Jimmy Hogg (.com) This is the website.

Well hello, bonjour, welcome to the site- my site- since I, Jimmy Hogg
am writing this from the relative comfort of my apartment/creative
lair here in Toronto. Why are you here? What is this site? What’s it
for? And who exactly is this Jimmy Hogg character anyway? These are
just a few of the questions I may or may not answer in the next few
sentences, but what I definitely will say is this- come on in, make
yourself comfortable, stay a while, take a look around… mi casa, su
casa.

On here you will find out loads of things all about me and what I do
which mostly consists of various forms of writing and performing-
chiefly solo shows- which I have toured across Canada and the U.S. and
more recently to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The idea behind this
site is manifold- obviously it’s nice to have a website so my family
can look at it and be persuaded that I am indeed a professional artist
and not just someone who turns up at the house every now and then and
eats all the crisps and makes fun of their boxed wine choices (which I
secretly respect). But it’s meant to serve as a database for all my
shows and their subsequent reviews (not the bad ones obviously, no one
wants to read them and they were all written in anger by people who
‘don’t get me’ anyway), as well as a place I can link to whenever the
urge to blog about something takes hold. I’m also going to be putting
up audio clips of my work, short stories and eventually some video
clips- only because people keep asking for it and I keep insisting
it’s a live medium, but this insistence hasn’t brought these people to
my shows- and besides, it’d be nice if my nieces could see some clips
of Uncle Jimmy being silly.

There’s also going to be a place where you can sign up to a newsletter
where I will be giving details of my upcoming shows as well as
recommendations for shows I like and lots of links to fellow artists
from all over the world. If you like comedy, dance, live music,
storytelling and theatre you’re going to lose your mind over some of
the folks I’m going to introduce you to.

Okay, so here goes, this next bit is all about who I am, how I got
here and why exactly I do this nonsense for (sometimes) a living.

When I was about seven or eight years old I was cast as the title role
in The Last Centurion. It was some kind of religious morality play
about this Roman soldier who went against the orders of his superiors
and helped Mary, Joseph and a newborn baby Jesus. After the second or
third rehearsal it was revealed that there would be singing,
specifically by the Centurion who has this solo which was several
verses long. When I was called upon to ‘give it a go’ I howled like a
some kind of bedraggled beast, I was utterly tuneless. I was given a
few more tries and then, quite dramatically, and with little tact, I
was recast as Soldier One and the role of Centurion was given to
Stephen Woon whom I considered a terrible ham, but, since he regularly
went to choir having been cursed (or rather, blessed in this instance)
with zealotry parents, he could hold a tune.

Of course I was distraught, but then I realised that Soldier One had a
half page monologue, announcing to the plebs of Rome that they were
looking for a baby and that a sizeable reward would be given if the
babe was found etc. etc. I decided that this was my moment to shine
and so I took to ad-libbing and extending the monologue in rehearsals
and on the morning of the performance I rambled on for what felt like
five minutes and spent the rest of the show desperately trying to draw
focus. I distinctly remember my parents standing at the back of the
school hall (they’d probably arrived late and there were no chairs
left). They were smiling- no, they were beaming, they were loving it,
they were loving me- and what child doesn’t thrive under that kind of
adoration.

Sadly there were no reviewers at the show, for certainly they would’ve
stood up and taken notice of the spirited performance given by a young
James Hogg (the moniker ‘Jimmy’ wouldn’t be adopted until my mid-teens
when my older brother and I had decided it was way cooler- and less
posh- to give ourselves chummy nicknames).

It was from that point onwards that my Mum began to regale me with
tales of her forays into theatre as a teenager which ended with her
not having the courage to move to theatre school in London- instead
she became the supervisor in a garment factory in Stockton-On-Tees. I
realised, or somehow felt that she wanted me to live out her ambition
and become an actor- which I suppose I am. Sort of. Although, I never
say it out loud and if people ask me if I’m an actor I say, “Not
really,” because actors have head-shots and go to auditions and get
excited about callbacks for commercials. Which is all fine, but it’s
not really my world. I don’t have a headshot (this may change soon,
making this redundant), I refuse to audition because I find it
upsetting and mostly not worth it (similarly, this might change if
Christopher Nolan wants me to read for him) and the idea of being cast
in an advert for a few grand isn’t very exciting (although I will
change my first name to Pepsi for a modest fee).

But I digress- it’s part of my charm.

As a kid it just seemed that English and Drama were the only things I
was interested in. The teaching of all the other subjects seemed dry
and stale- in drama I could cut loose and my imagination was
encouraged. In English I was often called upon to read Brick in Cat On
A Hot Tin Roof seeing as I was the only child with the audacity to
attempt a Southern accent, which I think was almost certainly
terrible, but I’d relish the opportunity with an evident glee.

By the age of sixteen I’d almost completely lost interest in school,
but I was cast in the role of Snowball in the then recent adaptation
of Orwell’s Animal Farm and soon afterwards was pointed in the right
direction to several community theatre auditions as well as to
audition for the local Youth Music Theatre company who had a strong
local reputation.

In general auditions for YMT I was pulled aside by the director who
asked me a few questions- one of the other kids- later said that was a
really big deal and I felt quite chuffed. Shortly thereafter I was
called upon to sing a few lines with piano accompaniment. I was
terrible. But the musical director persevered and it turned out I
wasn’t tone deaf and I probably could just about hold a tune- it was
just that it had never been coaxed out of me before. I was cast in
Sweeney Todd as Mr. Fogg, who runs the asylum and later as gang-member
Jake in Threepenny Opera. Rehearsals were almost full-time and
although none of us were paid I felt as though I was part of a
professional theatre scene.

It was around this time, that the government had announced that they
were no longer going to pay for University tuition. I was nineteen
going on twenty and had all but dropped out of school at sixteen. I’d
learned from a friend that you could do a one year access course which
would give you the necessary qualifications to get into a University.
The only thing was you had to already know what subject you wanted to
take once there- meaning that the access course was a specialization.
I decided quite quickly that I wanted to study Psychology- it just
seemed that it would give me the tools to figure out what was wrong
with me and all the people around me (the answer I now know to be that
I was a teenager, and struggling with the existential crisis of being
alive which plagues us all at various times in our lives. it seems).

Thankfully, I ran into Rod Dixon, a teacher, director and theatre
artist who’d recently moved into Park Street, just a few doors down
from me. He quickly persuaded me to take the course he was teaching in
Drama which would enable me to go on to do so at University. It was a
no-brainer really. And so the next nine months I worked on a building
site, studied Drama part-time and assisted Rod in teaching Shakespeare
workshops to six and seven year olds.
Rod brought in Simon Edwards to teach us Lecoq- something that would
stay with me forever- and he decided that for our final piece we would
mount a production of Howard Barker’s The Castle- and impossibly
ambitious project for a group of misfits of wildly mixed ability,
ambition and background. I played Stucley, a Knight who comes back
from the Holy Wars to find that the women have taken over. It’s a
brilliant play- layered, dark, hilarious, utterly complex and wildly
imaginative, and it would play an important role in where I ended up.

I interviewed at the University of Aberystwyth- a beautiful place on
the west-coast of Wales. It took me twelve hours to get there on a bus
from Plymouth. The course outline looked amazing and those who taught
it seemed warm and unpretentious. I had a look at Middlesex
University, beautiful grounds in green fields, everyone was really
kind and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. I
travelled twelve hours on a train to Queen Margret University in
Edinburgh where I performed a two minute monologue from a Steven
Berkoff play only to be informed that they’d seen the man himself
perform that exact piece at last years festival. I was not asked to do
my second monologue and I got on the next train south and drank cans
of lager with others who had been given the boot early on.

The last place I looked at was Goldsmiths University, in the heart of
South-East London. I got off the underground and walked up the street
to the main campus, buses hurtled up and down the main road, it was
busy, dirty, there were people falling out of rough looking pubs, and
an underlying threat of violence. I loved it immediately. It felt like
the most real place I’d ever seen and I’d always felt that I had to
live in London. My interview was with Trevor Walker- who I quickly
found out was the authority on Howard Barker. By this point I’d
already read six or seven of his plays. That was almost exclusively
what we talked about. I left there confidently and was offered a place
on the Drama and Theatre Arts program. Aberystwyth and Middlesex also
offered me a place and I knew a part of me would always regret not
going there.

I left for London at the end of August with a little over one-hundred
pounds, once enrolled and confirmed as a student I could cash in a
cheque for two-grand from the local education authority in Devon who
were also paying my tuition. I went to Denmark Street and bought a
white Fender Stratocaster. Within a few months I had a part-time job
at a pub in central London. I was a typical student and I loved it.

I’m not sure exactly how much I learned as a direct result from
attending university. I’m all for higher education, mostly because of
the diversity of people you can meet. Goldsmiths had a lot of
international students and one of the highest percentages of mature
students anywhere in the country. It wasn’t a bunch of eighteen year
olds excited to leave the family home for the first time and get
obliterated on cheap tins of lager at house parties- although there
was certainly an element of that.

At least half of my course was academic. Which I mostly disdained and
found tedious. A course entitled “Modernisms and Postmodernity,” was
like a bizarre form of torture where we seemed to be stuck in some
Kafkaesque nightmare discussing what things meant and why one thing
was something and not something else. And there was lots of wittering
on about what genre something fitted into, and what the difference
between style and genre was. I think we spent about three hours in a
seminar trying to dissect what constituted “Art.” This was like catnip
to the boorish, would-be intellectuals who thrived on dominating these
discussions and crawling up inside the rectums of the lecturers. And
there were, it seemed, these painfully dreary afternoons where we’d
discuss what constituted “good theatre.” I’d just sit there thinking,
“Has no-one read Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, he answers all these
questions.” Actually having reread this book a few times since I left
university I often think it’s one of the only books one needs to read
on theatre at all. Many would disagree with me I’m sure, but I’ll
leave them to themselves.

It wasn’t all bad. There was a great film course where I was
introduced to Akira Kurosawa, we analysed Blade Runner and films that
depicted the apocalypse- the fact that we had to attend screenings at
10am wasn’t ideal and so I’d skip the group screenings and watch the
films in the library on my own, forfeiting 25% of my mark but getting
much needed rest on Thursday mornings after Club Sandwich on Wednesday
nights- which was the best night out of the week by far and came right
after the mid-week football game. Battle ship Potemkin and the films
of Fritz Lang were a bit of a chore, but as a film geek I appreciated
seeing their influence on latter work and being able to weigh into the
occasional discussion with something worthwhile to contribute.

We studied a lot of theatre artists from around the world looking at
Robert Lepage, The Wooster Group, and Augusto Boal- with whom I was
fascinated. Invisible Theatre as a tool for social change seemed like
such a cool idea. I’d always felt rebellious, but I never knew against
whom or what I was rebelling- other than a vague sense that it was the
fault of the rich/posh. Augusto Boal was a political monster, he was
voracious, he had an appetite for it, he seemed to love a fight. I’d
already been introduced to Forum Theatre but didn’t know how important
he was in developing it and didn’t realise how brilliant it could be
to see an audience transform a piece of art- to build it and shape it
through discussion, suggestion, trial and error.

One of the things I never understood about Goldsmiths- and I’m sure
this extends to other universities was the idea of ‘signing up’ for
courses. The problem being that there were only a certain number of
places in each course. Now, I was a tardy student and liked to sleep
in late and as a result I missed out on lots of the preferred courses
with the preferred lecturers. I remember being lumped into a class
with about eight or nine girls on Suffrage Drama. It was obvious to
everyone that I was only there because I’d failed to sign up for
anything else- this felt like a perverse punishment- and so I acted
out and was generally disruptive and obnoxious in the seminars. The
plays from that period are just terribly written- or at least that’s
what I thought at the time- propaganda pieces written to effect
change. The class was dry and humourless and felt like it went on
longer than any wintry Sunday afternoon of my childhood. It’s funny
how grateful I am for the specialist knowledge of that period and how
when decades later I’d go on to read Virginia Woolf I had a new found
appreciation for what I’d been crowbarred into as a twenty year old
buffoon.

Ultimately I did the bare minimum of the academic stuff to get by.
With a few exceptions; my dissertation ended up being on Howard
Barker. By the end of my third year I’d read almost everything by him
and I’d seen a fantastic small production of Wounds To The Face and
was mesmerized. I still found the essay a struggle, but I loved his
work and was committed to making a go of it. I know now that I just
felt bogged down on trying to write the way they wanted us to write,
trying to make things sound a certain way, I was drowning in stuffy
academic nonsense. Anything I’ve written outside of that environment-
solo shows, magazine articles, plays, this thing here- all seems to
come out of me much more naturally, and there’s an enjoyment to it.
Everything I ever wrote at university was a slog, a mission, a horrid
chore, and I’m sure it read as such.

Thankfully this academic nonsense only made up half of the course. The
other half was practical.

We studied physical theatre with this guy whose name I forget. We
spent hours doing undulations, isolations, holding an imaginary plate
of spaghetti in our palms and swirling it around our heads, curling
our fingers in and out in sequence until we had complete control. I
craved the discipline and rigours of these classes, although it took
me a long time to become aware of my body as an actor- I was always
much more instinctive, and committed whole-heartedly to any task I was
given as a performer.

And we studied Kathakali with this supremely excellent guest teacher
who explained the 15-years he’d studied the form before actually being
on stage. We did eye exercises and worked on opening ourselves up to
be bale to project hundreds of metres away. There was another teacher
who showed us the complex language of the feet in Suzuki technique and
how the actor works as scenographic instrument through Viewpointing-
which I ended up enjoying enormously and using in rehearsals whenever
I’ve been the director or charged with running a workshop.

There is more…  So much more…

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