THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Thank you for your time Erin! Our traditional first question, where in the States are you from?
I'm from Los Angeles, California... although I prefer calling it "Lalaland". Whenever I tell Brits that, they are usually baffled why I'd swap the sunshine for grey skies and sometimes even offer to exchange passports!
How did you find yourself entering the world of acting and theater, is it something you've always wanted to do?
My great grandmother was one of the first ever female screenwriters in Hollywood so it's in the blood! My mom's an actress, so is my sister (poor Dad's the only one with a normal job) so it kind of always felt inevitable. I even had a stint as a child actor - my crowning moment being a very cheesy, very hilarious 'Treasure Trolls' commercial, which, amazingly, I found on Youtube. I was a pretty headstrong kid and decided at fourteen I wanted to act. I was attending a (very Hollywood) performing arts high school and was knocked sideways when I discovered the magic of live theatre...which is a big reason I'm in London and not still pounding the pavement at home.
One of the projects you're involved in which has gone big is Hunt the Vigan - you're one half of the duo with James Gavigan - how did that project come about and what were your goals for it?
Hunt the Vigan (www.huntthevigan.com) is the worlds funniest comedy duo (and if you disagree you'll have to face the wrath of our mothers)! James and I met dressed up as a princess and a pirate, entertaining at a very posh childrens party. One day, we were on the tube home together and the conversation went something like this:
Erin: I'm sick of waiting around for my acting agent to call.
James: Me too. I've been thinking of maybe making some short films.
Erin: Ooh that sounds like fun!
James: We could meet for a coffee and have a chat?
Fast forward six years and we've made a wacky retro web series, A Quick Fortune which won us a screenwriting award and did the festival circuit including Raindance. A glut of silly sketches and two comedy TV pilots. The second one about the highs and lows of parenthood...as in the meantime we've both popped out babies (well he didn't, his wife Astrid did). Hollywood glory is only a heartbeat away!
One of your big hit videos was 'Boobies in a Box' - it covers a really topical issue in the UK right now, which is breastfeeding in public. It's a hilarious video but do you think it's important for art to make a serious point?
Art covers such a vast and diverse arena of content, I don't think it can be pinned down as one thing (there's your diplomat's answer).
However, for me, one of the joys of being an artist is making people think, being provocative, sparking debate, but preferably while they're laughing butts off. That's why comedy is such a powerful tool, and why 'Boobies in a Box' was so successful. There have been times (like with the public breastfeeding debate) where I've felt compelled to make something (and then drag James into it). I have a little girl and so it's only a matter of time before I make something about the delightful topic of unconscious gender bias! A topic full of LOLs.
At the same time, our web series, A Quick Fortune, was a screwball comedy: chock-full of pratfalls, pies in the face - pure silliness and no big important point to hammer home. I think that's just as valid, especially in times of extreme global political upheaval!
Your latest project is a one woman show called Surfing the Holyland, which is on stage from August 6-8 at the Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice, London. What is the play about?
This is the story of the year I spent in colorful, aggressive, neurotic Israel and how I survived. How my parents visited once and nearly disowned me. How my husband found God and then I sabotaged his orthodox Bar Mitzvah. And amid all of this...I learned to surf.
Surfing the Holyland is a fish out of water tale about the mad Middle East, surfing and survival. Heather is allergic to religion, politics and exercise. So what happens when she swaps Ohio for Tel Aviv? Naturally she takes up surfing. Abandoned by her newly God-obsessed husband, Heather must navigate a land teeming with zealots, hipsters, hostile neighbours and one sexy surf teacher. Told as a series of surf lessons, the show combines quirky storytelling, sharp observational comedy and some plucky tunes on the ukulele. Inspired by my wild experiences living in Tel Aviv.
Why did you decide to write the play, and what do you hope people take away from the experience of watching you perform it?
A one-woman show has always been on my bucket list, but I procrastinated because I'd have an anxiety attack every time I thought about it. Then my husband got a job in Tel Aviv and so we moved there for a year and a half and it seemed the perfect time to make a show since I barely spoke any Hebrew. Israel is a crazy place (and I say that with total fondness). I kept a journal of all the mad things that happened to us. Simultaneously I learned how to surf (yes I'm from LA and no I didn't know how to surf) and the pieces kind of fell together...then I pitched the idea to the theatre programmer at JW3 (a Jewish Arts Centre in North London) and before I had even written a word she booked me in for a slot!
The show had its premiere a few weeks ago and this audience review hits the nail on the head:
"I laughed, I cried, I laughed again, and now I want to learn how to surf." - Kamila
I also hope they'll go home having experienced some unique, fun storytelling and think, "Wow what a thrilling ride!" I hope it'll give them a fresh perspective on The Holyland, and also that it'll shed some light on the universal challenges of being an immigrant - which is so relevant today.
The ukulele has quite a big part in the show, and you play the instrument yourself! Why the uke?
Yes I do and yes there are four original comedy ukulele songs in the show! Most reveal plot twists but there is one called 'Party at Ikea'.
The ukulele because it's the sound of Hawaii - a place I am not-so-secretly obsessed with! And all my pals at a wonderful company I work with, Ladder to the Moon, played the ukulele and finally I cracked under the pressure!
Mushy anecdote alert: I learned the ukulele in secret to surprise my husband by playing our song (Ben Fold's 'The Luckiest') at our wedding. In hindsight, I should've tackled a song with much easier chords!
Ladder to the Moon does some great work in care homes. Is that quite a satisfying job to have?
Ohhhh it is transformational work! It is probably the most valuable application of my craft. We use theatre and film as a tool to help create vibrant care homes. We turn the home into a film studio and rock up in spiffy 1950s costumes and remake classic films like Some Like It Hot, South Pacific and Casablanca. You get these truly magical moments when, for example, a resident who hasn't said a word in months suddenly starts reciting a Shakespearean soliloquy. Plus there is so much joy and laughter.
What is life like for you as an American in London - are there things you miss from home, or things you wouldn't change about living over here?
I've been here coming up to fifteen years (yikes time flies!) and I actually get a lot of culture shock going home. And it always catches me off guard when people ask, "Are you here on holiday?"...when I probably know London better than them. Technically I'm British now too and the citizenship ceremony was an experience and a half: I had to swear my allegiance to Her Maj and all her heirs and successors. I had to work really hard to keep a straight face.
But the longer I'm here though, the more I miss things from home like The Pacific Ocean, the food (a really good California salad is hard to find) and THE SUN! When I first arrived I never thought I'd get tired of the rain, it seemed such a novelty coming from a desert. And of course with a daughter now, it is really tough being away from my family.
What would you recommend to see and do in London for fellow Americans?
If you haven't been to Dennis Severs House near Spitalfields Market you must go! It's magical. This artist has painstakingly recreated a home from the time of Charles Dickens. It's the closest I've ever experienced to time travel. It's multi-sensory and almost spooky because it feels like the family who lived there have just stepped round the corner.
Afternoon Tea at Sketch on Conduit Street.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Erin Hunter?
I've got more creativity than I know what to do with and I always have ten projects on the go so life is never boring. Plus I have an insanely fun, fire cracker of a daughter Lola who fuels my creativity and keeps me laughing; and a wonderful husband who puts up with his mad actress wife and keeps me grounded.
And my delicious guacamole. It's unbeatable.
Erin Hunter's one-woman show, Surfing the Holyland, is performing 6 to 8 August at the Canal Cafe Theatre, London, and 18 August at the Theatre Palisades, California/. Find out more about Erin's work at www.erinhunter.net