From the dark corners of the Internet to the even darker thoughts of an actor making ends meet working as a children’s party fairy.
From a tiny apartment that is the whole world for a gender-fluid twenty-something to the end of the world – as a musical.
This year’s MERRIGONGX program, a year-long season of work by emerging and diverse artists, is nothing if not diverse, says Merrigong Theatre Company’s artistic director Simon Hinton.
“As a presenter, we’ve committed ourselves to developing different types and different scales of work, which is something you can’t always do when you are programming a mainstage season,” he says. “And MERRIGONGX allows us to not only develop new work but also a new audience for it, and that’s the really exciting part.”
This year’s MERRIGONGX season begins with the premiere of Party Girl, a new solo work written and performed by actor Lucy Heffernan.
Party Girl, she explains, is inspired by a brief stint as a children’s entertainer, a role she didn’t much relish at the time. “I was able to put a couple of funny stories away in the back pocket from that,” Heffernan says. “But it also made me reflect on those other instances when women are supposed to present ourselves and behave in a certain way.
“It struck me that all young women are expected to be polite and never angry. You must be a good fairy, never a bad fairy. So what started as a real-life experience expanded into something about the way women have to be in the world.”
Heffernan studied at the University of Wollongong and sees the MERRIGONGX program as a natural fit.
“There has always been a strong link between uni graduates and Merrigong and a big part of the theatre training there is about giving students the skills to make their own work and create their own opportunities.”
Hinton believes that multi-faceted artists like Heffernan are the new face of the theatre industry. “There has been a real shift in the past decade,” he says. “Artists are much more engaged with audiences than they used to be. I think the days of actors coming out of drama school and passively waiting for an opportunity is over. It’s much more about developing an audience alongside your work and building a sense of community around it, which is something we can help with here.”
The work of Candy Bowers, who brings her bangin’ body-positive variety show Australian Booty to MERRIGONGX in August, is a perfect example, Hinton says. “She’s built a very strong, young and diverse following for her work and she’s active on so many fronts.”
Already locked in to the MERRIGONGX 2019 season is a development showing of Sydney-based musical theatre company Squabbalogic’s Good Omens, a show based on the novel co-authored by fantasy fiction giants Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and The Believers Are But Brothers, an acclaimed performance work from Britain in which writer-director Javaad Alipoor explores the internet havens of religious and political extremists and hate-speech mongers.
Three Made From Scratch nights will showcase new works from local artists across performance, dance, visual art, film, stand-up, poetry, music, cabaret and circus. In late May, audiences will also encounter Elsie, a work created by two performers with circus backgrounds illuminating what it is to live with mental illness.
“We’re lucky at Merrigong to have a stable, loyal, and knowledgeable audience for our mainstage season and we can use that to encourage new kinds of work,” Hinton says. “We were very pleasantly surprised by how many people went to see MERRIGONGX shows last year. It’s great to see we have audiences willing to take a chance.”