John O’Hara or as he is affectionately known around the industry, “Australia’s John O’Hara”, is returning to the stage this September in a brand new cabaret. In it’s world premiere, #VAL pays homage to the incredible women; the mothers of queer children, who continue to walk with and for the community in an ongoing quest for equality.
Inspired by his own mum Val, O’Hara explores the role mothers play to children who are a little bit different, often before they know it themselves. Set against the pop-tastic hits of his own childhood, John will encourage his audience to relax, drink and kiki with him around the ‘camp’ fire, shining a spot light on the wonderful women we call ‘mum’.
A graduate of both WAAPA and John Curtin College of Arts, John is well known to Perth audiences and aboard for his work in the theatre; particularly in juggernauts Cats, Rock of Ages, The Rocky Horror Show , Wicked and Priscilla – Queen of the Desert. Later this year John is set to originate the role of Ned Schneebly in the upcoming Australian premiere of School of Rock ahead of an international tour. John’s previous original works Dedications and A Very Merry Christmas Cabaret both played sold out seasons DSATM in 2015/16 respectively and have since toured nationally.
Can you explain who Val is?
That’s really simple. Val is my mum. No one calls her mum or Mrs O’Hara, we ALL call her Val. It’s her name but also kind of her nickname and more recently we’ve added a hashtag. She has this way of constantly being there for everyone but she’s also very funny and entertaining and #VAL has just stuck… which is hilarious in it’s self because she has absolutely no idea what a hashtag even is!
How did Val (Mum) encourage you to become to person and performer you are today?
Ha! I don’t think she had much choice in encouraging me to be or not to be a performer. That was happening! I knew very early on that I was going to forge a career onstage, I just had to get everyone else onboard. Val believed I should be able to follow my own dreams and I think that has been a major influence in my life. She never once told me that I shouldn’t or couldn’t. She has over the years been frank with me though. She’s from the country (Collie in WA), she’s a worker and the daughter of publicans and so she has the view you just get down and go get it done. I remember her telling me to work harder and think differently or more cleverly when I questioned myself. In the early days, she was the one who drove me to and from rehearsal, classes and a million eisteddfods and she never once complained, but she definitely told me if I wasn’t on my game! I remember thinking on occasion, ‘ok that was brutal Val’, but you know entertainment industry is brutal and I don’t have family in it anywhere so I had to make my own way and with that came my own mistakes. Val has instilled in both my brother and I the value of hard work, but also happiness. She wants nothing more than for us to be happy and fulfilled and our careers are such a big part of who we are so mum encouraged us to find something to do that we loved.
Now, Val is the life of the party. No one loves an opening night more than Val. She has travelled the world watching me perform. I always love when she’s in and that we get to make those memories together. Last year she came to Spain to see me in Pricilla, Queen of the Desert. That was very special because it’s an Australian queer story and I was playing a transgender woman so I was nervous as to what she’d think. She loved it, cried proud tears and said I needed to give her makeup tips immediately. CAMP.
What was the process that led to the show coming about?
The idea for the show had been bubbling away for some time. After the national success of Dedications, my last one man show (it played DSATM in 2015), I felt much more confident in my voice as a writer. I have always thought that the relationship mothers have with their queer children is a special, layered and specific one. I look at my own relationship with Val (mum) in comparison to hers with my brother; it’s just different. Not better or worse, just different. My other gay friends also have similar experiences to their relationships with their mums.
During the marriage equality plebiscite debate last year it astounded me how vocal and fierce Val became. She walked the road to equality with and for me… and she was loud about it. For the first time I think I truly understood what it was like to see me through her eyes. She was so hurt by the implication from the ‘no’ campaigners that I was ‘less than’. I remember asking ‘less than what mum?’. She replied ‘less than your brother’. It stopped me in my tracks and I just stood there in tears. Mum and I talked so much during that period and I think we saw and heard each other in a different light. I thought these women, the mothers, my mother, needs a voice in our quest for equality. We heard so much from the queer community during that time, and rightfully so, it affected us directly but we rarely heard from the mothers… and so often our mothers are standing quietly to the side defending us from a distance. The idea that a mothers love knows no bounds is a simple one but it’s also incredibly potent and powerful.
Val saw me for who I was before I saw myself, and she went with it. She’s a warrior, a living legend and one of my campiest best girlfriends. Writing a show in her namesake has been a joy. I have really explored what the relationship between a mother and child means, for us and for others. It’s an all inclusive glittery celebration of love in all it’s colours. My mum is at riot and so is the show!
From what we have seen Andrew Kroenert has done some amazing new arrangements for the show?
Yes absolutely. I worked very closely with both Andrew and Shaun Rennie (Director) to bring #VAL to life. Both men are dear friends and very good at what they do respectively. Andrew has given the show exactly the sound I wanted. The whole show is performed on a single acoustic guitar and with that comes a very intimate, exposed sound and energy. Honestly, AK’s arrangements are more than I could ever have imagined. He has an incredible knack for understanding what’s needed and how to get inside my head. But you know, he’s also very vocal if he thinks something doesn’t work, which I very much appreciate. He’s got such a broad understanding of the pop/rock vernacular and that’s where I wanted the show to live. The whole catalogue of songs in #VAL are iconic pop tunes. Similarly Shaun’s work on the show has also blown me away. He has created a world for the story to unfold in. We have placed the show around a literal ‘camp’ fire because we wanted it to feel like #VAL was ‘story time’ for the audience. Shaun has encouraged me to delve deeper and to be more honest and I think it pays off in a big way. It’s been very confronting at times because much of the show is autobiographical but I think in the end that makes for a more potent piece of theatre. I’m really very proud of the finished product. It’s very close to my heart.
What can people expect when they come to #VAL?
#Val is at it’s heart a celebration… a fun, colourful and fabulous celebration of love. It’s cabaret in it’s truest form… big, bold and a little bit loose.
The show is a brand new one and I’m super excited to share it with a home town crowd, and of course Val. I wanted to write something that was a nod to my mum, but also to all mothers. My incredible collaborators and I have celebrated my relationship with Val, we’ve delved deep into what being a mother to a queer child means on a broader scale and we’ve highlighted some moments in queer history that mothers were at the forefront of. I too have learnt so much in compiling this show. We do all this using an eclectic soundtrack of iconic pop songs that have influenced and led the way for change and diversity through the ages… Lady Gaga, Cher and George Michael but also Sam Smith, Adele and maybe even a little Farnsy.
I keep saying to people, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll probably leave with glitter in your undies. HEAVEN.
Will the show be heading to the East in the future?
Yes! we have some dates for a certain queer summer festival in Melbourne. Stay tuned!… And then because Andrew and I are both doing School of Rock I hope to pull it out around the country as we tour.
A glittery ode to queer men and their mums.
Dates: September 13, 14, 15 7:30pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, Downstairs At The Maj
Promo Code: User the code GLITTER for $40* Tickets