Hedger, Nicholson and New Musical Theatre in Australia
Since the European discovery and settlement of Australia, our environment has been known as a harsh landscape, a place where it takes a lot of effort to make anything grow. This description holds true not only in our farming but also in our embrace of arts and culture, where small groups of people must constantly fight against obstacles to provide our population with up-to-date live theatre experiences. Our relatively young cities are consistently evolving to suit the needs of those that live in them, and with our current populace attending live musical theatre events at a steady rate, we have seen the numbers of splashy revivals and musicals imported from Broadway increase every year.
While no producer in Australia ever went wrong with a state-by-state professional tour of a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, avenues for the creation of original Australian musical theatre are often passed over when the money-making opportunity of a revival or proven Broadway work comes into the mix. While Australian audiences are happy to (finally!) be getting our own production of The Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots, it saddens many Australian musical theatre devotees that audiences are rarely afforded the opportunity to be introduced to Aussie musical theatre material, and it makes sense to us that we begin/continue to support structures for the sustainable growth of our own theatrical industry through local writers rather than relying on imports to entertain us.
This is where the young Australian musical theatre writing team of Hedger & Nicholson comes into the equation. Emerging bright eyed and ready to take Australian musical theatre for all it was worth after graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (one of Australia’s leading performing arts schools), Nick Hedger and Ben Nicholson soon discovered that while they could write a wealth of musical theatre material within their own homes, nothing would come of it unless they found a solution to Australia’s lack of spaces to trial work in front of an audience.
Inspired by the pub style workshopping methods of new musical theatre writers in New York, Hedger and Nicholson have managed to begin a revolution in new Australian theatre in the space of a year. Their event, Home Grown, has successfully provided an audience not only for them, but also for other writers, performers, friends and industry supporters that want to make sure that Australia has a legacy of strong original content in the future of the musical theatre world.
When asked to pinpoint what they believe to be the major problems facing new musical theatre writers in Australia, Hedger and Nicholson told me they believe that it is “not one problem, but (a) combination of several factors” that contribute towards the difficulty Australian MT writers have in getting trials of their work:
“(We) started Home Grown a little over a year ago, simply because there were no places for us to go and try out our work. No middle ground place, where the young creators and participators could go and just let fly. We knew these places existed in America because we had both fallen in love with musical theatre watching the edgy new work that was uploaded to YouTube after concerts at iconic venues like Joe’s Pub and Birdland – so we took it upon ourselves to get the ball rolling on something similar down under.”
Originally taking the form of a relaxed concert featuring a multitude of writers and performers every few months in Melbourne, Home Grown has expanded quickly under the proactive ownership of Hedger and Nicholson.
“Every two months, we have an event at Chapel Off Chapel [a popular venue and hub for new projects in Melbourne] that has so far showcased writers, performers and new Australian musicals. We have also just launched the first-ever online hub for Australian Musical Theatre at homegrownaus.com.”
The website features a sheet music store full of songs written by Australian writers, in addition to profiles, links to information, blogs, videos, news updates, and all manner of things concerning original Australian musical theatre.
“We also have established the Home Grown YouTube channel full of songs previously performed at Home Grown, and are currently in the early stages of planning a MASSIVE event for the start of next year not only featuring showcases and concerts, but hopefully workshops, discussions and networking opportunities too.”
Hedger and Nicholson performing an original piece from their musical Hook Up at a recent Home Grown concert
Although Hedger and Nicholson have had to go it alone and create a number of opportunities for themselves and their peers, they are quick to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the direction of certain people and groups within the industry they are trying to influence.
“We have been fortunate enough to have been supported by a wonderful group of people and mentors who have been able to guide us through our first year or two as a young writing team. [In addition to creating Home Grown,] we have undertaken developmental workshops of our own work, culminating in showcases that we have produced independently, but we have also been supported by other organisations such as New Musicals Australia, run by the Hayes Theatre Co in Sydney. The highlight of our year was having the chance to workshop Hook Up [an original musical concerning Gen Y’s navigation of personal relationships] with Andrew Hallsworth, David Wisken and the Music Theatre classes of 2015/2016 at Patrick Studios Australia.”
Being that they are so young and have achieved so much in such a small amount of time, I was keen to discuss the idea of youth and musical theatre with Hedger and Nicholson. Through their Home Grown events and workshops, the pair works primarily with younger generations of theatre performers (students, emerging performers, etc.), and I asked them what they believe to be the role of Gen Y within the confines of new musical theatre.
“It’s interesting that only since we’ve started working and playing with people outside of our age group (i.e. since leaving University after heading there straight from school) that we have come to think of our perspective as anything new or different at all. […] One thing that is definitely hard to deny about our generation is [our] need to articulate [our] inner most thoughts, struggles, and discoveries – just check out Facebook! It’s exactly this that makes our generation of artists search for something more than just telling an imported story.”
Michelle Brasier performing ‘Murphy’s Law’ from Hook Up
While it is clear that there are a number of difficulties facing NMT writers in Australia, Hedger and Nicholson do not despair that their chosen art form will falter from a lack of caring.
“There is a real sense of purpose among the young writing community in this country that is incredibly inspiring to be a part of. There have been some amazing trails blazed by some incredibly talented people and it’s extremely exciting to be a part of something in its (comparatively) developmental years, especially when considering there is so much momentum forming behind it.”
Hedger and Nicholson are positive about the future of the industry in which they have chosen to invest their time and talent. They know that furthering the reach of Australian musical theatre will take patience and hard work on behalf of many people, but they are willing to put in the effort to advocate for new material.
“We’re no economists, but it makes sense to us that the industry will be financially better off when it can stop relying on importing its intellectual property from overseas; and, therefore avoid sending a big slice of monetary takings back overseas on a silver platter. [We] think [Australia] should start working on a ‘build it and they will come’ principal. If we get our own house in order and make sure our stories are able to reach their full potential, then public support will be much easier to obtain. We need to create a culture of interest surrounding not only new works themselves, but the active creation of them.”
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