Nurturing Home Grown from the Roots

Nurturing Home Grown from the Roots

Nick Hedger and Ben Nicholson, young entrepreneurs and composers, launch a new initiative, Grassroots, and Coral Drouyn is excited.

When talented young composers Nick Hedger and Ben Nicholson started the Home Grown Series two years ago, they had no idea where it would lead. Young and super talented, they were looking for ways to get their original work, which already included several full length musicals, out to an audience. The more they talked to their peers, the more they realised that others were in the same boat. The array of talent was dazzling, but opportunities were limited; we had original talent, and we had theatres, but there was a wall between the two which limited exposure and the chance to develop their work beyond the limited workshop stage.

Home Grown grew to be a regular Sunday night feature, introducing Music Theatre lovers to new, or relatively unknown, composers from all states. Suddenly we heard songs that we wanted to see in context (e.g.those who hadn’t previously heard Matt Robinson’s “Boy Band” were aching to see Happy People, the musical from which it comes). Nick and Ben featured their own songs in the first few Home Grown events, but soon their roles as producers became time consuming. They launched a website, started an on-line store selling sheet music of Australian musical compositions and even branched into special events with the first of a “Songbook” series, featuring the music of Craig Christie. They’re young, and full of energy, and so the question would inevitably be ‘Where to next?’ Now they have the answer to that question.

The Grassroots Initiative is the latest offering from Home Grown and provides a series of opportunities for writers to hone their craft and skill, as well as develop a piece of work. This is born out of the belief that the way to a strong industry of Australian made musical theatre is to pay due focus to development of writers and the skill of writing in this country, not just the development of a piece for production.

Of course, that doesn’t just apply to writers of music and lyrics. Getting the book right is notoriously difficult in any piece of Musical Theatre as we witnessed recently with the ‘world premiere’ of a local musical which launched far too early even after years of development. The two Steph(v) ens - Sondheim and Schwartz - both say repeatedly that if the book doesn’t work, you don’t have a show. Given the combination of elements at work in Musical Theatre, it’s amazing that anyone gets all of those elements right.

Too often the character arc doesn’t work; or we don’t engage with the journey; or the songs are super-imposed instead of growing organically from the characters or story. Ultimately, even if the music excels, the show will never connect with an audience.

The beauty of this initiative is that it isn’t concerned with a specific production, but in developing talent, and honing the craft skill of those who already have talent galore. And not only will experts give feedback and share their knowledge, but new writers will have rehearsal and development facilities available to help them.

This long-term scheme is thanks largely to the continued support that Home Grown has received from the Victorian College of the Arts, who have a long history of developing Australian works. By combining forces, The Grassroots Initiative brings together the authentic voice that Home Grown has established for emerging writers, with the expertise and wonderful resources of the college.

“VCA is delighted to partner with HomeGrown in the Grassroots Initiative as a part of our commitment to fostering new Australian music theatre and the talents of local writers and composers,” says Margot Fenley, Head of Music Theatre and Lecturer in Acting, Victorian College of the Art. “Support and mentorship of emerging creative artists is essential to the development of vibrant, diverse and culturally relevant works of quality and we are excited to see what may emerge from this new program.”

“It is the constant and amazing support from local arts institutions like Chapel off Chapel and the VCA that have kept us going,” says Nick Hedger, co-founder of Home Grown. “The Grassroots Initiative is providing a support network for emerging Australian writers in musical theatre, and a unique opportunity to gain feedback and guidance from their peers. I’d encourage anyone who is writing to apply now and start the process of bringing your work to life!”

The first step is a series of rehearsed readings, designed for writers ready to take their work to the next level. Successful applicants will be invited to present a rehearsed reading of the first 30 minutes of their musical to an intimate audience of Home Grown supporters and a small panel of hand selected industry experts. What follows is a private feedback session where the panel examine writers’ work purely based on its merits as a piece of writing. Writers will be offered help and constructive advice on how to improve, and challenged on ideas as to where to go, all without cost.

For writers there’s great benefit. It’s the perfect way to develop the quality of their writing before proceeding to stage a workshop production, or working towards rehearsing a public showing. Likewise, this is also useful for productions which may have already seen a workshop and would like industry feedback on rewrites undertaken since.

The Grassroots Initiative has drawn on a pool of big names within music theatre to form the panel of experts that will critique and develop emerging writers. Panelists include Michael Tyack (Musical Director), Martin Croft (Director and Performer), Jason Langley (Director), Rachel Taylor (Producer), Queenie Van de Zandt (Performer), Dean Bryant (Director and Writer), Peter Rutherford (Composer), Peter J Casey (Composer), Matthew Lee Robinson (Composer and Lyricist), Glenn Ferguson (Producer), Stu Hendricks (Head of Hal Leonard Australia and MTI Australasia), Tanya Mitford (Director, Choreographer, Performer), Teresa Borg (Writer, Director, Performer and Creative Director at Life Like Company) and Dr Zachary Dunbar (Music Theatre Doctorate).

It’s an impressive list, though it would have been good to see a writer with a strong sense of storytelling and structure on the list. Imagine what the late Nick Enright could have brought to such a scheme. The initiative is very new, and only time will tell how successful it will be, but even if it nurtures just ONE talent who goes on to realise their full potential, it will be an awe-inspiring success. Best of all there is no charge whatsoever.

The first block starts in July and the application deadline is June 15th - .just 10 days away. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and application details are at the end of this article.

Meanwhile, Home Grown, where it all started, celebrates its Second Birthday tonight (June 5)at Chapel off Chapel and tickets are still available at the door. Ben and Nick will be on hand to answer questions, Matthew Lee Robinson will appear and Geraldine Quinn will MC. I wouldn’t miss it for quids.

Applications are now open for The Grassroots Initiative Block One intake, July to November 2016.

For more information and to apply, visit

Block One Key Dates

Applications close 13 June 2016

25 July: Reading 1 and 2

3 October: Reading 2 and 3

28 November: Reading 4 and 5

Contact Home Grown - Nick Hedger and Ben Nicholson

Images (from top): Amy Lehpamer, Keegan Joyce and Jane Patterson; David Peake; Katie Weston, Henry Brett, and Lucy O'Brien, & Hilary Cole.

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