Kate Gaul graduated from NIDA (Directing Course) in 1996 and trained with the Anne Bogart SITI Company in 2005. In 2004–5, she was Associate Director at the Ensemble Theatre where productions included The Violet Hour, Kimberly Akimbo and Lobby Hero. She has directed works for Sydney Chamber Opera, Oz Opera, Merrigong Theatre Co, MTC, Company B and Griffin Theatre amongst others. Kate has also written and directed two short films Embrace and Cake.

She is currently the Artistic Director of Siren Theatre Co and is in rehearsal for their latest production, The Lunch Hour by Chris Aronsten.

Kate spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Kate GaulTell me about an early and formative theatre experience Kate?
When I was around 13 years old I saw a production of Dracula at Hobart's Theatre Royal. Bats flew overhead and careered around the auditorium, blood spots appeared on the victims' necks and Dracula seemed to appear and disappear right before our very eyes. I was absolutely captivated – I know it was all happening right there and it was magic. Theatre that transports the audience to another world, theatre that inspires wonder and engages the imagination is my favourite.

Describe The Lunch Hour in seven words?
Ambitious, hilarious, dark, subversive, shocking, silly, human

What attracted you to this play, and indeed, to Chris Aronsten's writing?
The Lunch Hour is ambitious as a new full-length play; the fact that it's a comedy and not many Australian playwrights write black comedy like this. And, it's bold theatrically; the recognisable, flawed characters; Chris's searing world view and the fact that the characters are struggling artists felt very truthful to me.

Tell me something about your collaborative work with Chris in the recent past?
I worked on Chris's play Human Resources which I directed for a season at the Darlinghurst Theatre in 2006. It was three interlinking monologues. The Lunch Hour is a two-act drama for seven actors – that' a huge shift.  

Do you feel that you and Chris share a similar world view?
I understand the world Chris presents – the characters are trapped by their own flaws but it's easier to blame outside forces; that we kind of trapped on a treadmill and that dreams become stymied. I empathise with the feelings of isolation the characters experience and their fight for control and I share a similar urge that the theatre is what's real and everything else is a bit monochrome.

What do you love about his turns of phrase, his characters and the tensions the characters experience?
Chris creates very sophisticated word plays where the combination of lines from the characters often creates an alternative/meta story. The characters have rich inner lives so they come out with some brilliant lines and observations – it's a comedy so the one liners are gold. His characters are artists so they have bohemian tendencies, a bit of outsider status while having to hold down "normal" jobs. And the mix of extreme intelligence, mind numbing drudge does conflate to some pretty wild interpersonal tensions and delights – theatrically speaking.

Can you give me a snapshot of the play's development journey so far from concept to stage?
I first read the play at a reasonably early draft. The situations, style and concerns were never in question. But a play with seven characters does require lots of detail in terms of giving clues to the interpersonal relationships – so we had lots of chats about lots of little things to make these connections fool proof. I act as a kind of sounding board; try to find the right questions to ask to release the play or deepen a relationship. So that's been happening for about a year. Then as the production draws closer we talk about casting and the entire enterprise moves into a production phase.

Six struggling artists, one call centre. It's a mundane scenario that many of us are familiar with, what do you feel makes this setting universal in appeal, dramatic and alluring to audiences?
These are human beings with hopes, dreams and fears. Strangely none of the cast have every worked in a call centre. They are rich territory to mine for characters as its a kind of job that lots of different people can actually do. The call centre is where they work – it's not a play about call centres. Why they stay there is part of the story and why they never leave is what it explores. Any bunch of fiery characters looking for an escape will create drama.

Casting is always an intriguing aspect for a new work, tell me something about the difficulty or the joys encountered with casting choices made in relation to the play or/ two of the play's character's?
Well, I decided to have auditions for every role in the play and it was a pretty interesting way to find out how actors respond to the text. It was useful actually to hear some of the speeches over and over in terms of getting the rhythm and content into my head. And as Chris was part of the audition process it was useful to hear what was working and when the text wasn't so clear.

There's a strong sensibility at work in the play and often casting is a process of finding those actors who "get" it. That was certainly the case with this play. The play also explores some treacherous territory in terms of sexual identity and ethnicity. There's some coarse language and a few "adult concepts" explored as well as a mix of theatrical styles. So the actors needed to be robust, imaginative and rather cluey about a few things to be in The Lunch Hour.

lunch_hour_intTell me about the setting and mood of the play?
The literal setting for The Lunch Hour is a call centre. However our theatrical interpretation of that leaves us with a much simpler gesture than straight-up realism. The play explores a number of theatrical styles and moods but I can't say much more than that without giving a lot of the theatrical fun of the production away. The soundscape is partly real world sounds and theatrical manifestations of these. There's music too, but to say much more would require a spoiler alert!

Tell me about the character Catherine?
I like Catherine. She's 40 years old. She's described as "acts insane, and is" – a beautiful description. She's got a kind of manic energy and desperate take on life. It's like she lives in a kind of David Lynch film on speed. 

And something of a character who is less appealing perhaps?
None of the characters are unappealing – they are all very human. 

Tell me about your take on the direction of the play?
The challenging aspect of directing this play will be getting the use of time right. The text is carefully structured so that every gesture – verbal, physical and psychological is acting in a kind of score. Creating truthful characters is always our mission – having them operate in the playwright's score is a pleasure to achieve. The play crosses a few styles as I've indicated. There's a fight. There's a dance. There is drama, situation comedy, farce and comedy, comedy, comedy – all in the timing as they say.

What is your favourite line(s)?
"Enter Catherine. 40. Acts insane, and is."

"You know you're a lesbian when you bring your own lunch..."

What is the most satisfying and exciting aspect to working on a new work like this Kate?
The most satisfying thing about directing a new play is that no-one has ever done it before. It's a really journey of discovery and the audience take that journey too as no-one has ever seen it before. It's very, very hard work but very, very satisfying to have been part of the first team to bring a play to the stage.

The Lunch Hour by Chris Aronsten, directed by Kate Gaul, opens at Darlinghurst Theatre, September 7, 2012. Details»

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