Leo & Hyde Just “Click”
As summer winds down, and the Coronavirus pandemic, well, doesn’t, 10glo is exploring ways to share stories from writers beyond our home base here in New York. If we can’t meet face to face, we might as well dive headfirst into this remote world to find new connections.
And that’s a fitting goal for today’s interview. As I sit down with my coffee here on the east coast of the United States, I’m imagining Stephen Hyde and Leo Mercer, of Leo&Hyde, are pouring a pot of coffee in London and Manchester, where they are respectively based, to talk to us today about, of all things, connection.
Your musical GUY, is so much about how dating apps, particularly dating apps for gay men, make immediate human connection possible for many, but also can cause profound insecurity for other men. It strikes me that Covid is only going to make these two dichotomies even more extreme, especially when we emerge from quarantine. As I watched “Click” I couldn’t help but think that I was applying this extra layer of “covid lenses” over the material that wasn’t there when the show was written, and that, any audience watching the production in the immediate future may also be layering over the script the realities of a post-pandemic life to the story. Do you think you’ll want to address how a global pandemic changes the realities of meeting strangers through an app, or would you prefer to keep the show set in a pre-pandemic era?
SH: I think the pandemic – as you rightly say – is exacerbating issues that were already there before it struck. A lot of our work is about connection vs non-connection, whether that’s in the literal sense of humans physically meeting, or virtually connecting to the internet. In our work, we’ve tried to explore apps and social media networks that have begun to put human beings into isolated, lonely echo-chambers; and ones which stop them from embracing the true possibilities that a life online could offer.
For populations across the globe who have been forced to retreat into their homes, I think the internet has been both an amazing resource and a source of great discomfort and division through the lockdown. I think that speaks very much to how Leo and I approach the internet in our work – and the social possibilities it both facilitates and undermines. I think (and hope) that a COVID lens will be there automatically for audiences when they watch this work in a post-COVID world.
LM: Yeah, the show is about loneliness in an online world. The internet helps that – you can keep in touch a thousand times better. But it also hurts – because you’re so aware of what everyone else is doing, and you’re missing out on. I get too excited about technology to be dystopian about it, but you have to be mindful of the downsides.
Ultimately, I think we’ll keep it set in that moment just before the pandemic, and let it do it’s own resonating.The pandemic makes “digital loneliness vs connection” more true now, but something will happen in 10 years that makes it even truer. For me, that’s the heart of technology: it makes everything intenser, like human+.
You are using social media in a fairly novel way to promote GUY by creating what I have to believe is one of the first theatrical music videos assembled by recruiting singers and dancers through social media. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for this concept and how you’re hoping it will bring attention to the musical?
LM: One of the most heartwarming things about touring GUY has been seeing how younger people in particular feel this immense love for the show, as if its themes and its music style just click. When you know that something is working for people, you want to do everything you can to let more people in on it.
Ultimately, though, this project is all down to Dan Mawson, who joined our company a little after we began. We joke that instead of “leoandhyde” we’re “leodanhyde”. He’s been working with a couple of youth companies in Lancashire, a county just north of Manchester, to make it happen. And that’s another thing about the show – it’s not just for gay people in gay communities in cities. It’s really meant as a gay show for everybody, in the same way you don’t have to be a Russian Jew to get Fiddler on the Roof or a French revolutionary to get Les Mis.
With The Marriage of Kim K you quite cleverly interweave a Mozart-inspired Opera and an electro-pop musical about Kim Kardashian. What was the springboard for this? Was it Kim Kardashian or Mozart?
LM: This is a bit embarrassing really. Back in around 2013, I became friends with a certain Marissa from New Jersey. One day, Marissa casually mentioned Kim Kardashian and I was like “who?”. She was in literal disbelief that I didn’t know who Kim K was.
That really fascinated me – we all live in different worlds, and it’s hard to remember that other people listen to 100% different music, watch 100% different films, read 100% different books. One day shortly after this conversation with Marissa, I was sitting in a performance of West Side Story, and my mind was wandering, and for some reason I started thinking about a couple whose relationship fell to pieces over a silly argument about what to watch on TV.
I think the show has changed a lot. In its first iteration, back in 2016, it was pretty cynical about her, I was very much an outsider looking on. Whereas now I “get it”, and I’ve become a bit of a cultural see-saw. We’ve let her world – everything from reality TV to Kanye – completely change our style. We’ve learnt a lot.
SH: The concept behind the show now is “learning to love what you think you hate”. Would the sort of people who listen to Mozart operas ever give Kim Kardashian anything other than a dismissive putdown? And would the sort of people who idolise reality TV stars ever see opera as anything other than pretentious twaddle? They’re two cultural ‘opposites’.
Whilst this is obviously a dichotomy that doesn’t speak to the expanse of all human experience, I think it does say something about the tribalism of our cultural habits – and we wanted to explore that.
Like with GUY, we want people to think “am I in an echo chamber, and is it holding me back?” When it came to the music, Mozart was the springboard – the dramatic structures of his music and his anthemic melodies laid the groundwork. But again, the concept relied on finding a 21st century counter-match to him. The virtuosity and bravado of artists like Nikki Minaj and Kanye West felt appropriate to Kim’s world and the boldness of classical opera.
You describe The Marriage of Kim K as a “Gogglebox-inspired opera-musical.” We must admit that, being on the other side of the Atlantic, we had to google Gogglebox. But it seems like Gogglebox was Twitch before there was Twitch, and now everyone else is trying to do Twitch?
LM: Yeah exactly: ultimately letting everybody live-stream their lives is the logical next step after KUWTK. First you watch one family non-stop; next, anybody can do it. I remember reading Gary Shteyngart’s book Super Sad True Love Story back in around 2015, and all the stuff about livestreaming there felt futuristic. Now here we are!
Your musical style is very EDM. Did that always feel like EDM was the most natural way for you to express yourselves or did that come after experimenting with other styles?
SH: It came with experimenting. Loosely, we have a banner of wanting to write “music that is on Spotify but not in the theatre”. But within that basic aim, we’ve played a lot. We came to wanting to write musical theatre together via a love of music, and the endless untapped possibilities of what different styles could achieve in a dramatic context. For me, EDM has the same bombast and richness of an orchestral score, and could fill a theatre with its theatrical waves of sound. I also think that it sounds like the worlds of the characters we’re writing about. This is music that defines young people of the last ten years.
You mention on your website that you’re interested in VR. Are you interested in exploring VR in the theatrical realm? If so, how?
LM: Definitely. First of all, it’s the perfect lockdown activity, and I’ve just been taking a lot in, especially over this last month. My mind has been blown a thousand times over – plus I’m now thoroughly addicted to Beat Saber. It’s easy to be scared of VR, and how it could reshape future human societies – but once you’ve experienced it, the awe overshadows out the fear.
Ultimately, VR will be able to give a whole new burst of energy to musicals, and in return musicals will help VR reach more people – the thing that comes up a lot when you’re speaking to VR professionals is just how much need there is for genuinely good content – there’s things like Dear Angelica and Gloomy Eyes which are mesmerising, but there’s so much to do still.
That said, there’s no “musicals in VR pathway” yet, and we’re still at that early point where we’re building relationships and actively on the look-out for collaborators.
SH: Yeah, and VR promises a lot when it comes to experiencing music in more dimensions than just stereo right and left. I think a good starting point would be to equip traditional theatre spaces with the sort of surround-sound speaker systems that can support the latest developments in electronic music technology – where the sound can literally ricochet around the audience.
That’s not VR, but it’s a step to the worlds VR can give us. There are future paths, where we find new non-traditional theatre spaces, or we give audiences VR headsets, but there’s lots more thinking to do before that sort of fusion makes sense. For now, at least, I think VR is a really useful exploration into how we can reimagine and revitalise what we create for the stage.
[More tracks from GUY are on Spotify]
Finally, professionally, you two go by Leo and Hyde, which is a combination of Leo Mercer and Stephen Hyde, a first name and a last name. That’s a touch unconventional. Are you two having some fun there?
SH: Yes, I think we are! Leo and I are united by so many shared passions, but the truth is we’re very different in many ways. For the most part, I think that’s a strength – Leo is there to remind me of things I might be overlooking, and I do the same for him. He wants to be Leo, I want to be Hyde. I hope, in some sort of cute way, it means that one doesn’t work without the other.
LM: Yeah, going by my last name doesn’t really work for me, I don’t think I can live up to something that sounds serious and official. I also like the play on Jekyll & Hyde, and the sense of two different personalities working together to create one work – though I’m definitely hoping Stephen doesn’t kill me when he’s done with me.
You can see more of Leo&Hyde’s work at 10glo.com/user/leohyde.
For more information on how to join the digital choir and music video for “Double Life” click here.
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