It’s that time of Semester again. The crew at UDS is putting on their Semester 1 comedy musical, “ The Hill’s Heist”. Lachlan Serventy sat down just outside the Dolphin Theatre, where the show will have its May 15th to 18th run, with Xavier Hazard, the writer and one of the producers of “Hills Heist” and Alex Crouch, the director for the show. Tickets available at the end of the piece.
Lachlan Serventy: Hi Guys, thanks for your time!
Xavier: No worries! It’s nice to meet you
This isn’t your first rodeo, you’ve both been involved with UDS productions before. Alex, this is your first time directing though?
Alex: Yeah, first time directing.
And Xavier you wrote “Dimity Smith is Dead” (Sem 2 2018)?
Xavier: That’s right, I wrote “Dimity Smith” and I’ve written a couple of sketches for our other show and I wrote a Tav comedy show in 2017.
Which was that one?
Xavier: It was called “A Town Called Death”, and that’s the last we’ll hear of that!
I see. And Alex, you’ve acted with UDS before. “Dom McKee for MP” and the “Top Shelf” comedy show that just went up at the Tav?
Alex: Yeah, I’ve acted in two musicals, “Dom McKee” and “Hotel Halicarno” and then I was in “Dimity Smith”, directed by Xavier. That kind of led into “Hill’s Heist”.
Xavier: He was the LEAD in the last two UDS musical, make sure you write that. (I did.)
Ok, first real question. Given that this is a play about Australia and laundry, OMO or Napisan guys?
Alex: I’ve always been a Napisan man. My family all hate me for it, but what can I say?
Xavier: I’m gonna go with OMO, just because I think it’s quite a satisfying word. It’s a – what is it? Not an anagram- a palindrome, that’s it. I think that’s satisfying.
That’s a convincing case. Though I think I’m still with Alex.
What got you both into UDS? Did you have experience with theatre before?
Xavier: Yeah, I did a lot of theatre at Redfoot which is with Hale just as I was in High School and then graduated and did one show with them. The first time I was involved with UDS I was a reviewer with a little magazine that doesn’t exist anymore and I saw the 2015 UDS drama “Memento Mori”. I thought that “I really want to be up onstage again or see a show of mine here, this is pretty legit”.
Alex: I did drama all through school. Towards year 11 and 12 I did several girl’s school musicals, doing the rounds at some of the private girl’s schools. Then first year at UWA I knew people involved in “Hotel Halicarno” and I knew there were auditions coming up so I just went down and auditioned. Done it ever since.
Xavier, you’ve written three shows for UDS. What’s it like watching ideas come out of your head, onto a page, then onto a stage involving dozens of people?
Xavier: Yeah, it’s wild. I think this has been the most intense one, because I’m very un-musical. I’m completely tone-deaf. I can’t sing or dance. I can’t really act. So, that’s why I knew I really, really wanted to write the musical, because it’s been such a collaborative process. They were my words to begin with, you know, the story and the lyrics, but then obviously our composers, Isaac Reynolds and Matt Nixon, came in and made them better and added music. Then Megan Rundle and Alex came in and directed it and made it funny and good, and Katherine Hooker came in and choreographed it and now there’s dancing in it and it’s wild. I love it. I love just being in rehearsals. I just sit there. I have no purpose. I just sit there and watch, it’s wild.
Following on from that. Alex, you’ve both probably worked together in other productions. Is there an element of pressure, having to take and interpret Xavier’s ideas and then put them out onto a stage and get everyone working towards a final goal?
Alex: I don’t think pressure so much. Obviously, Xavier directed me in “Dimity Smith” and pretty much as soon as that was all wrapped up we started talking about doing the musical. Then, over the course of the writing process and once the script was made Xavier was very vocal in letting me know any changes he made to the script, any plot elements, any details that were changed. Megan and I felt quite involved in the process throughout. I think, by the time we got to auditions and started doing the show, we were all very much on the same page about the show that we wanted to put on.
So you guys basically collaborated on the script? There was a lot of back and forward?
Alex: Yeah! I did NOT write any of the script though. I can’t write scripts to save my life.
Right, but I assume that knowing beforehand what you’re going into makes it easier? Rather than just having someone hand you a script and say, “make this happen”.
Alex: Yeah, definitely. It’s a huge team of people and everyone’s so open with their ideas and it’s a great platform for discussion to be made. We can all be on the same page.
Absolutely. Xavier, why ‘80s? Why Australia? It seems to have a very ‘80s aesthetic. Is it set in the ‘80s or is it more ‘80s inspired?
Xavier: I just don’t think I’m cultured enough in a particular decade to be confident enough to set it somewhere that’s not now. It’s set now but very loosely. I think my previous show, “Dimity Smith”, was again something that I just never focused too much on the time. I think focused more on telling a story that was engaging and timeless enough that people would think, “it doesn’t matter when this actually happened’. “Hills Heist”, accidentally, has a few contemporary references that place it pretty much now. The aesthetic we’re going for is a bit of a mix though. I think it’s kinda fun that you’ve got like, a lot of that sort of stuff happening in pop culture in the moment like, for example “Sex Education” was a little bit of an inspiration for the costume team. That’s obviously set in modern day but it does have those ‘90s and ‘80s vibes. Again, we just thought we can take style inspiration and we can take aesthetic inspiration from different places and, of course, musical inspiration too, but let’s set it now because that’s the reality of the world we live in today. In terms of the Australian story, I think that’s one of the really cool things about UDS. It’s original and we have the option to make original Australian stuff. Which you don’t see very often. Stuff that’s just unashamedly Australian and not in a “argh, get out in the Outback, cobber’ red dirt way. Just contemporary Australia and a silly story. I think one of the best things about writing the show is that it’s three things that shouldn’t work together. Heists. Musicals. Australia. You don’t expect this sort of story to happen in Australia. I think that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from. It doesn’t make sense separately, but it all works together.
For you, Alex. So there’s obviously quite a big step from actor to director. I’m assuming that, first time around, there’s a bit of a learning curve. I can imagine it’s often a thankless task going from being in the cast where you can just rock up and rehearse to being the authoritarian taskmaster. Especially with actors.
Xavier: Yeah, they’re kind of loose cannons.
How is dealing with all of that?
Alex: I think there definitely was a bit of a learning curve early on. A big part of that, though, was helped by having Xavier there given that he literally directed the last Dolphin show. He also worked as production manager so all of those little management things really can get dealt with in an efficient manner. That’s probably the biggest learning curve, dealing with lots of things, rather than, as an actor, just focusing on acting. As well as that, I think the cast is genuinely really, really good and they make my job just that much easier. I can kind of just say, “You’re on the stage, just go with it”. They’re also a genuinely hard-working bunch and I’m very, very happy with where the show is.
I can imagine that makes things easier. How do you find balancing out a three-month production schedule with uni?
Alex: So, I’m in my third year at UWA .I actually started this year doing full-time at uni for the first week. After that I was like, “Ok, this is enough”. So I’m just part-time this semester. Obviously, the show requires a lot of attention. It’s worth it though. I think Hills Heist is such a worthwhile thing. I don’t have any regrets in taking those units off.
Xavier: I’m studying law at Curtin, so I’m on the Curtin campus in the city. I’m in trimesters, so I started uni in January which was halfway through the writing period. I did the equivalent of a full-time load for that first trimester and that was….. a lot. As Alex can attest, over that period the ideas changed a lot. We pitched a completely different show when we first took it to the committee. We even changed the title. All of this happened while I was studying in the summer. Studying in summer is really depressing. I’ve just finished my trimester and a couple of breakdowns later I’m just doing part-time for this next trimester to focus on the show. I think also, as much as I enjoy my uni work, this is my absolute passion. Knowing that I’ve got this makes uni so much easier. If I’m struggling with study it helps to know that I’ll be at rehearsals soon. And I’ll have a show in May!
Ok. Obviously I haven’t seen “Hill’s Heist”, but I do know a bit about it. There seems to be a strong element of queer themes. I saw Matt Nixon’s character poster and he’s playing “Her”, a drag queen. That’s obviously a very strong example but there’s also a few other nods to queer identity throughout the play. Was that representation important to you?
Xavier: It’s very important to me. I think something that I’ve always just had as part of me when I write shows is that I’m a big old gay man. I just want to see more narratives that are just silly. There are a lot of good narratives emerging at the moment from the perspective of people in the community. I do want to see MORE that are just silly, but they also have queer people in them. I think that’s what I went to do in this show. Yeah, we have two different gay couples and a lot of it is about their relationships, but it’s not necessarily about their struggles as queer people. There’s obviously issues of privilege and intersectionality that we could get into but, I think all I wanted to do was make a really silly show and importantly have real characters that were queer. Having an experience and going through conflict and singing and dancing and doing their own thing. I think musicals are notoriously quite gay. Why not push that a little bit further? It’s a very important part of the show for me, but most important is that it’s expressed in an authentic way. It’s not a musical about “the gays” because we need to say something. It’s a musical and there are gay people in it. It’s just your average day for a gay. Jumping into a heist.
Alex: Yeah, those themes never felt “added in” to me. I think it’s a fun thing to explore through the lens of Australian culture and the heist. It’s, again, a few elements that you just think, “that wouldn’t work” but it really, at least in my opinion (people should come watch and decide for themselves), works so well. It’s so much fun and the cast handles dealing with all the themes so well. Everyone’s so on board with the show and I think it all works really well with the dynamic of the story.
That’s great. Ok, nearly done don’t worry. Alex, any plans to write for UDS?
Alex: I’m not sure! I’m doing English as my second major but I’m not much of a writer. I don’t think creative writing’s particularly my forte. I love reading scripts that other people have written. I’m always kind of amazed when someone I know produces an entire show. Who knows, though? Maybe I can get it together and write something in the future.
Great! Last question guys. You made it.
Given that this is a show about Australia, I thought I’d get your preferred Aussie drink. Emu, VB, Swan or goon?
Alex: Emu. Straight away.
Xavier: I’m really bad at drinking. It’s actually only Guava Cruisers for me.
Alex: I mean, just so we’re all adhering to our stereotypes. “‘Emu’, Alex said to me in a low, gruff voice. ‘Emu, mate’”
Xavier: “’Guava Cruisers!’, Xavier said, while preparing his farewell dance routine.”
Very on brand. Thanks, guys!
Xavier: No worries! I hope you enjoy the show!
Interview by Lachlan Serventy
Tickets available to The Hill’s Heist here: https://www.ticketswa.com/event/hills-heist