Debuting November 24th, in London, England, a play featuring a goat cast explores the controversial topic of propaganda and its effect on family lives. One outstanding innovation of the play is its inclusion of dairy goat breeds in the list of actors. A small herd of trained goats enters one scene and is free to roam the stage.
The goats are supplied by Animal Actors, an agency that trains animals specifically for stage and movie productions. Positive training and animal welfare, while caring for goats, are high priority. The theater and agency follow advice from and work with the respected national animal protection body, 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 are six young mixed-breed dairy goats who have had plenty of gentle handling from a very young age. Their Saanen, Guernsey, and Nubian goat roots give them a good genetic foundation for working with humans. They have also had exposure to the general public throughout their lives and are used to friendly interaction with strangers.
Rehearsing with a Goat Cast
The goat actors joined rehearsals six weeks before the debut to thoroughly learn the set and script and to get to know their co-stars. They quickly adapted to their new environment and bonded with their human colleagues. The human cast were impressed by the goats’ professionalism and personalities.
“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,” says actor Amir El-Masry.
It only took minutes for human and goat cast to make friends. Actor Ethan Kai describes his co-stars as “cheeky” and “sweet”, and finds this adds 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 director 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.
The theater prioritizes a stress-free environment for the goat cast, which includes their own spacious green room of shelter and pen. They have been carefully transported from their normal home near London by experienced handlers who supervise their stay, after which they return to their well-appointed, free-range life at Animal Actors’ base. Safety is also top of the list, with investigative feet and probing lips to consider. Apart from being guided by leashes, the goat actors are free to explore the stage. The theater makes doubly sure that the stage is goat-proof and that goats cannot get into the audience.
The play, showing until the end of December 2017, at the Royal Court Theatre, London, tells the story of Syrian families fed war propaganda to mitigate the death of soldiers by celebrating them as heroes. In the desperate struggle, casualties pile up and grieving families are offered goats in compensation for their lost sons. Playwright Liwaa Yazji explores viewpoints on accepting fake news or seeking the truth through her mordantly funny script.
Hamish Pirie and his 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 cast demonstrates how adaptable this species can be with appropriate training and good welfare. I look forward to sharing news of their performances, as well as exploring training and goat-friendly handling, in a future issue of Goat Journal.