By Will Yannacoulias
“All Hail! She’s the King, She’s the Queen! All Hail! Of the Freaks, All the Freaks On the Scene!”
In 1998, New York artists John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask debuted the punk rock musical they had been working on for several years, Hedwig and The Angry Inch. The 1970’s story of a genderqueer East German “slip of a girlyboy” raised on scavenged scraps of American pop culture, the musical was an unlikely sensation; Trask’s unforgettable songs, dripping with glam swagger and snarl, were the perfect counterpoint to Mitchell’s poignant, poised portrayal of Hedwig. The surprise success of the musical led to a film adaptation in 2001, introducing the punk rock tale of love, loss and self discovery to a global audience. Fast forward to June 14th of this year; excitement shot through Saskatoon ‘like a blitzkrieg’ when the Sparrow Theatre Company announced that, in conjunction with The Broadway Theatre, they would be putting on two back-to-back performances of Hedwig and The Angry Inch August 27th & 28th. NSMZ spoke with director Zac Morgan (who will also be reprising his role as Hedwig from the 2018 Ghostlight Theatrics production) about the Sparrow Theatre’s vision for the beloved musical and what it means to don The Wig.
NSMZ: Hedwig is such a complex character, one who exists outside of the play as a real-world queer cultural icon. How do you approach interpreting a larger-than-life role? Do you incorporate John Cameron Mitchell’s portrayal or try to reimagine Hedwig as your own?
Morgan: “Hedwig being the cultural icon is a difficult character to portray. John Cameron Mitchell once said to me, ‘I’m so happy you played Hedwig, that means — you know, anyone who plays her is a sibling. ‘Cause it’s a hard goddamn job and it teaches you about stuff — and nothing’s scary after it, in terms of roles.’
He was right. After I played Hedwig I felt like I could tackle so much more. But returning to the role is daunting. In rehearsal, I question myself how I did this before. I have a responsibility to do justice to the role. John Cameron Mitchell IS Hedwig, where do you go from there? What can I do different? The first step is to try and cast all knowledge of the role aside and start fresh with just the black and white text — and feel her emotions between the lines. There are definitely places in the script that mimic a parallel to my real life. Hedwig experiences heartbreak from a very young age. She has been cast aside, neglected and used by the people she loved. She’s an ‘Exquisite Corpse’ — a collage of memories and pain. She is trying to understand who she is, who she can become whole with. Always searching for the other half. I think everyone can relate to that.”
NSMZ: Will the Sparrow production continue with the Cold War setting and the Glam/Punk aesthetic of the original? Is the distinct look and feel of the original stage production & film integral to a current performance or is that up for interpretation?
Morgan: “One of the quintessential elements of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the era of musical influence. The music is steeped in glam rock with inspiration from artists like David Bowie, Lou Reed, And Iggy Pop. These were artists Hedwig herself has come to know while growing up in communist East Berlin during The Cold War.
As far as the setting goes, we like to think this piece transcends time. We play a bit with the audience’s sense of the timeline, so you’ll see a lot of visuals and lighting emulating the 70s as well as later decades.
Coming into this show after already having presented it over 3 years ago posed a difficult challenge. We wanted this production to stand alone from the previous incarnation. We’re giving everything a polish, a bit of a redesign, and brought on the best creative team to work on costumes, wigs and production design. However, some things are best left as originally designed. Hedwig’s blonde wig and makeup, both originally designed by Mike Potter, are too iconic to change!”
Central to the story is the fact that Hedwig is the singer in a band, and most productions of Hedwig and The Angry Inch strive to include a full live band onstage. The upcoming Sparrow production auditioned and assembled an impressive ensemble of musicians to bring Stephen Trask’s songs alive. Angry Inch drummer Andrew Taylor kindly shared his thoughts with NSMZ.
(NSMZ) Almost overshadowed by the dynamic character of Hedwig is the fact that this musical has a fantastic set of very memorable songs behind it. The soundtrack is honestly a standalone album, especially for those who love glam and punk artists such as David Bowie.
(Taylor) “I’ve always been drawn to the music of this show. I don’t think there’s a lot of punk musicals out there and even less so that embraces the real grit of it like Hedwig. It maintains the form of a musical while diving head first into an unapologetic feast of punk smeared with glam. I’m especially drawn to this as a drummer because the style allows us to take a bit more ownership with playing the music. Less sight reading and more reading off each other.”
The Sparrow Theatre Company will perform Hedwig and The Angry Inch August 27th & 28th at The Broadway Theatre. Tickets are available at www.broadwaytheatre.ca/events.
Pictures courtesy Zac Morgan.
Zac Morgan (He/Him) is an independent artist living a multi-hyphenate’s dream in Saskatoon, SK. Some favourite projects include Avenue Q (Princeton, ppl r ppl productions), Little Shop of Horrors (Marketing & PR, ppl r ppl), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Director/Hedwig, Ghostlight Theatrics). As a director/producer, Zac’s work has been featured locally in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, and CBC News. During 2020, an obviously difficult year for many, Zac fought hard to create and trail-blaze during a time when so many felt discouraged. He produced a series of online musical revue’s entitled Musical Mondays that featured a variety of Saskatoon performers belting out show tunes on Monday nights. After the success of several online & pub shows, Zac became one of the founding members of Sparrow Theatre Company. He produced and directed Sparrow’s inaugural show A Killer Party. As an artist, Zac has worked professionally as a graphic designer and brand consultant for over 12 years.
Andrew Taylor (He/Him) is an actor, writer and musician based in Treaty 6 Territory. He has been playing drums for 20 plus years - currently playing with ‘The Pxrtals’ and ‘The Cryptorchids’. Past Bands/Projects include ‘Dirty Wounds’, ‘Holy Moly Skeleton’, ‘Swagger and The Choir Boys’ and ‘You Tel Aviv’. Andrew has also composed drums/percussion for Sum Theatre, Wide Open Theatre, Two Unruly Gentlemen and Greystone Theatre. Beyond the drums, Andrew is an actor and playwright – the mind behind ‘Southern Dandy 75’ and ‘Nautilus!’ and a returning writer/voice for ‘Dr.Frightful Presents: A Podcast’ (Buttered Ghost Theatre).