Back in 2009, local theatre company c2c mounted their version of the cult musical about a rock and roll band fronted by an East German transgender singer. And this month they’re doing it again.
It’s a strange kind of theatre show. It’s held in a bar. The actors stay on stage for the entire set. They play loud rock and roll. Yet, somehow, they manage to make it work like a piece of theatre. But don’t let that scare you.
Elling Lien got a chance to talk with Brad Hodder, who plays the character of Hedwig.
ON BECOMING HEDWIG
…I heard from someone that as you get the wig on and start putting your costume on backstage, you start turning into a real diva. How do you get into your character? How do you find your Hedwig?
[laughter] The costume definitely completes the character. I would rehearse in jogging pants and a T-shirt, because I wanted to be able to move, but the minute I put on that stuff… It’s pretty restrictive… It’s pretty tight. And the fake nails go on. And the hair is crazy. You have to give yourself over to it.
Normally I bite my nails, so I don’t have nails, but then all of sudden you put on these long nails and that, as ridiculous as it sounds, that actually means I have to pick things up differently. There’s something about that, now that I think of it, the nails really do something. They force me to interact with the things and the people around me a lot more daintily because I don’t want to break a nail. Seriously. Because we’ve only got so many of them.
Put on some press-on nails and see how it changes you. Put on nails and try and do up your shoes. Seriously. Try and tie your shoes, or take a beer cap off a beer. You can still do it, but it’s a completely different way of interacting with the world. And that’s just the hands. Just the fingers. It changes everything.
ON TRICKING THE AUDIENCE INTO SEEING A PLAY
…How does this show relate to other kinds of theatre you’ve done? Because it seems like a real hybrid. An actual rock gig and a theatre show in one…
Yeah, I think this one’s kind of different. It has a built-in cult following because of the movie adaptation [from 2001], so you’ve got people who have seen that. It speaks to a community.
Charlie Thomlinson [the director of the show] he talked about this last year. With this show you are tricking people into coming to a play. They think they’re going to a rock show and then you trick them. You hit them with a few monologues here and there and then ha ha ha! It’s a play. [laugh]
There are metaphors! There’s character development!
Yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff. And because a stage production is different from a movie, and most people here who went knew it from the movie only.
What we found last year is we had a lot of people who came once and they came back again the next night. The word-of-mouth was really great. We put a lot of work into it and we were really happy with how it turned out. We were pretty proud of it.
I think what really made a difference is it’s in a bar. You can buy a drink. You can even get loaded while you watch the show, which can be fun.
I guess that’s the thing. The Rock House is a perfect spot for that show, but I’d like to try this once in a theatre too just to see how it works there. It’s definitely a play, but there’s a lot of interplay with the audience, because the premise is you’re at a live Hedwig gig, and whatever happens, happens. Some people in the audience react to things and we riff off that.
I was just looking at the photos from last year and there was a sequence of two photos where someone from the audience was feeding you gummi bears. That wasn’t a plant, was it?
Hedwig talks about the gummi bears, but that wasn’t a plant. That just happened. Closing night last time we even had a bunch of people show up with Hedwig-style styrofoam wig cut-outs on their heads.
At that point you know you have a phenomenon on your hands.
[laugh] It helps too that we have a great band. Janet Cull can sing the crap out of anything. You know, I like to rock and roll and pretend I’m a rock star, that’s fun. And when you know you’ve got Janet Cull there to pick up where I waiver, it’s go great. She just comes in and saves the day.
Yeah, it’s a show that has been taken up. Last time we did a few appearances before opening, and I guess that got some word out. But it really rallied beyond what we expected. It seemed to me like it got the regular theatre audience out, but it also rallied a whole other kind of community out for it as well.
Lots of people took ownership of it. For me, on a purely selfish level, it’s the closest thing I will ever have to feeling like a rock star. Which feels so great.
The music for the show is so great. When you do the show you’re given that gift. I mean, the text is great. The story’s fantastic. You have interplay with the audience. But then on top of all that you get these songs that are just…
You’d do it a disservice to call it musical theatre, because they’re real rock and roll songs.
They wrote a tribute to rock and roll. There are so many influences there, in the text and in the music.
I read that when they were getting that show ready for the first time in New York City, they were playing covers in bars—like glam era David Bowie—and changing the lyrics to fit the story. Later they wrote the music.
Yeah, mostly music by the people referred to in the show as “crypto-homo rockers.”[laugh]
Yeah, from what I know of the show, they spent a lot of time playing around with it, playing it in dingy bars and trying different venues for it. Messing around with it with no real, conscious idea that it was their workshop period. It just took on it’s own life and it worked, because it’s still going over 20 years later.
ON AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
…I really enjoyed the audience participation when I saw the show last time. The singalong especially.
Thanks. There’s this moment in the show where it’s kind of like storytime. Charlie wanted us to treat it like story time as an experiment.
“Maybe we’d get people to sit down at this point.” And sure enough, when Hedwig goes, “all right everybody, storytime,” we watched 90 per cent of the audience sit down on the scuzzy floor of the Rock House. Like, holy crap! It’s moments like that, and moments like the singalong where people actually do sing along, and moments where people give you the gummi bears, that you realize that this is a different experience.
With this show, I don’t know how else to describe it except there was a real sense that, in some way, the show wasn’t ours any more. Ten minutes into the first performance last time there was a sense that this show wasn’t just ours. For whatever reason, it belonged to everybody in that room. That sounds a little flighty, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It really did become this thing that had all of those wonderful elements of live performance. We are all here, right now, for this next hour. This is special, this is unique, and this is ours, and it’s only going to happen here.
ON MOM & DAD
…I heard your parents went to see it last time. What do they think of it all?
You know, when they heard we were remounting it, mom and dad couldn’t stop telling everyone about Hedwig. It was so weird hearing my dad at the table at Christmas time telling my uncles, “so in this show Brad plays this character who had a sex change and now he has no penis and no vagina. It really is an excellent show.” [laugh]
Dad came to the opening night, and then they came back again for another show. And my parents, they don’t do that usually. But they really liked this one. On some level, I think this show is really fringe and bizarre. But there seems to be a truth to it that lots of people can identify with.
Ultimately it’s someone trying to find themselves. And that’s something everybody does. We spend our whole lives doing that. Hedwig has such a rough go of it, but then you can watch her on stage finding herself, in some way.
c2c’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by Charlie Tomlinson, will be at the Rock House on Thursday, March 10 at 9pm and Friday, March 11 at 9pm and 12am. Tickets are $20 and available at Model Citizens or at the door. 19+ only. Rock on.