Joseph Hodges talks about starting to produce shows at just 11 years old

Joseph Hodges started producing theatre show’s when he was just eleven years old. Currently he is working on two shows, one of which is the Dolly Parton musical 9 To 5. Kara Taylor Alberts sat down with him for a chat….

When did you start producing?

It was when I was 11, and it was because I was performing and – I think it was because of licensing laws where you had to be at least sixteen – I couldn’t be in the shows the big operatic societies were putting on in my area. So one day I decided, I want a lead part in a show so I am going to put on a show. So I put on the Wizard of Oz in a village hall for a night. The whole budget was £150 which was birthday and Christmas money I had saved up over two years. I had a whole team, a choreographer, a musical director, got a cast together, did auditions, hired a rehearsal venue all without my parents really knowing. The first they knew of it was the guy from the hall called our home phone and went “I am just checking, because your 11 year old son has come in to book the space so we just want to check that’s okay?”. So I kept that going until I left for drama school and we just got bigger. Then when I was 18 I went to drama school, not because I wanted to be a performer, but I didn’t really know what else to do, so I went and trained, and then decided that I want to be a producer. And at that time the summer season in my hometown Margate had folded so they asked me if I wanted to do something there. So I commissioned a new musical called Down To Margate, which went down well and made some money and I have just expanded from there.

So why then directing?
Well, because I trained as a performer and having that performance side engrained in me, I feel like it was a natural progression. But it has to be a really special project for me to want to direct something, I know everyone has to be inspired but I consider myself a producer and then a director as a secondary thing because the stuff I like to direct is so specific. Down To Margate was the first professional show I directed, and the reason there was because I commissioned the show and helped with the concept, the plot and creating some of the characters, so I was so invested in the piece in the end, I was like, I really need to do this.

Well right now you’re directing one show but producing two, which are both currently in rehearsals and both open days apart, which is amazing but mad. So lets start with 9 to 5 first, which is the one you’re directing… what’s it about?

It’s a happy, whimsical musical and it is the most uplifting and feel good pieces of theatre. It centres around these three women who work for their evil, corporate boss Franklin Hart. He constantly tries to put them down however he can, for example he won’t promote one of them just because she is a woman, so it speaks for a topic I think is so key at the moment. It talks about a lot of feminist issues but I think it will also speak to anyone who has felt the ill effects of the injustice of inequality. What I like to produce is things that are fun and frivolous and have big dance numbers and are uplifting but still have a strong message. What really scares me is all this stuff we are seeing in America at the moment, that was ending in the period we are showing now. I see so many parallels in this show – that is honest dialogue from 1979 – and the world we are living in now and I want rid of it.

So Tenderly is the other musical you’re producing so tell me a bit about that.
So it is based on the life of Rosemary Clooney, and she has the most fascinating life I have ever come across. In all honesty, when I chose to produce the show I didn’t even know the half of it. I had snippets in my head but when I read the script I was completely overwhelmed by the depth of her life and how much her life story could change other peoples. It tells you a very honest reflection of her life and it showcases the happy times and the sad times really well.

So, if you didn’t know her songs or even who she was, would it still be a show that you’d enjoy?
Absolutely. If you don’t know her story it’s a great opportunity to learn about her, but more it is just an amazing story. The writing is phenomenal and from start to finish you will just be gripped.

It seems different to a lot of jukebox musicals that have been on before, why is that?
I think it is because it’s a two hander. It isn’t a commercial jukebox musical, I don’t even know that I would call it a jukebox musical. It is so fresh and because they are mostly Rosemary Clooney songs it is telling a very personal story and the songs just make them that little bit more intimate because you start to see where they fit into her life as none of the songs were written to suit her life – as a traditional book musical is – it is really interesting to see how they fit into her journey and how they affected her as a person. I love a massive commercial juke box musical but it’s not that story. It’s not Mama Mia where thirty people run on, you just have that one story and it is so intimate.

So you’re directing 9 to 5, how do you go about choosing a director for other projects, like how did you choose Tania for Tenderly?
So I went to see Paper Hearts, which was the first show I had seen of hers and I was completely blown away by the direction. For me she had given the piece this really remarkable stamp of class and you can tell from watching her shows that she is a deep thinker and every step of the show is thought through. Which means the audience can sit there and be completely engrossed in the characters journeys. So when Tenderly came along the only person that came to mind was Tania.

Why the fringe?
I like variety. I like to be constantly creative and I like to be able to change things, so for me fringe works because you can do a five week run and then you’re onto the next project. You’re in a small venue, the audience are right in front of you and the quality in the fringe can be incredible. My dream would be to own my own venue and to be able to keep putting things on back to back.

So, to finish off, why should people come see 9 to 5?
Firstly, the cast and the creative team. The cast are phenomenal, it is the best cast I have ever put together. I come in every day and while there is so much fun in the rehearsal room, also everyone is working, there’s constantly trying things out. They’re a proper team and they all work together and all work really hard. The creative team are the same, Chris Whitaker’s choreography – you wont see better in the West End. Ollie the MD – the vocals are incredible. I always say if you could pay £20 to sit and listen to a show, it is well worth it and this is one of those shows. It is going to look incredible, all the costumes are from the period, they’re vintage and gorgeous and, if you want a fun night out but you want to come away with a message of where we need to move towards as a world this is it.

And Tenderly?
It has the team of dreams. They are the most creative bunch and they are all so in love with their art form and what they do, Tania being the leader of it. The cast, Katie Ray, who has a CV longer than anyone I know is a star and she is so passionate about this project that she just embodies Rosemary Clooney, she is not an impersonator, you get the most honest and authentic performance. And Fed, is just the most phenomenally versatile actor as he plays these 14 characters. It’s intimate storytelling and you will learn so much about life and you will be able to share these moments that are so relatable.

Interview by Kara Taylor Alberts