ArtsLab Week 1: John Hoggarth

Every year, The North Wall runs ArtsLab: a series of free residential courses for emerging artists aged 18-25. Participants are selected through national auditions and are partnered with a team of professional mentors, and spend three weeks creating a new piece of work together. Director John Hoggarth leads this summer’s project, which this year focuses on comedy…

John Hoggarth

I’m racking my brain for a science joke. So, here goes… Two atoms talking, “I think I’ve lost an electron.” Says one. “You sure?” “Yeah, I’m positive.” There is probably a follow up joke about fake news and never trusting atoms because they ‘make up everything’. You might be pleased to read I am looking at the science of funny rather the funny of science.

I’m sat in the rehearsal room on day two of our latest ArtsLab project. As the name suggests, ArtsLab is an opportunity for emerging artists to research and experiment with the various elements that make up an artistic endeavour. This year we are focusing on comedy.

They say, “Tragedy starts well and ends badly, whilst comedy begins badly, yet ends well.” In a world with very little to laugh about I believe we have a responsibility to find and tell stories that are not always doomed to failure and tragedy. Back in April I put out an invitation for people to audition for what I rather cynically called “Comedy Troll”. We were inundated with applications and I was able to hand pick some very talented individuals from all over the country who shared a passion for comedy and an enthusiasm to create and tell stories that might offer a vision for a brighter future.

Making quality comedy is tough, it’s often compared to alchemy- the impossible science of creating gold from base metals. As I sit here, watching the collection of young comedians, writers, musicians and performers we have assembled, I can safely say we already have some rare and valuable metals in the room. I am excited and humbled to be here, and fascinated to see what we might produce in this laboratory of mirth.

It strikes me that these young voices in the room, these ‘millennials’ are also the generation who unexpectedly voted in the recent election. They killed the myth that the younger generation don’t care and don’t engage. Their weapon of choice, through countless social media campaigns and calls to action, was comedy. Comedy used to puncture the establishment, diminish the mainstream media and inspire their contemporaries to get out and vote. Like some of the best punch lines- I didn’t see that coming.

Now, I’m not sure you can teach comedy and there’s always that fear when you take something apart there is always the risk you will never be able to put back together again. So I’m seeing this as much an opportunity to learn, as a chance to share my own ideas. I’ve spent a lot of my career making comedy for the stage, radio and television, I’m hoping some of that experience will be helpful but conscious not to become the comedy bore in that Woody Allen movie, “If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not funny…Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

We have three weeks together to find the gold. We will be sharing our findings on the 11th and 12th of August. If you fancy witnessing something funny, innovative and potentially explosive I urge you to come along. You won’t be bored. You will be entertained. You might even laugh out loud. If we hear you laughing then we know we’ll have created comedy. If you sit in silence then what we’ve found is drama and that is also golden.

ArtsLab: Comedy Troll will be performed at 7pm on 11 & 12 August Tickets £7/£5 concessions. Box Office: 01865 319450

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