”
Unearthing new talent
NAFA has also presented all theatre companies with the now-annual challenge of securing talent in ‘peak season’.
“It’s a time where every single actor, artist and creative is spread thin, because they’re doing a million different projects all at the same time,” Sam says.
The short supply of experienced actors means Directors have needed to look beyond their usual castings.
“We’ve got Matthew Wilmen, Max Kichington-Goldsmith and Nikki Quinnen who are pretty much brand new to amateur acting in Townsville,” says Sam.
“It’s exciting to know that we have some fresh young males to train up and add to the local talent pool. We’re always looking for them.
“We also have Gerard Millican, who has just done his first play, The Philadelphia Story, and is now leading the cast. He has been blowing me away with his performance. He has worked so hard.”
The fresh actors are being guided by more experienced locals including Michael Ruhl, Glenn McCarthy and Callum Fisher.
“This is this is one of the best performances Callum has ever done. He has been working exceptionally hard and it helps these new actors to work from his performance as he shows them some of the ropes.”
Rising to the Challenges
In reflection, Sam believes he was hounded by Of Mice and Men to be pushed a little himself.
“I think it was given to me to really make sure that I’m doing a craft that I love and that I will work my work my ass off to get to that point.”
Of Mice and Men will be performed at the North Australian Festival of the Arts until 2 July 2022.