The Canberra playwriter, director, producer, dancer and actress Shaylie Maskell will make you smile with her energy, exuberance and quite confidence and that's before you've seen one of her productions.

The marketing description of the show ends with the line: Heist! is a family-friendly comedy that goes to show you should never underestimate anyone. Which is coincidently a perfect description of Shaylie Maskell.

What would be a suitable nickname for a woman who starts her own theatre company, writes the show, directs and produces it, helps build the stage, books the venues, often performs in it, does the marketing and does media interviews? Maybe "Oxygen" - because she's everywhere? That's a list of eight things, so "Octopus?" How about "Fluro" because she's always buzzing? (Ok I'll stop now).

Spend five minutes with Ms Maskell and you'll see she has this built-in energy supply and optimism that drives her. It's contagious.

She's currently preparing for her third foray into live theatre production with the upcoming comedy show, Heist! at the Belconnen Community Theatre. Shaylie wrote it and is co-directing it.

"I only do original stuff and I don't just write it and present it. I write a play and then give all my friends the script, assign characters and then they give me feedback," she said.

For Heist! the feedback she got was, "It was too dramatic for some of the characters which is fine for a drama but in a comedy, it comes over as slow and boring," Ms Maskell said.

This show will actually be Shaylie's first comedy production, a unique challenge which she's embracing. She quoted co-producer Elliot Cleaves in her hunt for comedic success, "Do it for the laugh. If it's not going to get a laugh, don't do it."

"For this one we scrapped about 40 pages! Not to say it was boring but having too much drama in a comedy is boring comparatively."

Always learning

A schoolteacher by day, there's no doubt Shaylie is versatile and insightful with where she finds inspiration. She said listening and observing some of the unexpected, bizarre or hilarious things that school students say and do is a great resource.

"I had a character in my last show, a 17-year-old who was struggling with life, the police, his girlfriend was a drug dealer so to write what he might say and how he might react I pictured some of the students I've seen over the years and wrote how I thought they might react," she said.

"Characters kind of write themselves - it's hard to explain if you're not a writer - but I write up a character who might remind me of someone i've known named Toby and sure enough, the character will be called Toby.

"Same with the show title, it writes itself. It gets called something and eventually the name just becomes the title, it's just what happens," said Ms Maskell.

Small ensemble, close knit groups

Ms Maskell explained she prefers working with smaller ensembles and assigning each performer up to six different characters to portray, she has performed in larger shows but sometimes felt like only a tiny part of a larger production.

"I like to keep groups as small as possible (Heist! has a cast of 15), with bigger groups it can get more tense, cliques can emerge and often a lot of people are doing one small job - you can say you were in a big show but did you really get to do much?" she said.

One of the Shaylie's strict rules is all the cast members will bow at the same time at the show's conclusion. It's a complete team effort from the writing, stage preparation and the performance, everyone is equal.

"One of our cast members for Heist! is in a wheelchair and in the original script there was a part where someone had to ask her to take a seat," said Ms Maskell.

"The actress just replied with I think I'll be fine thanks, we all laughed and kept it in the show."

What's it all about?

Heist! is a family-friendly, original comedy play written by the amazing Shaylie Maskell and produced by Green Oak Theatre.

The Capella Brothers are the most notorious criminal gang in the world. For over 40 years they have stolen from some of the richest people in the world, and have never been caught. However, when one heist goes wrong, the criminals find they've accidentally kidnapped a famous billionaire.

The three thieves must try and extort money from his family, get assistance from a flamboyant would-be kidnapper and negotiate with an assassin, all while avoiding arrest from a clumsy police constable. Heist! is a family-friendly comedy that goes to show you should never underestimate anyone.

Thursday 6 July 2023 - Saturday 8 July 2023 at the Belconnen Community Theatre starts at 7pm-830pm (no intermission).

Matinees on Saturday 8 June and Sunday 9 July at 2pm.

Here's a link to buy tickets - see you at the show!

By Phil Staley

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