When talented young Australian writing pair Nick Hedger and Ben Nicholson noticed a lack of ability within the Australian theatre industry to showcase new music theatre, they devised a way to fix this problem almost immediately. Because of their hard work and obvious dedication to their craft, Home Grown was born.
Nick and Ben explained to Theatre People how Home Grown came about, and what the monthy event comprises. “I guess Home Grown exists because we were sitting around writing music, and realized that we really needed to show it somewhere to continue developing our writing. We were inspired by the New Music Theatre scene in New York, and decided that Melbourne needed a venue similar to Joe’s Pub or 54 Below. We wanted an event where the up-and-coming Australian writers could trial their work in a laid back environment with music performed by Australian performing artists.” From the conversation we had, it seems that it is important to Hedger and Nicholson that (much in the same way as shows at Joes Pub and 54 Below) the lines between audience and performers are relaxed, with both able to have the ability to contribute to the popularity and success of new musical theatre writing. My favourite quote of our interview came from this discussion, with the boys saying they wanted to see an environment where people could "get drunk and sing cool songs with friends and an audience that cares."
Looking at the line up for tonight’s Home Grown show – the August edition of Home Grown will feature the talents of a large group of professional performers, including what looks to be half the cast of Les Mis and a few Wicked favourites – Theatre People asked Hedger and Nicholson why they believe so many professional artists would be willing to offer their little spare time to participate in such a newly established, intimate gig. “I think there is a lot of pride involved in creating new theatre, especially theatre generated in your own country. A lot of our actors spend three or more years in tertiary education, learning how to go about creating their own characters, but due to the constraints of the Australian industry mainly importing professional work, not many people get the chance to really do what they studied and create the basis for a work.” Hedger and Nicholson used Idina Menzel as an example when talking about this topic. “In America, performers like Idina Menzel are able to consistently create roles and make a name for themselves within the industry, and there is less of that in Australia.” Working with other Australian talent, then, allows people working in professional theatre to branch out and create something that can forever be their own, and can contribute to our national identity as a country that endorses the benefits of theatre.
Pictured above: Ben Nicholson and Nick Hedger, the men behind the creation of Melbourne's Home Grown. Photo by Diep Nguyen.
Nick and Ben seem to truly believe in the ability of Home Grown to develop and support Australian artists, and spoke about other ways the Australian theatre industry could be supporting those who are trying to bring new work to the forefront. They started off by saying that they “would never want to diminish another person’s writing efforts,” but “it would have been fantastic for Australian works (such as King Kong and Strictly Ballroom) to take a chance and support smaller artists, rather than paying for pop artists to write scores.” This makes sense, especially in the case of something like King Kong, where the musical numbers in the show became messy and non-cohesive due to the number of solo artists contributing a song each to the overall score.
Hedger and Nicholson hope that Home Grown can inspire more active interest in new writers, and might be able to help create a better industry where people can trial new ideas in a much more user friendly way. They hope that an event such as the one they have set up can allow content to be created more easily and in less time (they stated that a major difference between our own industry and that of the U.S.A. is that in the U.S., there is enough of an audience to warrant a workshop of a new show every few months, whereas in Australia it is customary for a workshop of a show to be produced only once a year). “It’s really sad to us that a person with as much talent as Matthew Lee Robinson now has to move to the U.S. to allow his writing the opportunity to move to the next step. He’s a very talented guy and we are incredible happy that his music is gaining recognition and that he will be representing our theatre industry over there, but it would be a step in the right direction if Australia could create a middle ground for artists, somewhere between a small cabaret/workshop and a full professional production.”
Hedger and Nicholson understand that for anything in the creative industry to move forward, there needs to be a safe place to succeed or fail, and they have had the ingenuity, guts and dedication to create just such a place for themselves and others like them. One thing is for certain: if new musical theatre continues to be fostered by organizations such as Home Grown and people like Hedger and Nicholson, Australia’s future theatrical legacy is in competent and caring hands.