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MERRIGONGX

"Artists are much more engaged with audiences than they used to be"

Merrigong Theatre Company aims to build a new audience alongside new work from young and diverse creatives.

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Show: MERRIGONGX
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Merrigong: The X-Factor

Date: 15 Mar 2019

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.”

For director Jay James-Moody, MERRIGONGX offers an opportunity to further develop Good Omens, a musical based on the novel co-authored by fantasy fiction giants Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

“New musicals in Australia are generally underdeveloped, particularly when they’re of the scale of this show with 19 cast members and an orchestra of seven,” explains James-Moody. “So in teaming with Merrigong and have them so generously share their space and resources, we have a chance to take a step toward the American model of musical making – which obviously works – and have a proper out-of-town tryout of the material. This is only going to benefit the piece moving forward.”

Following on from a sit-down reading of Good Omens in 2017, James-Moody has extensively revised and honed the show.

“We’ve kept all of the good stuff from 2017, tightened it, clarified it, and enhanced it,” he says. “Our Merrigong development is going to take it a step further. We’re adding a full orchestra, costumes, lighting and, staging. It is going to be very simply conceived and our audience will have to bring a lot of their own imagination to the presentations, but they will see the show from beginning to end in its most fully formed incarnation to date – and hopefully their response will inform the next stage of development as positively as the last.”

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.”

The season will evolve over the year but already locked in to the MERRIGONGX 2019 is 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 and three Made From Scratch nights, which 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.”

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