A daring theater production staged a bold innovation — a goat cast live on stage! Royal Court Theatre, London, England, ran the play from November 24 to the end of December 2017. The play, entitled simply “Goats”, explored the controversial topic of propaganda and its effect on family lives. The novelty of including a goat cast in the list of actors captured the attention and hearts of audience and reviewers.
Six trained goats entered the stage and were free to roam and interact with cast members. Amelia, Beauty, Belle, Eek, Squeak, and Leigh are young, mixed dairy goat breeds who had been expertly trained and prepared for going on stage, meeting audiences, and performing with human actors.
Goat Cast on Stage
As the goats trotted onto stage, initially a little excited or nervous, they quickly settled down to various activities: exploring, playing, butting, greeting their favorite co-performers, nibbling the props, grooming, eating, resting, or sleeping. The human actors clearly enjoyed their attention and spent much time petting them. The goats’ unpredictable behavior amused the audience, often at rather inappropriate moments of the play. Their beautiful coats gleamed. Their adorable natures captured the audience, upstaging their human co-stars. Reviewers found the goats a welcome diversion in a serious and tragic play. And this was exactly the intended effect.
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The storyline depicts Syrian families fed war propaganda while their sons die in battle. Government officials celebrate fallen soldiers as heroes to mitigate the pointlessness of their deaths. In the desperate struggle, the casualties pile up. As a result, the government offers goats to grieving families in compensation for their lost sons. The endearing and engaging animals are a sop and a distraction in an absurd tragedy. Through her mordant and gritty script, playwright Liwaa Yazji explores viewpoints on accepting fake news or seeking the truth.
A Welcome Disruption
Then enter the chaos and light relief of adorable goats! They proved as distracting to the audience as the plot’s politicians hoped they would be to the grieving villagers. The goats’ docility and willingness to be led for feed reflected the passive acceptance of families lost in a blaze of propaganda. Reviewers debated whether the writer’s intentions were entirely effective. Audiences suppressed their giggles at the goats’ antics, being somewhat embarrassed to laugh during harrowing scenes. Many found themselves confused by the lengthy plot, the jarring images, the unnatural set, and amusing goat capers. But then as director Hamish Pirie commented, “I’m drawn to plays that are messy, odd, and weird.”
On the other hand, the goat cast was not distracted or alarmed by the screens of jumbled images, the bangs of simulated warfare, or by actors shouting passionately into microphones. Careful training and habituation enabled the goats to remain at ease within the noise, activity, and unusual environment.
The goat cast was supplied by Animal Actors, an agency that trains animals specifically for stage and movie productions. Positive training and animal welfare were high priority throughout training, rehearsals, the production, and at all times while caring for goats. The theater and agency followed expert advice and worked with respected national animal protection body, the RSPCA, as well as veterinary and livestock advisers.
Trainers took special care to select goats that would adapt well to the theatrical milieu. The goat cast had plenty of gentle handling from a very young age. Their Guernsey, Saanen goat, and Nubian goat roots give them a good genetic foundation for working with humans. In addition, they had careful exposure to the general public from early on and were used to friendly interactions with strangers.
Rehearsing with a Goat Cast
The goat actors joined rehearsals six weeks before the debut to thoroughly learn the set and to get to know their co-stars. They quickly adapted to their new environment and bonded with their human colleagues. The goats’ professionalism and personalities greatly impressed the human cast.
“Because we’re not forcing them to be at certain points on stage, and they all have distinct personalities, no performance will be the same whenever the goats are on,” said actor Amir El-Masry.
It only took minutes for human and goat cast to make friends. Actor Ethan Kai described his co-stars as “cheeky” and “sweet”. He felt that they added extra excitement to the acting experience. The goats took their scene in their stride, quickly adapting to the setting and to their role. They only needed one practice of a task to master it, much to the amazement of Hamish Pirie. Although it was a little chaotic during the first run through the scene, by the third, the goat actors seemed as nonchalant as old hands.
Safe and Stress-Free Accommodation
The theater prioritized a stress-free environment for the goat cast, which included their own spacious green room of shelter and pen. They were carefully transported from their normal home near London by experienced handlers who supervised their stay. When the show was over, the goats returned to their well-appointed, free-range life at Animal Actors’ base. Safety was also top of the list, with investigative feet and probing lips to consider. Apart from being guided by leashes, the goat actors were free to explore the stage. The theater made doubly sure that the stage was goat-proof and that goats could not get into the audience.
Goats’ Professionalism Applauded
The goat cast charmed and delighted audiences and reviewers alike. They got even greater applause than the human actors! Hamish Pirie and the cast enthused about their experience of working with the goats. You can see just how quickly they bonded in this YouTube video.
The cool professionalism of the goat actors demonstrates how adaptable this species can be with appropriate training and good welfare. Many interesting new uses of goats are coming to light in our modern age. So apart from farming, why do people raise goats? Other than food, what are goats good for? It seems they excel in many therapeutic, rural, and leisure occupations. Examples include goat yoga, land management, agritourism ideas, pack goats, pulling carts or carriages, and grazing goats on a restaurant roof. These new uses give opportunities for goats to find their place in our society outside of farming.
Goats are Adaptable to Unusual Roles
Goats’ social nature lends itself to working with humans in therapeutic and entertainment scenarios. They have adapted to working at close quarters with humans over thousands of years, often very intimately, within the domain of dairy production. But the benefits of owning a goat encompass more than just the goat milk benefits. Are goats good pets? Most people who have worked with goats can attest to how enjoyable and therapeutic the experience can be.
Despite goats’ friendly nature, they remain a vigilant and nervous species, due to their even longer natural history of avoiding predators. Therefore they need careful acclimatization to new circumstances and unfamiliar people. In most cases, goat training must start when they are very young to enable them to deal with crowds of strangers, unusual places, and changing environments. Whatever role goats may perform, they will need expert training and goat-friendly facilities. When their behavioral and physical needs are met, these animals can lead happy and fulfilling lives while providing valuable services and novel business initiatives for people worldwide.
Originally published in the May/June 2018 issue of Goat Journal.