Mark Wilson is a Melbourne based writer, performer and director who studied at the Victorian College of the Arts and Monash University. In 2009 he was made an International Fellow of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. Currently Mark is directing Dennis Kelly'sThe Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas for Red Stitch Actors Theatre in St Kilda.
When I meet Mark he is in rehearsal; the show opens in a few days and everyone is hard at work. The tiredness shows as cast and stage manager exit the rehearsal space; each looks totally exhausted and more than ready for a break. Olga Makeeva, a member of the Red Stitch ensemble since 2005, comments that she finds her part particularly demanding as the play is wordy and English is her second language.
Mark is the last to exit the rehearsal space. We find a quiet corner and he asks if I mind if he eats while we chat – it is after all his lunch break. Clearly there's little rest for the 'wicked' when it comes to getting a production on stage, on time.
Mark's previous work reveals his love of Shakespeare. The Bard's work has been the starting point for at least two of his own works: Unsex Me (2012 based on Macbeth) and MKA: Richard II (Fringe 2014). For Mark, Shakespeare's texts are endlessly inspiring and provocative. It's not just the drama and the pace, he explains, but “the largeness of the ideas and the language … for me it's far more important that the ideas are there and the language is there, and that the ideas are in the language.” Ultimately Shakespeare's works challenge us to think about the issues involved in living in a society.
As a writer/performer Mark has sometimes divided audiences, even provoking walk outs, so I have to ask whether he purposely aims to shock. He assures me not. Rather he aims to encourage people to question themselves and their society. Sometimes, especially when a work is dealing with issues that we're not talking about culturally, he finds that there needs to be a certain amount of provocation from the stage. Such provocation can prove shocking for some. As a director he likes a challenge. He encourages his actors to find unexpected things within themselves and also to challenge him, so that together they create a work that is greater than all its parts. The great thing about directing is that you are “outside”, and that's also its greatest weakness; whilst a performer's strength is being “inside” the role, performing for the audience. “I guess I like to have toes in both pools, and also the writing pool is something I enjoy swimming around in, although I guess I don't identify as a playwright really.”
As a director Mark places great weight on the rehearsal process. “I'm not hugely interested in the model where the actor stands where the director tells them to, and says it how the director tells them to … I think that's fine and it's a means to an end but I don't think it's a thorough process of theatre making”. Instead he seeks a process, or processes, that draw on the strength of the differing perspectives, so that everyone works together to find a common language. “When things are hugely successful that's because a common language has been found, and a real rigour in the rehearsal room has been found.” As a theatre-maker Mark feels himself moving, like others of his peers, towards a place “where the distinctions between those roles [writer, performer, designer, director] are less and less important”, where he can become a really strong collaborator, articluate in each of these areas.
As director of The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, Mark has faced some specific challenges. He hadn't worked with any of the actors before so the process of developing a shared language had to start from scratch. The Red Stich space is small and the cast relatively large, five in all, long-term Red Stitch ensemble members Dion Mills and Olga Makeeva know both space and audience; they were “a dream” to work with “because they know the measure of the space, the challenges and the gifts of it”. Also Mark's compositions, ideas developed before they entered the theatre space, turned out to be more suitable for a larger stage and had to be adapted to the reality and specific demands of the space. As he said, it would be great to see a production in a 600 seat theatre, but that would demand far more resources and result in a very different show, something he admits that he'd love to play with. Finally there was the text itself. Here he was faced with a play text as a document which is not to be changed, an interesting experience and one he hadn't had for several years. “When I work with Shakespeare or Marlowe or my own stuff, that's cut and paste time … [laughter] … I haven't been able to get my fingers all over [the text] and cut and change and slice”.
Mark is full of enthusiasm for Dennis Kelly's play. He is particularly excited by the fact that the play is a morality drama which also contains echoes of Greek Tragedy. The central character stands apart, both like us and not like us, as in classic tragedies, and there's a chorus that has ownership over the story. Mark likes the way that Kelly uses the chorus to break the dramatic completeness of what could have been a simple dramatic narrative. “I think formal breaks are perhaps necessary to provoke thought in the audience” and the morality framework focuses us on the issues rather than the psychology of the character and where the story is going. “i'm really interested in those techniques of disrupting the Aristotelian drama.”
Mark's energy and passion, for theatre in general and this work in particular, are compelling. As I leave I comment to the actors that I love their director. Olga responds that they do too, “he's wonderful, he conducts us” she says, her arms waving in illustration.
The current season runs till 7 March but Mark already has plans for the future. He has some works in development and will be directing other projects later in the year. There is also the possiblity or touring Richard II.
Mark Wilson isn't going to stand still and certainly is a theatre-maker to be watched.
The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas plays until March 7, 2015