Steering The Ship – An English Woman in New York – Part Three

Laura Hooper is an English Actress working and having a jolly good time in New York.
Here she writes for Actor Hub as An English Woman In New York and how to take bites out of the Big Apple before it swallows you whole.
Find out more about Laura by visiting her website
When people ask me why I moved to New York, I often answer “adventure”, which isn’t strictly true…
I’ve certainly had an adventure since I moved here nearly four years ago, but the honest answer is to make life happen, instead of letting it happen to me. I was feeling a little stuck as a working actress in London and it was time to do something bold. I had never even been to The Big City when I found the words leaping out of my mammoth mouth that I’d shake things up by studying acting again, but this time in New York.
I knew three people there, a writer I’d worked with a few years back, my hairdresser (I know, handy right, girls? especially at New York prices!) and a woman I’d met in a bar.
What was I thinking…?!
Four years later I have a one woman show I’ve toured internationally, a short film in distribution, a produced radio play, a full length play in pre-production, a bunch of wonderful agents and a penchant for gin martinis.
I felt the fear and did it my way in the City So Nice They Named It Twice. (Cripes, I hope I don’t have to pay the Sinatra Estate royalties for that sentence!)

Part 3 – Steering The Ship

Steering The Ship - An English Woman in New York - Part Three
Ahoy there and welcome back to the last installment… Firstly readers, it’s been fun! I’ve really enjoyed tapping away about all this on my little keyboard. I hope you’ve had as much of a good time reading them!
CRUMBLE update. It was bloody marvelous, we had a riot! We sold out and got a really lovely write up in the Daily News, one of the top papers here in the place they don’t end up as containers for fish and chips!
Was I nervous? Bricking it. Did I think something really bad was going to happen? All the time. What did I do? Got the *beep* on with it.
I am also excited to announce that we not only have been offered more kitchens for another round of shows in the Holy Smoke but also in Florida, DC, LA, AND as far afield as Israel and New Zealand!!! Does that terrify the living bejeesus out of me? I don’t know these cities or the people, what if it goes down like that time you accidently swallowed a pound coin as a kid… *euch*?!
Well all I can say is after harping on about feeling the proverbial – no not that! Fear! – for all these articles… I am just going to have to say a big fat YES!!
Speaking of scary stuff… People often asked me if I’d ever considered directing. Erm NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! A vision? Me?! Running the show?! ME?!! Having to take responsibility for the entirety of the show???!!! You have to be effin’ kidding. Not. In. A. Month. Of. Sundays. Bloody. Sundays.
Fast forward to last autumn or fall (for the lovely Yankee doodles amongst y’all!) and that little blighter who keeps popping up in my life, Mark O’Neil strikes again. I have got other friends, really. Promise.
Anyway, his play Invisible Glue was accepted into the The Players Theater NYC short play festival, called Boo – the plays had to be inspired by all things Halloween – he asked if I’d be in it. I declined. I felt I needed to move away from acting in these festivals as they were leading me off my path of world domination, or more precisely a good stable career in the Arts. He let out a *humph* and then asked if I would direct it instead.
I realized that what had frustrated me in these festivals was feeling like I didn’t have control; you could be cast opposite a muppet (not literally. Although heaven knows in this town! It wouldn’t surprise me if an actor friend ended up having to work as huggable Elmo on Times Square to make ends meet!) or be directed by one and even if the play you were working on was actually quite good, it could all fall apart before you could say “Gin Martini. Tanqueray. Ice cold. With a twist.”
Also a great life lesson I’d recently learned when choosing whether to work on a project was; are you rewarded financially? And or; will you make useful contacts? And or; will you learn something? If you can honestly answer yes to at least one of the questions, GO FOR IT! If not, pull up your petticoats AND RUN FOR THE HILLS!! And yup, I’m so obvious… I said YES.
INVISIBLE GLUE – sticky, tricky stuff
To set the scene; Two English girls are drinking like there is no tomorrow in a bar in NYC; (Nothing new there then.) The barman is a bit of an arse; (Come on, we’ve all met them.) They are celebrating their long friendship and a 30th and, as the reminiscing steps up a gear so does the tension. Needless to say as in all things horror, things are not as they seem… a creepy doll appears, the lights flicker… Spooky stuff.
I auditioned some amazing actors at the auditions; reminded myself that we want you ALL to do well and be the best you can be so not to beat myself up if I don’t book the part. It’s so far out of our control – just have a good time acting and chatting and move on!
I ended up casting the bold and fearless Zoe Anastassiou and the weird and wonderful Sophie Sorensen. I wasn’t disappointed. Nearing the start of rehearsals those ugly doubts raised their warty little heads. I mentioned them to my Dad… “Oh Laura” he said “what are you talking about, you’ve been directed loads of times” and rightly, as the person who doesn’t have the issue does, he moved on. And… he was right!
We spongey actors are always absorbing everything around us, I knew what had worked for me in the way I’d been directed in the past and I instinctively directed that way. I had a lot of ingredients to put into this casserole, I just had to be sensitive to which actor prefers tofu or a good piece a meat– or both – and pop it in the oven… Or something.
My fear was WHAT IF I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER?!?!?!?! What if an actor feels stuck and I can’t help them??? And do you know what, most of the time the answer pops out of your mouth… I floored myself a number of times by quoting Stanislavski or Ken the Yellow Cabbie – whoever seemed more relevant at the time!
And guess what? WE WON the festival! I’d initially said to Mark O’Neil that we had to win, or what’s the point (cos I can be a gobby little madam around him!) and win we did. Huzzah!
You said it how you saw it… It was a relief to not have to waste time with the b@llsh*t. A breath of fresh air to know there is always work to be done, and we don’t rest until we achieve, in your eyes, something worth watching.
Zoe Anastassiou
READY YET TO TAKE FOR THE HEART TO STAND – If you can make sense out of that title, come back to me.
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Another O’Neil classic, I daren’t even try to explain this one! A new play of Mark’s had been accepted into Brit Bits – an evening of theatre written by or for Brits – produced by Mind The Gap; a company who boasts the fabulous Dames, Dench & Mirren on their board.
Mark wrote the play for Zoe and Sophie, giving their characters the imaginative names of Zoe and Sophie. Sadly Zoe was booked… we were distraught. Who could we get to play the homeless, frightened and unhinged Zoe opposite the housed, weird and unhinged Sophie???
The brilliant Clemmie bloody Evans(!) who I’d circled around on the NYC theatre scene but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to really work with. I seized the opportunity and I am over the moon that I did. We also had an utter ball working together – the girls and I coined a phrase “shake your brit bits”. It was funny. It was. Oh, us lovies love a good in-joke!
I’ll be honest, this play wasn’t easy. I’ve lost count of the number of times I asked Mark for re-writes… it wasn’t vital enough… What is the point of the play??…. And what the hell is going on??.
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Eventually I think I exhausted him and he went on holiday for two weeks leaving me to do whatever was necessary to get it on. They were tough parts to play too; Sophie had to go to bizarre places as a spiritual healer and learn to really commit to a womb cleanse! Clemmie as the homeless rejected Zoe had to ask herself some very difficult questions and learned to commit to her anger. Sometimes we can be a bit too bloody nice, kind and helpful for our own bloody good.
Opening night and we were in a good place, except the ending… it just didn’t work. Nothing really happened. WHAT WERE WE SAYING?! Those of us who could went for an emergency brain storm accompanied by an emergency soda water or large white wine in my case. And I did what terrified me, I grabbed the wheel, I steered the ship and I changed the end of the play.
I was up until the small hours putting together all of our ideas and writing the end of the play so our brave actresses had time to process it before the following night’s performance. I was having kittens (not really, although I did disturbingly dream that once) the following day.
What if I’d made a big mistake? What if this decision really rattles the girls and it is a big fat failure? What if I am outed? What if EVERYONE HATES ME??? I watched the ending through the gaps in my un-manicured hands… It worked!
The audience loved it! There was laughter. Laughter! We had an ending at last and a great little play.
I have worked with numerous directors and Laura has that rare insight of a director that understands actors. Her guidance and care throughout the process was exceptional. She gave us free reign to explore and be creative while being able to objectively comment on what worked and what didn’t, giving us the best possible outcome for the play
Clemmie Evan
FAREWELL KING CARTER, FAREWELL – we go up imminently so, no comment!
Laura_Farewell King Carter_550
Very recently I was approached to direct a one woman play written by Anna Governali who was until now, unknown to me. An inspirational and moving piece about a pre-surgery trans beauty queen preparing to dazzle in her penultimate pageant with her male counterpart King Carter. Yes, very timely and quite the piece. No pun… seriously, no pun intended. In fact, this was one of my big fears. My humour is my crutch, my go to, to appease any situation and it can often be a little risqué to say the least. BUT. I never want to offend anyone, ever… All in good fun as those sorts of people like to say.
Anna and I had a problem, as a cis writer and a cis director we had to cast a trans actress. Otherwise this production would not be supported by the trans community which is obviously imperative – what the hell is the point otherwise?! And this is performing as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival (a festival celebrating the LGBTQ NYC community) we had to get this casting right.
We met some incredible women, I was really blown away, but I knew I had found our Vivienne James when the incredible Eve Lindley walked through the door. An actress with old Hollywood glamour reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn with the perfect mixture of vulnerability, strength and bawdy humour. Gold.
I did my research, I was extremely anxious not to accidently insult her down to any ignorance on my part, I also spoke with directors I admired who’d recently worked with trans actors to glean what I could from their experiences. And I am glad I did… even if preparation just gives you peace of mind, don’t knock it! Peace of mind is hard to find, it’s in an overly active mind that devil on your shoulder lives and he can demand a lot of attention, believe me.
What I am proud to say I did was to open our first rehearsal, erm, openly. Which is to say that I put my fears out there, I mentioned my reliance on my sometimes OTT sense of humour and for her to please say if she felt upset by anything at any time… I knew I had the right gal when she replied that she’s not really that much of a p.c. person so she probably wouldn’t even notice. Get in.
Next thing I know we named one of the units the erection section and I am giving her notes telling her that her hermaphrodite was amazing! Did I mention this lady was special? Well, she is and if you can, you must see her work.
It is a very brave, moving, beautiful and hilarious portrayal of a woman in an extremely complex situation. Anna has done a fantastic job with her pen-wo-manship and Eve is blowing me away every time we rehearse.
We are going into production week now… I can’t wait to see it all come together.
MY TIME AT SEA or what I’ve learned
In all these new ventures – site specific one woman play, writing and now directing – this has been the one that I have learned the most. I realized that, like in writing, I had done a version of this before; as a young gymnast I’d choreograph even some of the older girls’ routines; I’d taught and directed kids in theater in Italy (but put that in a crowd control box); I’d run workshops for business people; I self-direct CRUMBLE now for goodness sake! – but I didn’t allow these experiences to give me courage in this area.
Did I also mention I was a twit?
One of my biggest strengths (and sometimes failings) is my honesty. I am ridiculously open about EVERYTHING, this gets me into trouble in my personal life All.The.Time. But as a director I believe it helps the actors trust you and take bigger risks than they ever thought they could take.
Let’s talk suicide. It’s important anyway, WE SHOULD ALL TALK ABOUT SUICIDE MORE IN LIFE. Point made? Good.
I am a fledgling director, but two of the three plays I’ve directed center around suicide. Early in rehearsals, I made a point of being open about my suicidal issues in the distant and not so distant past. Being this sort of open seems to take the lid off the pressure pot of fears the actor seems to be trying to keep a lid on and there goes that casserole (again) all over the room!
In my experience when you name your fears you can claim them. I have also learned that I am implementing all my learnings of combating self-doubt and passing them on, cos that’s all that really gets in an artist’s way… the what ifs.
Try what if…. I didn’t give a f$ck?!! That should do it.

A top tip to fall back on when you are in that awkward networking situation:

I hate hate hate hate hate-d networking. I have had panic at events in the past and had to run out like a crazed wheezing alley cat. I used to introduce myself as “I erm, well I, erm, sometimes I act but I have to do lots of other things to pay the bills.”
Yes, really impactful stuff.
On moving out here to chomp away at the seemingly everlasting Apple, I had to force myself to network about three times a day, I didn’t have a choice. I have now re-framed it to having a little chat and finding out about other people. The pressure is off you then, you are just asking questions and listening and learning and people are fascinating and odd and brilliant.
I don’t go anywhere with the expectations of getting business cards or meeting a really good contact or dare I say getting a job! I go hoping for a good story – there’s always one! – sometimes you might make a friend, a contact, even get a date! Oh come on people… Sex in The City wasn’t set here for nothing! And because you have taken the pressure off and are just being yourself, all of the above can happen and often does.
FAREWELL KING CARTER, FAREWELL plays in NYC on 14th, 18th & 19th July 2015, click for tickets(click on ‘VISIONS’ on the above dates)
For more information on The English Woman in New York visit:
An English Woman in New York