Published in the Fall 2004 issue • She's Shameless
While many teens spend their final year of high school partying with friends and working part-time jobs, Naomi Lang, never one to follow the crowd, decided instead to produce and direct a play.
She didn’t pick just any play, either. Naomi chose to stage Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock ’n’ roll musical about a German boy named Hansel who underwent a botched sex-change operation.
“I love the show and have seen seven different productions of it,” Naomi says.
The actor playing Hedwig performs the entire play - including numerous songs, lengthy monologues and off-colour improv - accompanied by only a four-piece band and a backup singer. Hedwig is a raucous performance, touching on gender issues that don’t frequently surface in small town life. It was a courageous choice for a first production, especially for one staged in the grouping of small towns that make up Northumberland County, Ontario, where Naomi lives. This show proved to be louder, racier and more in-your-face than anything the town had ever seen.
The hour-and-a-half long show was the inaugural presentation of Long Grift Productions, the company Naomi started to mount Hedwig.
Naomi, 18, chose this as her first production because she “thought it would be a really fun show and it would be something we could actually manage.”
Though she had no previous theatre experience, aside from some backstage tech work and assistant stage managing for a friend’s production, Naomi began to figure out the details of getting the show up and running. There were rights to acquire, roles to cast, a theatre to rent, a set to build, costumes to make, posters to design and many, many hours of rehearsals to hold.
Knowing she couldn’t do it all herself, and figuring this was a good opportunity to demonstrate the potential that local youth possess, Naomi enlisted some close friends to help out. Taking up the official role as producer/director, Naomi organized a group of around eight individuals to run the behind-the-scenes area while she directed the other six who were working onstage. With her crew in place, Naomi was set to begin.
“I think it’s really important for young people to be involved in things,” Naomi says. “I would definitely encourage people to get involved, no matter what they want to do. It’s great if they’re interested in theatre, even if it’s just being around the community, and it goes for anything else [they’re interested in] too.”
For the next few months, Hedwig would consume Naomi’s life. There were problems from the beginning, when the actor who was initially going to play Hedwig backed out. More problems arose with acquiring a space for the performance, and money to fund it all.
Though snags can be expected when you’re mounting a play, being young and having little experience creates an extra hurdle to overcome. However, despite setbacks, Naomi persevered and, with the help of her crew, was able to acquire cash and donations to fund the production, knowledgeable individuals to run lighting and sound, and actors and musicians to perform.
With hours of preparation every day and late-night rehearsals three or four times a week, the show began to take shape.
After working hard for weeks, they put on four successful performances in May. So successful, in fact, that a second run is currently being considered.
Despite her initial doubts, Naomi came through with only a few battle scars, feeling a little older and a little wiser.
“I think it was a success. Everyone that came to see it loved it and had a really great response,” she says. The play got a smashing review in the local newspaper.
Naomi, who is currently attending her first year at the University of Guelph, would like to continue pursuing theatre, but will probably focus more on the behind-the-scenes action. “I don’t really have any set plan at this point,” she says.
She is very clear, however, on how she feels about young women going for what they want. “Just find a way to get in there somehow. I didn’t start doing [theatre] until very recently and I love it. It’s become a big part of my life now.