With their first production – the spine-chilling ‘Ernest and the Pale Moon’ – hitting the stage in just a few weeks’ time, the Shrinking Violets are set to leave their mark from the very beginning. Here, sits down with Violet and actress to discuss all t
Chiara Hyzler is a woman of many hats, particularly when it comes to theatre. In fact, over her 11-year career, she’s directed numerous plays, including Female of the Species for Unifaun and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the MADC, to mention but a few, and acted in many others, particularly pantomimes.
“I was forced – kicking and screaming – to my first audition in order to support my friend Helena,” she tells me. “I remember singing the title song of Friends for that panto audition and, by some stroke of luck, I got in. From then on, I kept involving myself in a lot of pantos and one-acts.
“My acting then evolved into directing, particularly after winning the Best Director Award in the MADC One-Act Play Festival. That led me to being offered some good directing opportunities and I’m still directing today. Moreover, I have now put on a new hat of producer, which is exciting because it’s a totally different sphere.”
Now, Chiara, who is also a drama teacher at San Anton, has founded her own theatre collective along with Denise Mullholland, Cathy Lawlor, Maria Buckle and Jo Caruana, called The Shrinking Violets. Their debut – with Chiara and Jo acting and Denise directing – will kick off on Friday, 27 October at the newly-refurbished Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta. What led you to Shrinking Violets?
I’ve partnered with some of my best friends and people who I respect greatly, to create a theatre collective that has no rigid format in terms of roles and responsibilities. We all roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done. We’re also a collective that prides itself in collaborating with other talented individuals, start The such as Luke Saydon, who composed the music for our upcoming show (I have no idea how he does it, I can’t even press a C on a piano); Moritz Zavan on lights; Emma Micallef on photography and Gianni Selvaggi on design. We like going for artists who are a bit new, but who have their flair; a little something different that they can bring to the table. You’re now just a few days away from your debut as a collective with an adaptation of the eerie Ernest and the Pale Moon. What can you tell us about this play?
It’s funny how it all happened, really. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with the writers and producers of the show way before the Violets was created, while Jo and Denise had watched it at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was a huge success. Then, when the collective was set up, we decided to go for it because of its unique qualities as a play, something which, hand on heart, is new and fresh to Maltese theatre.
Ernest, you see, is an ensemble piece which you don’t see a lot of on an adult level – it’s usually more of a youth theatre thing or seen at schools. In fact, as a play, it feels different: the way it’s written, and the way the actors tell the story, hasn’t been done in Malta before; it’s a very new way of telling the story. Within that, the actors are very much part of, and very instrumental in, the creation of sound on stage, and the play has somewhat of an eerie element to it – Hitchcock/Poe style, if you will – which again, you don’t see much. What can you tell us about your role in Ernest?
We each play multiple characters so, as such, I’ll be playing one of the ensemble and the character of the nurse.
The nurse is very interesting as a character and so is her story, which revolves around her job – a job she has had for years, during which time she’s had to put up with the people around her while dealing with the guilt and the sadness that comes with her job. She’s a very busy woman who wants to get on with the show – so she sounds exactly like me, come to think of it!
With regards to the text for the ensemble, although it’s hard to relate to what the characters are going through in the show (it tackles themes of obsession, rage and jealousy, all of which are just not my nature) as an actress, I have to find the hook to give a convincing performance. What can you tell us about working with the other Violets and actors?
Working with Denise – both as a Violet and a director – has been extremely educational. She’s so experienced and very good at what she does. I’ve watched almost all her work – I’m a big Denise fan! – and I know her results are always top notch. And I would work with her again in a heartbeat, particularly as she opens our eyes to things that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. She makes you tougher and better.
As for the rest of us, well Jo and I know each other inside out and she annoys me terribly… Make sure you write that! There is a lot of chemistry there. As for the others, I’d never worked with Thomas [Camilleri] and Chris [Galea] before properly, Photo by Emma Micallef but I love working with them on the ensemble pieces and being part of a team. There are so many moments when we’re all equal as characters, that it’s just a total team effort; we are machines, revolving and on-the-go all the time. You can’t do something like that if the people around you don’t support you.