Will O’Mahony knows when he’s onto a good thing. Last year, he wrote and directed a play commissioned by WAAPA for its third year acting students called The Mars Project, and rather than shelving it and letting it live on in the memories of those lucky enough to be in or see the original production, he’s doing the play again for The Blue Room under his production company, The Skeletal System.
This is a good move in terms of O’Mahony’s progress as a playwright, as he can further massage the material and test its viability in a slightly different format, but it’s also great for audiences who might have missed out on this unique work. The Mars Project tells the story of Wren, a woman who wants a spot in the fictional ‘Mars One’ colony program and will go to any lengths possible to get it. Originally written for a cast of 17 students of roughly the same age, O’Mahony’s new cast has been boiled down to a mere 5, including himself and a few of Perth’s established favourite actors.
I was curious to find out how O’Mahony is going about transforming his work for The Blue Room season, as it seems no easy feat to distill a piece designed for seventeen actors down to five. And it’s always interesting to hear how artists work through the process of taking a critical look at their own work. Will found a few moments to give us some further insight into how it’s all going.
What led you to the decision to re-write The Mars Project for a smaller cast? Was it something tugging at you internally, or were there external prompts that made you want to give this piece a second life?
I guess The Mars Project is being less re-written and more adapted. The play explores ‘change’ in a big way: how people can and can’t change and ultimately what they’re prepared to do in order to become a different person. For this reason, I thought it would be interesting to embrace a small cast playing an enormous number of roles. Without getting too meta, an actor’s talent is measured in how powerfully they can imagine another person’s world and I thought The Mars Project might benefit from building this theme into the cast size itself.
Finally, I think the play will benefit from having a greater age range on stage. I’ve wanted to work with Andrea Gibbs and Steve Turner for a long time and I can’t wait to see what their onstage experience can bring to the play.
How did you go about separating the wheat from the chaff? Did you scrap the whole thing and start all over again or did you take a red pen to the script and start chipping away? Were you focused more on cutting scenes, characters or subplots, for instance, or was it a more abstract process?
It was first and foremost about character/actor traffic – working out what combination of roles could be performed by a single actor.
I also wanted to see if more clarity could be found for a particular sub-group of characters, their identity being slightly confused in the original production.
Does the new version retain the tone, shape and format of the other, or has it changed radically? Are the actors playing multiple characters to keep some of the former intact?
This production of The Mars Project will be quite similar on the page to the original. However, given the enormous cast reduction it will obviously translate differently onstage.
I have no idea whether what I’m trying will work or not and that’s scary. But yes, with the exception of one actor who plays a single role, all other parts will be played by just four actors.
How long has the rewriting process taken?
Most of the rewrites will take place during rehearsal once I have actors in the room to show me what’s working and what isn’t but I imagine we’ll be rewriting all the way up to opening night.
Did you have anyone working with you or assisting you with the rewrite (or offering friendly advice/constructive criticism/dramaturgy, etc.)?
Not really. I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of what I can improve, what I can make clearer, what I should leave alone. I want to see how the actors handle the juggling of multiple, difficult roles before completely overhauling the script. Part of me thinks that if you want to completely change the play, then just write a new play. And I liked The Mars Project the first time – enough to want to do it again.
Hypothetically, should anyone want to produce the piece in the future, would you keep both versions alive, or would you file one or the other away for posterity?
I can imagine the script we end up with at the end of this Blue Room season will be its final form. I think this script can be performed by as many people as the director sees fit. My only stipulation being that the actor who plays the character of SAM must only play SAM and no other roles. I’m sure audiences will understand why when they see or read the play.
My thoughts on the original production are here.
THE MARS PROJECT
19 APRIL – 7 MAY 2016, THE BLUE ROOM THEATRE
Mars One: a program created to establish a human colony on the red planet by 2025. Since its announcement in May 2012, critics have questioned all aspects, from the technical feasibility to its funding model. But recent developments seem to be bringing the goal of starting a human colony on Mars a little closer.
Dates: 19 April – 7 May 2016
Time: 8:30pm Tuesday – Saturday (and 6:30pm on Saturday 7 May)
Where: The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre
Booking Information: www.blueroom.org.au, (08) 9227 7005
Tickets: $18 – $28
Official Hashtag: #themarsprojecttheatre