The Austin Chronicle

John Cameron Mitchell Finds Life After Hedwig

Musical rule breaker moves into narrative podcasting with Anthem: Homunculus

By James Scott, January 17, 2020, Screens

Narratives can take many shapes – morph into various versions of stories one thinks they know the backward-and-forward of, only to be surprised by a new story direction taking route. Ceann, the witty, well-spoken protagonist of Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell and composer Bryan Weller's first installment of their ambitious anthology podcast Anthem: Homunculus, is faced with a possibly mortal narrative end – a rude brain tumor and a distinct lack of health insurance. But Ceann shifts his story, unwilling to give up hope as he hosts a round-the-clock fundraising livestream to gather financial support to remove the tumor. This serves as the podcast's initial narrative frame, but as the story continues and more people from Ceann's life – his mother; his aunt; his lover – appear within the cinematic audioscape, Anthem: Homunculus generates an excitingly expansive type of podcast magic that is caught, Mitchell says, "kind of on the border of cinema, theatre, and audio theatre."

On Jan. 19, in partnership with Austin Film Society, Mitchell and Weller will bring a totally different type of magic to the podcast through an Anthem: Homunculus marathon listening party. Through what Mitchell called basically "a slumber party," the audience will be treated not only to a full play-through of the podcast but also to "abstract visuals and a cinema surround sound mix to really heighten the experience."

Mitchell will be back in early February, when he performs his new stage show, The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig, at Bass Concert Hall, which also represents an exploration of self for him while in "an amazing Hedwig look." He added, "Anthem and [Origin of Love] have been my favorite creations over the last few years. And we're, in effect, touring both of them."

While the story of Anthem: Homunculus was initially envisioned by Mitchell to be a continuation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and follow "the second half of Hedwig's life," his desire to talk about his own experiences led him in a different direction. "I thought, you know, Hedwig would be a convenient mouthpiece that people would listen to," he recalled. "But it became very clear that her story was so complex and mine has its [own] complexities, so it was putting a wig on a wig." Paralleling Ceann's end goal, Mitchell says he "removed Hedwig like a benign tumor and really made it more [about] myself." The end result is an "alternate autobiography," which includes grafted pieces of his past given new names but also more "speculative" elements that dwell on an alternate life where Mitchell never left his hometown (Junction City, Kan., which is Ceann's home as well). "In effect," he said, "there was a moment where I was like, 'Do I write my own autobiography, or do I write this?'"

In the podcast process, Mitchell said he was able to use "a lot of my own powers that I'd learned in theatre, film, and television," like long-form storytelling and working with multiple actors (including recognizable names like Glenn Close and Patti LuPone). By hiring editors and engineers with a film background, Mitchell gave Anthem: Homunculus a more complex sonic profile than the average fictional podcast. "We wanted ours to feel more realistic," Mitchell explained, "like this is actually happening."

John Cameron Mitchell presents the Anthem: Homunculus Listening Party @AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35, on Sun., Jan. 19, 2pm. Tickets and info at

The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig @Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, on Fri., Feb. 7, 7:30pm. Tickets and info at

Listen to Anthem: Homunculus at

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