This Friday, Hart House Theatre will open its 2017–2018 season with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical that tells the story of Hedwig, a front woman in a band from East Germany, who, after undergoing an unsuccessful sex change operation, must live with a scar from the surgery — the titular ‘angry inch.’
The Varsity sat down with James King, who plays Hedwig, and Lauren Mayer, who plays her husband Yitzhak, to discuss the show’s hair, rock and roll, and the love story that unfolds between them.
The Varsity: The first question I have to ask is: have you gotten to try on your wig yet?
James King: Oh yes!
TV: How do you feel in it?
JK: I feel… amazing. It’s very transformative. The voice helps a lot too: the voice that I found for the character — there’s an accent of course, the East German accent — but she has her sort of own little voice too. It’s those things that really helped me to find the character. There are full songs about wigs that are very important to her as a person, and they are part of her make up, literally and figuratively — her kind of ‘mental make up.’ I think it’s something that she — at least when the show begins — needs to feel like herself. Or the idea that she thinks she needs to be of herself.
TV: What’s it like for you, Lauren, transforming into Yitzhak? Both costume-wise and character-wise.
Lauren Mayer: It’s weird! I got weirdly emotional when I put everything on — or elements on, I guess — for the first time. The costume is a really big part of it. I’m generally one of those people who tends to sink a little bit more into the character that they’re playing when the wardrobe is put on, especially for something as transformative as this. I’ve always been told that I have masculine tendencies, so I feel like with that, you’re able to actually visualize a part of yourself that you’ve never physically seen before. The wig and the costume are, for me at least, very integral for the role and for the performance. They complete it.
TV: Hedwig is a really intense show — I understand that you don’t have any breaks at all. You’re just on stage the whole time.
JK: More or less. I might step off for three seconds to do a little quick thing. But basically we’re on stage the entire show.
TV: How do you maintain energy and intensity through that?
LM: It’s a combination of eating, sleeping, warming up, and then also just allowing yourself to be in the story every time. I find that with us, with this show at least, I feel like every time we’re doing it, we’re hearing it for the first time. And so it’s not difficult to stay engaged with it. I guess that’s because we love it a lot as well.
JK: And the music, the rock music, instills you with energy. I feel like I hear it and it’s like ‘time to go.’ It calls you, once you hear it, if you go along with it, it takes you there if you are honest and just listen.
LM: You just have to listen. You just have to listen the whole time. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to sing with a live band.
JK: They give you an energy, you can feel it, and you can feel them playing and it instills it with a drive. It’s like you started a motor when you hear that full band. It’s a thing, rock and roll is all about feeling an emotion. And going back, it started as almost a juvenile sort of thing. Because it was like, this is the music of young kids breaking out of repression in the 1950s. This is rock and roll down the road, punk rock and glam rock and what it evolved into, it was all based in that root.
LM: It’s a guttural thing.
TV: I’m curious how you think the show will resonate with people today and with audiences that will come see your show.
JK: I think this show will always resonate with anyone, no matter what time it’s being played, or where, or when, because while there are many elements in it, about rebellion and about so many different things… I think at its core it’s really a love story. It doesn’t matter [your] race, religion, creed, orientation. I think everyone has felt love, or been in love, or been rejected by love.
TV: Do you have a number from the show that you’re most excited to share with your audiences?
JK: They all play such an important role. There’s no filler songs at all. I love — I know it’s probably such a cliché — “The Origin of Love.” Just because it’s… it’s magic. It’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous song. There’s the opening number and then boom, you’re in. Let’s go! It’s very special to perform it, and it’s an honour that we get an opportunity to sing it.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens September 22 at Hart House Theatre and is directed by Rebecca Ballarin.