In the five years of running Mon Sans Productions, it has been my highest pleasure to provide work for young and upcoming artists, a job that has built me up as an individual and an artist. Mon Sans Productions was established with the single goal of giving artists the chance to perform unique content that would relate to them and to fellow young audiences. The pursuit to find new talent and to challenge them in meaningful ways is what drives the initiative of Mon Sans. When working with actors I find their journey with Mon Sans builds them as an actor; there is an evolution of the craft that they go through. Finding the right kind of people can be tough but rewarding; I have found that you tend to discover talents in places you never expected. I have seen actors find the strength to pull off deep emotional scenes of loss and inner turmoil; to find the humour and fill a room with laughter and even to brave one’s own expectations in becoming Monroe herself.
When starting Mon Sans we were adamant that the actors should be paid for their work. The idea being that if you were paid to act then you were seen as a professional actor worth the financial risk. I have kept by this mentality. To see an actor be paid for their work I found gave their performance all the more meaning to them and the others around them. I will still remember the first time Melanie and I told the actors after the last show of “Dog Sees God” that they were going to get paid; the emotional gratitude and pride of the actors, with one actor proceeding to hug me and say they needed this!
To run a new company at the age of seventeen was not an easy task and to say that things have gotten easier would be false advertising. Mon Sans remains one of the toughest tasks I have ever taken on board. Theatre is a diminishing industry with diminishing returns. However, it is the art and the people I encounter through Mon Sans that keep me going. Last year, when running a female playwright competition the reaction was instant, there is a crying voice of artists wanting a chance.
After “Dog Sees God”, a play written by American playwright, Bert V Royal we decided to start producing original content. Being a playwright this was an easy transition for the company and what Mel and I felt was a necessary step from a financial and artistic standpoint. Also, being young I was able to write content that would relate to young audiences. Plays like “Not a Word” and “Passing Time” aimed to open discussion on young culture and the mentality of youth, whether it be how language is used or about the urge to find meaning in life after school.
“Monroe” was the first play not written by me. Amber Kent was the winner of our first playwright competition, delivering a unique challenge for Mon Sans. Could our company provide a clear voice for other writers whilst attaining our accessibility for youth? In many ways “Monroe” helped Mon Sans mature as a company, finding deeper, more adult themes to work off.
Style is a big part of what we try and exhume in Mon Sans, from Existentialism, Absurdism, Biopic and Drama. With each production I try to find a new theatrical style to explore and engage with audiences. Sometimes with great praise such as for “Not a Word”, “A Broken Law” and “Monroe”. Others we tested ourselves and pushed expectations to mixed reactions, with “Passing Time’ and “Hiding Jekyll”, the latter a spoof in the vein of Mel Brooks. To challenge what is acceptable in theatre and blur the lines between mediums is important and what keeps Mon Sans vibrant.
By far what I have found gets audience’s in the seats are the people you work with. In the case of “A Broken Law” we dared to hire twenty six cast members, a huge feat of coordination and planning to achieve. The result was a production that stood out at the Sydney Fringe Comedy Festival as genuinely unique for a small time theatre company. One thing I am most proud of when it comes to “A Broken Law” was that twenty of the cast members were females, showcasing them in both humorous and dramatic roles. This versatility in cast was happenstance and greatly helped provide engagement and energy within the piece itself.
In recent years our ability to bring in people of great artistic merit and keen passion for what we do has become vital. I would be remiss not to mention Abe Bastoli, the man behind every promotional shoot Mon Sans has ever done, and in recent years a co-producer and sponsor for our company. His presence added a new professional ark for the company and his experience and friendship to the company has been vital and invaluable in recent years. There are other key people that have been with the company from the start like Douglas Walker, our mainstay sound and technical expert. Doug’s involvement is a comforting thought especially when dealing with other technician’s out there; even if he does love playing sound effects in rehearsal’s when he shouldn’t. The many people we have acquired for behind the scenes work really shows this beating heart of theatre making. From incredible set designers, John Murell (Hiding Jekyll); strong-willed stage managers, Elaine Tou (Monroe); inspired graphic designers, Agaki Boutista (Dog Sees God), Bethany Monsted (Not A Word) and William Rudlin (Passing Time); resourceful effects designers, Lachlan Monsted (Dog Sees God) and unique musical minds such as Jack Miller (Passing Time).
Then there’s “Dog Sees God” where it all began. “Dog Sees God” was a great launch pad for Mon Sans, a genius, twisted drama comedy riffing on the classic Charlie Brown characters. It was a play that dared the audience and provided Mon Sans with a unique voice, a young voice that was willing to deal with dark themes and to provide insight. The cast was a risk, a bunch of actors from the performing arts high school Mel and I attended, with the exception that is, of Campbell Smith and Remi Slade - Caffarel who we auditioned. This cast remains the most important in my eyes because they were a proof of concept; could young actors get together and develop a deep meaningful performance that would invite other young people into the theatre? The answer, yes.
So five years have passed. What have I learned?
1. Do what you know and can relate to.
2. Dare to ask questions of the audience others won’t.
3. Never underestimate the abilities of young actors wanting to give it a go.
4. Ignore reviews (especially if they’re bad).
5. Be bold enough to say, “Why not!”
And with that I bid you adieu.