“That sounds quite pretentious. Oh well. I’m a playwright.” James Hazelden on Dead Technology Memoirs
Dead Technology Memoirs is a black comedy mystery directed by James Hazelden. Playing at La Mama, you can expect murder, time travel, puzzles and pop music.
The play stars Frank Handrum, Jacob Pruden, Chris Saxton, Nicholas Roy (a finalist on The Voice) and Chris Tomkins and Mark Woodward (who have worked with Hazelden in the comedy/music trio Man Bites God, and currently host the Theatre of the World podcast).
You’re an award winning playwright, a musician, a writer, and a comedian. Are there any other talents we should know about?
I also do podcasting. Is podcasting a talent? I write/perform on the Theatre of the World comedy podcast with Chris Tomkins and Mark Woodward, who are cast members of Dead Technology Memoirs. And I’ve written a few short film screenplays, most notably a film called “Logistics” which one the best Micro-short at the Austin Indie Flix Festival in the US recently. That’s probably about it. Although, when I was in Hawaii I went surfing, and I was able to stand up a few times. So I’ve also got that going for me.
Dead Technology Memoirs is your latest piece, a black comedy play that is also a mystery and also involves time travel. What inspired you to align all of these genres?
Good mysteries must have an intriguing plot, and good black comedies must have interesting characters. I love both of these genres for these reasons. I liked the idea of introducing these strange people with their weird lives to an audience within the context of a mystery. I think audiences pay more attention to people when there is a sense that something needs to be solved, because we are all unwittingly looking for clues in the characters’ behaviour.
What’s your writing process like for something like Dead Technology Memoirs in comparison to your solo work?
They are both very similar. They start with just one interesting, funny idea. Sometimes that idea would make a good song or a short story. There are a lot of these kinds of ideas in Dead Technology Memoirs. I found that I was composing these little dialogues in my head about someone obsessed with solving Sudoku puzzles, or what it’s like to not be able to get a bad pop song out of your head during the most important moment of your life, or the difficulty in trying to actually prove that time travel is possible.
Then I realized how much more interesting it would be if all these things were happening in the same universe, at about the same time. And that gave the ideas and the characters more depth. There are three distinct sections of Dead Technology Memoirs, but they are all connected in a peripheral way, and I think that makes it more compelling. So to answer your question… sorry… it seems to have taken me a long time to do that… the only difference between writing a play and my other creative pursuits is I needed a lot of interesting ideas to start with, and then I had to work hard on weaving all of the ideas together into a satisfying whole. That sounds quite pretentious. Oh well. I’m a playwright.
What are your stylistic influences, both in theatre and music?
I’m a fan of mysteries that don’t necessarily answer all the questions at the end in a neat way. To that end, I love David Lynch projects like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. I’m also a big Agatha Christie fan. I can see why she’s the most successful author in history. Her mystery plots are better than anyone’s. I like the plays of Harold Pinter. I like a lot of British and American stand-up comedians, such as Dylan Moran, Stewart Lee, Mitchell & Webb, Louis CK, Paul F. Tomkins and Patton Oswalt.
There’s not much music in the play, but I like all sorts of different genres and types of music. I’m listening to a lot of Aphex Twin at the moment, and I also really like CW Stoneking. And They Might Be Giants. And Radiohead. Lots of things really. Johnny Cash and Tom Waits are good.
Your music is a little bit country, a little bit alt folk, a little indie. How does this play out in Dead Technology Memoirs?
This is a straight black comedy play so there is very little music in the show. It does contain one song that I wrote, which is a pop kind of thing, which is sung by a character who isn’t on stage. And there is some instrumental piano music used incidentally, but that’s about it. Although the folk/country traditions of sadness, regret and murder are definitely there in the script. And certain characters have a storytelling vibe in their manner that certainly suggests alt folk/country.
You’ve performed at all sorts of different festivals around the world. What are the major differences between audiences here and places like Edinburgh?
It was great taking shows to Edinburgh because there is a certain feeling of safety and comfort when you’re performing in your own country. I was lucky enough to do shows in Canada, Scotland and Wales, and in places where I didn’t know anyone in the room. There is no one there who is going to give you benefit of the doubt laughs or pity laughs. And you can’t rely on local references to get you through. You have to write and perform in more universal and inclusive ways, and I really enjoyed that. It also gives you a great deal of confidence if you can make an overseas audience laugh, because it means the material is strong enough to reach people who have no preconceptions about you.
La Mama is something of a Melbourne institution. What’s it like working with the venue?
I couldn’t be more excited about working at the La Mama Theatre. I went to many productions there when I was a kid, and it has always been a dream to have a play of mine performed there. I remember seeing a show at La Mama when I was young, and the stage was covered in sand and the actors had to dig for the props they wanted. I’ve never forgotten that. It was exciting and that image has really stayed with me.
La Mama has always been the home of new, interesting, brave theatre, and to have Dead Technology Memoirs accepted there was an amazing honour. I love the intimacy of the space. Every show feels like a secret that only that nights’ audience gets to know.
You’re not strictly performing in this production – how does that make you feel? Do you have any pre-show rituals? Are you in attendance every night?
I will be there every night. I’m not performing, but each night will be different and I don’t want to miss seeing it with an audience as many times as I can. I will be nervous, and I’ll probably wish I was acting in the show because it would give me something to do, instead of just sitting there and being nervous. But the actors in the show are amazing and they don’t need me bumbling around and mucking things up for them. As for rituals, I tend to pace a lot, and move around a lot backstage before I perform. I think this has made me very annoying to work with, and the actors are probably quite grateful that I’ll be out front instead of backstage distracting them.
What advice would you give to people coming to see Dead Technology Memoirs?
Book if you can. We only have nine shows and it’s a small venue. There are some adult themes in the show – various frank discussions about sex and violence. Someone says, “Fuck”, twice. And one of the characters has a gun. If you do come along, have a drink in the courtyard afterwards. We’d like to hear what you think of it.
Dead Technology Memoirs plays at La Mama from the 2nd April to the 12th April. Get your tickets from the MICF website, trybooking.com, by calling La Mama at 9347 6948, or at the door.