John Cameron Mitchell Brings His Musical Podcast Anthem: Homunculus To AFS Jan 19
This Sunday, January 19, the AFS Cinema welcomes acclaimed writer/director/performer John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, VINYL, RABBIT HOLE) for a marathon listening party of the first season of his musical podcast, ANTHEM: HOMUNCULUS. The podcast follows a man named Ceann who is crowdfunding for a life-saving brain surgery by telling his life’s story in a livestream telethon from his Kansas trailer-park home.
ANTHEM is a beautiful, sorrowful, and mesmerizing piece of art, due in no small part to the excellent score by composer Bryan Weller (who will also be in attendance), and an all-star cast that includes Glenn Close, Patti LuPone, Cynthia Erivo, and more. It is also deeply evocative of Mitchell’s storied history as a playwright and stage performer.
The show starts at 2PM and we’ll be listening to all ten episodes in season one mixed with music and conversation, so plan to stay late (until 9PM)! In anticipation, AFS spoke to Mitchell about ANTHEM: HOMUNCULUS and what to expect at the listening party on January 19. Here’s what he had to say:
WHERE DID THE IDEA OF MAKING A MUSICAL PODCAST COME FROM, AND HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME?
I first wrote it as “Hedwig and the Divine Homunculus,” a sequel to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” But the autobiographical elements were just too incompatible with Hedwig’s so I removed her from the story like a benign tumor. Then I fashioned it into a kind of alternate autobiography: what would I be like if I never left my small town? My co-creator Bryan Weller and I began writing it as a TV series at William S. Burroughs’ Lawrence, KS house – we were invited by his longtime partner, James Grauerholtz. Hollywood wasn’t impressed with the project so we rethought it as a podcast series, perhaps the most expensive one ever made as it’s dense with 40 actors, 31 songs, full orchestra, boys’ choirs and complex soundscapes. It was financed by Topic Studios and is distributed by Luminary Podcast Network. Anthem is the name of our overarching musical anthology series – each season will be a different musical made by different creators. Our season is called Homunculus which means “little man” and refers to the tiny alchemist-created Frankenstein in Faust. It’s also the name of the kind of tumor that my character suffers from. My little man turns out to be sentient.
THE PODCAST FEATURES 31 ORIGINAL SONGS BY YOU AND BRYAN WELLER. WHERE DID YOU GET THE INSPIRATION FROM, DID THE STORY INFORM THE SONGS OR VICE-VERSA?
The story came first. I left holes for songs. Bryan encouraged me to write the lyrics for the songs and he would provide a musical setting and suggest melody. I would refine the melody and lyrics and we worked very quickly.
YOU HAVE AN AMAZING CAST IN THE PODCAST INCLUDING GLENN CLOSE, PATTI LUPONE, CYNTHIA ERVO, LAURIE ANDERSON—HOW DID THEY BECOME INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT?
They were all folks that I knew in some capacity so it was easy to reach out. Good actors are always up for a new challenge especially when they don’t have to shave (podcasts are easy to act in). I sought out Cynthia after seeing her unbelievable performance in The Color Purple on Broadway (see her current Oscar-nominated turn as Harriet Tubman) but Nakhane was the hardest to find. I heard about him in the South African film The Wound and ended up connecting by Instagram (he had just finished watching my film SHORTBUS). We flew him in from Johannesburg. He’s a truly brilliant musical and acting powerhouse.
ARE THERE ANY PLANS FOR A SECOND SEASON? IF SO, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
We are presently seeking pitches for season 2. Reach out through DM to our IG @anthempod or mine @johncameronmitchell. Anything goes as long as you might see it as a musical series.
WHAT CAN THE AUSTIN AUDIENCE EXPECT AT THE JAN 19 EVENT AT THE AFS CINEMA?
It’ll be like a 7 hour daytime sleepover in a cinema. Cozy seating, food, drink, abstract visuals, surround-sound mix, a few live songs from me and Bryan. Come on down! I’ll also be doing a concert at Bass Hall on February 7 called The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig.