Huzzies, a fast-paced tale documenting the rock and roll dreams of a band on the cusp of infiltrating the Belfast scene, opens this week at The MAC as part of Belfast Festival. The Gown caught up with the play’s director (and artistic director at Tinderbox), Mike Duke, and musical director Katie Richardson (of Katie and the Carnival fame) to chat about the local music scene, the challenges facing the cast and the rocky road to stardom!
Questions by Tara McEvoy @tara_mcevoy
How have rehearsals been going so far?
K: They’ve been going well, yeah – we’re in our third week now though, so it’s all go!
Can you tell us a little about the play?
M: It’s a story about four people, three women and a young man, who come together to form a band. Four sort-of misfits, who start to try and work together as people, and then as musicians, with strong and different tastes and musical backgrounds. Different things going on in their own lives. The play tells the story of those individuals and their relationships, and how they get on – and don’t! – with each other, and the music alongside that tells the story of the band. Through each of the songs you can see the journey of the band and how they begin to shape up. They go from being rough and ready – which might be a bit flattering – with clashing ideas and sorting their sound out. But you can see there’s something in them from the beginning, and then the music shapes to the point where they’re a regularly performing band.
How would you describe the band’s sound?
K:It’s a combination of lots of different influences. We looked at so many different styles of music at the start to try and find a sound that is a cohesive band sound. Because we’re working through the time frame of a band, we end up with a sound – but we had to work back; work out how they might start, what sounds they might make at the start, how they might arrange the music. There’s definitely a rocky element, definitely a folky element. It’s a mixture. I’ve never been very good at describing the music that I write.
M: It’s indie folk rock – folk harmonies and rock guitar sums it up pretty well!
How did you both come to be involved with the project?
M: At Tinderbox, all of our work would be new plays. We first worked with Stacey Gregg as one of four writers on a project calledBruised in 2008. Then in 2009 she mentioned the idea of writing a project about a girl band, which we commissioned. Then Stacey had a play on in London, one in Dublin, some TV and film work – things are really happening for her. Then we found a window to develop this commission. Meanwhile, I knew Katie as a performer and a composer. She’s been involved with some Tinderbox projects – she was a performer in our festival show last year. So we began to move this forward, and it became clear how large a role the band and music were going to play in the show. We asked Belfast Festival to commission us a musician and composer as our musical director – Katie was who we desperately wanted and we were lucky to get her!
How do you feel the play works within the wider Belfast Festival Programme?
M: I have always felt that this is a great festival show. When I come to look at a festival programme, I want to see quality, variety and originality. I want to see strong work from here sitting alongside strong work from the rest of Ireland and the UK, and from the rest of the world. For all those reasons I’m delighted to be in the festival, and think it’s a good show for a festival audience.
K: It’s a really fresh show – I’ve never seen anything like it before!
Has the play derived inspiration from the local music scene?
12/10/huzzies-2.jpg”>M: I think the whole attempt of the show is inspired and influenced by how strong that scene has been over the last couple of years. It’s very energetic, varied and unpretentious, accessible and a huge range of bands seem to coexist – maybe there’s all sorts of in-fighting, I don’t know! But I love the way there’s a scene that seems to feed each other and feels that it’s growing organically. There’s an audience developing that’s going to see new work – recently written, newly performed, rough and ready. That’s an audience that Tinderbox as a new writing company wants to attract to its work. That’s what we’re doing as well – crafting new work and putting it out in front of an audience for the first time. So that’s a similar attempt – hopefully some of that audience will come into the theatre, and we’ll take the band into music venues and try and reach them that way as well.
K: I am part of the music scene here – it’s such a collaborative scene, there are a lot of people who work together and support each other. There are incredible musicians here, I mean there’s such a diverse range of bands and music that’s being produced. I feel like in the last couple of years especially, the scene has opened up a lot and now there’s more alternative bands, more folky bands – it’s not just about the indie rock thing anymore. To mix that with theatre and try and open up the two is really exciting. So yeah, there’s influence from the scene – we’re here, we’re in Belfast. For me, as a musician, I’m influenced by it every day – naturally, that’s come into the stuff I’m writing.
Has it been a challenge for the actors to learn both their roles and music?
K: They’ve been so quick – there’s a lot of information for them. They’re just taking on the challenge so incredibly well, and so if they’re feeling challenged, they’re working through it and coming out with great results. I’m really proud, musically, to have them play the songs.
M: The two biggest challenges connected with the fact that there’s a play – and pretty much the guts of a gig within a play – are casting (to try and get the right actors for the parts, to have them gel together as a credible band throughout the course of the play, a band who have been together for a few years and have had time to develop their sound), and then sharing the rehearsal time to put together a band that are supposed to have been together for two years, all in the space of four weeks! To put an untested play in front of an audience, within four weeks and starting from scratch is a difficult challenge. So to combine the two within four weeks is a ridiculous thing to take on! And so it’s our good fortune that we all get on very well together, and the cast have been fantastic.
Is the play truthful to the actual experience of being a musician?
K: There are so many different sides to being a musician – so many soul destroying times, and times when you feel elated. There are a lot of emotions, and I think that’s reflected in the show. It’s a truthful representation in many ways. The struggle of being in a band – of one person having so much passion and wanting it so much, and having to fight against the rest. That can be really difficult, and that’s something that I find really interesting. But there are lots of layers to it, and it’s definitely representative – certainly to my experience of being a musician.
M: I hope they’ll have seen something very original, that in a very accessible way tackles themes they’ll regocnise of youth, class, culture, how a younger generation is trying to deal with what they want to express- and starting with very few advantages, really, in this particular group. I hope people will take away some of the things that those young people talk about through the play, but also come out with the songs in their head, having had a lot of laughs along the way.