Yackandandah teacher Brendan Hogan had never really thought about telling stories through plays, but in a short time has found his writing niche. He was recently awarded the 2018 Martin-Lysicrates Audience and Online prize for Farewell Mr Nippy and is working on his fourth play through his involvement with the Playwriting Australia Outpost program.
Last year his play, The Last Boy on Earth, was performed by Yackandandah Young Players, Connor Wall, Alexandra Mason, Aya McInerney and Henry Rotherham and is now open at the Hume Bank Butter Factory Theatre as part of the HotHouse Theatre 2019 Season.
The play, described as a ‘surprisingly hopeful post-apocalyptic adventure for everyone’, tells the story of Sprout who in the year 2043 is the last boy on Earth.
Border Café chatted with Brendan during rehearsals about his ‘accidental’ career as a playwright, the growth of the young actors and filling the gap in theatre made for 10 to 14-year olds.
BH: A few years ago, Arts Yackandandah, the community arts organisation for the town identified the need cater to youth in the community. I had always had a passing interest in theatre, performing in amateur theatre so I started offering drama classes and that’s how the Yackandandah Young Players was formed.
Not long after that I decided to write my first play, that was Scaredy-Cat. It was pretty successful. We took it to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival the following year. That started for me the belief that I could write a whole play and in particular write for children. It’s kind of snowballed from there.
BC: Where did the idea for The Last Boy On Earth come from?
BH: Yackandandah has a strong focus in the community on the environment and sustainability, so I wanted to create a work that explored some of the ideas around sustainability and technology. With funding from Creative Victoria I was able to run workshops with some groups of kids and that resulted in the first iteration of the play that was performed in Yackandandah last year.
BC: Is the version people will see in the HotHouse season very different from the Yackandandah performance?
BH: It’s a world away from the show that we did in Yackandandah on a two metre by two metre stage in the back room of an op shop with maybe 80 people crammed in there. Our musician, Ben Gallagher arrived the night before and improvised a lot of the music. This time we have a bigger stage and Ben, as well as being in the play has written a score for the play. We have professional set design by Sophie Woodward, and lighting design by Rhys Llewellyn.
As the writer and director, I’ve been able to rework it in light of the audience response. In terms of its tone and its emotion it is very different to last year’s show.
BC: You’ve talked about the changes in the production, but have you seen a change in the young actors since they performed in Yackandandah?
BH: Last year was the first time most of them had performed. They’ve all grown another year; in their ability and they’ve really stepped up. They’ve been with the characters for 12 months so we’re seeing much stronger performances. They’re really fleshing out the characters.
BC: What has the partnership between Arts Yackandandah and HotHouse meant for the community and for the production?
This has been a great opportunity for the kids and for a community arts organisation to engage with a professional theatre company. We’re indebted to Lynn Wallis who has just finished her time as Artistic Director, and all of the staff. It’s been great for us and I’ve learned a lot as a writer working in this professional environment.
BC: Did you make a conscious decision to write for 10 to 14-year olds?
I did because I don’t think they’re catered for. I know that they’re pretty aspirational about what they want to see on stage and I always try to walk that line between what kids of that age really want to see, what they’re interested in, what they find funny and what their parents feel comfortable to have them see.
Sometimes I think there’s a mismatch between what parents think their kids will find funny or what challenges them. I need to create theatre that bridges that gap so that they can have a shared experience that also makes them think.
What: The Last Boy on Earth
When: Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 July 2019
Where: Hume Butter Factory Theatre, Lincoln Causeway, Wodonga