Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) at PACT
Recently, Rosie sat down with Tom Hogan, who is currently co-devising Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) with Bonnie Leigh-Dodds at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists.
Tom Hogan: Co-deviser/Performer
Can you tell me a little bit about how this work came to be, and why you chose to perform that work at PACT?
I have a theatre company with two friends in Perth, and I've always been doing these interstate collaborations. Flying to Perth is great, but it's a very expensive venture for an artist with no backing. So I wanted to put on a show in Sydney. As for PACT - I became an Artist in Residence, I've got two years there to devise work, and try things and get things wrong. It's this big beautiful warehouse space where there's so much at your disposal. You don't have to put on a show during your residency but I figured that if I'm going to use this space then I want to create a complete work there. Bonnie (Leigh-Dodds) is a friend of mine who moved to Sydney recently, and we were on our way to a gig together and Smooth FM was on, and we started to lament the loss of Love Song Dedications, that we don't have that show anymore. When you're with someone who's also in theatre, and these ideas come up, you just want to work with them straight away to create something. That was probably about a year ago.
What have you found most challenging about this work and what have you found most rewarding?
Most rewarding is easy. I think anyone who's working in theatre at the moment isn't doing it for the money. So you make the work you want to make with the people you want to make it with. It has to be fun - if you're having a horrible time making a show that's not going to make you money, I don't know why you'd be doing it. Devising works with my closest friends is exactly where I want to be. Researching this has been so fun - we just get to talk about love songs, listen to love songs, think about love songs, and try to find Richard Mercer. What's challenging is definitely trying to figure out how our devised work will translate to an audience. What do they want to see, and are we going to be able to give them that? Especially because it's a work that we've created from scratch, we have no idea if it works or not.
Image: Nick Mckk
For those who aren't familiar with the process of devising a new work, can you talk through your process of creating that piece from scratch, as opposed to receiving a fully-formed script that comes with its own creative cues?
The way that I tend to work is that you do so much research. You have this core idea, you might have a person that you want to collaborate with, and you just think 'let's go nuts'. It is book after book after documentary after tv show before you even truly begin. Most of the time spent devising is just dedicated to research. From my experience, you then have to go and put a script together. There has to be something that regularly happens at this performance, even if some of it is improvised/changes every night. It's definitely harder than a regular script because you've got to build it yourself, you've got to put in all those creative cues yourself.
There's sections in this performance that aren't just script-based, there's movement work as well. Bonnie has a very different way of working and a very different theatre history to mine - mine is very script-based and hers is very movement-based - which is the opposite way to me, which is what makes us such a perfect match. We clash on every single level and still make something that neither of us could have possibly done on our own.
What has Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) taught you as a practitioner?
For these devised works, there is so much research. I'm a musician and a composer, and so researching and learning more about music just feeds into everything that I do. 10 years ago, when I was studying jazz and composing, if I had told myself 'you're going to spend a whole year listening to Shania Twain's back catalogue and really getting invested in that' I would've thought 'there's no chance.' But I've realised that there's as much in that as there is in Don Coltrane. I'm sorting through this mainstream content that keeps getting dismissed by people I know, as soon as you say you're doing a show about Celine Dion or the like, people automatically assume that it can't be real, it can't be sincere. But we are trying to find the sincerity in these songs. Learning how to be sincere has been a challenge for me. Having Bonnie on board, who is just 10 times better than me, has definitely taught me a lot. I've learnt so much about movement-based performance, and how to tell stories in ways that I'm not used to.
Image: Nick Mckk
Why should audiences come and see this show?
One of the things that I really like about theatre in general is that it responds to things that are happening at the time. I think there’s something really special about seeing a work that is about now, written by people now, focusing on contemporary politics. This show focuses on why things fade out, why love songs stay with us, and why they’re important now. Although this show feels nostalgic, it is definitely rooted in the now. It’s also fun, witty and has great music!
What’s your ultimate love song?
The show is about answering that question obviously, and I don’t want to give away the answer, but we’ve been interviewing experts to find out why they believe people have certain favourite love songs. There’s not been one blanket answer because it’s really subjective, but there are common themes that keep coming up. People acknowledge that great love songs are not just about pure joy – I think the ultimate love song has to be a balance between that joy as well as darkness.
What is next for you?
I’m in the very early stages of writing a musical about Bourke and Wills, the Australian explorers. I’m trying to figure out if there’s an Australian story that sums up our history. It’s very very early stages though.
Image: Nick Mckk
Favourite production you’ve ever seen?
I saw a show at the Old Fitz once with Tim Minchin, and it was the first time I’d seen independent theatre, and it was absolutely joyous. It was treading the line between what was real and what wasn’t, and it kept breaking the fourth wall, and it made me realise that theatre doesn’t have to be this generic thing, it has so many forms.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world. Where do you go?
I don’t think place is important – I could be anywhere, and I could make it fun.
What’s your dream show to perform in?
It would be a show that I had written, with my best friends. So in a way, what I’m getting to do now. I could do it again and again.
Play or musical?
Who is your industry inspiration?
People like David Bowie and Tori Amos who don’t have a clear, single identity, and are fluid in their art.
Anything else you’d like to tell our followers?
Yes! I’m currently working on a podcast called Missing Richard Mercer, and it’s this great journey where we go looking for him, because after his last Love Song Dedication, he actually dropped off the grid. We won’t tell you if we’ve managed to find him, you’ll have to listen to the podcast – but we’re hoping to use all of our contacts to try and get him to the show.
Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) is on at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists from the 18th to the 28th of July. For tickets and the podcast episodes visit https://missingrichardmercer.com/