DIRECTOR Tanya Ryder-Barnes is accustomed to living on the edge: in a university production she was forced to stand in without notice for a panic-stricken leading lady, and as a teenager she directed her class in The Wizard of Oz.
All of which is sound preparation for shaping 1812 Theatre's latest production, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery, which is rich in slapstick and relies on its set falling apart on cue.
It is her first time directing a farce, as well as her first show with the Upper Ferntree Gully theatre group.
The production is a "play within a play" and follows the drama of the four ladies of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society as they attempt to present a play.
They choose to perform the ambitious Murder at Checkmate Manor, but the production is blighted by a series of disasters — scenery falls down, sound effects are misplaced and cues are missed.
Ryder-Barnes said the cast ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-70s and had worked hard to be stage ready within six weeks.
"When I think back to auditions now, I think how could I have even contemplated anyone else for these roles," she said.
The Emerald resident discovered her love of theatre when she was living in England as a six year old and saw a stage production of Annie.
When she was in year 8 and bored with the book they were studying in class, her teacher asked her what she would rather do — "I wanted to do a play".
Ryder-Barnes thought the teacher was sceptical, but several weeks later she had the class performing The Wizard of Oz on stage.
"I love the thrill of being able to affect people — by them being moved and laughing or feeling sadness or joy. I manipulate the situation to get that to happen," she said.
She's never keen to get on stage herself but when the drama happens off-stage, Ryder-Barnes is prepared to forget about the butterflies, such as the time she filled in for a panicked actress.
Similarly, early in the season of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery, one of the older actors hurt her back and scenes had to be re-blocked.
"That's the hard thing about theatre, it's not filmed, so you've just got to do it," she said.
1812 Theatre volunteers have been working on the set every Sunday and Ryder-Barnes said it was a challenging feat.
"There are so many set jokes in the show, so it's heavily reliant on it falling apart magically," she said.
The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery is on at 1812 Theatre until Saturday, March 23. Cost: $25.