I spoke with Everleigh and Maria, the founders of Hoo Hah House, about their experience, their company, their plays, and their values. Their new play, Flumps, is on this week from the 24 – 28 August at Barons Court Theatre. Go and see it people and follow these amazing women on Instagram and check out their Website! I hope to make it when they’re back in London or just have to travel to see them 🥰
Thanks to Sharon Willems, Artistic Director and Leo Bacica, Executive Director at Barons Court Theatre to make the introductions. Follow them on Instagram to learn about their amazing shows and venue.
Sara – Tell me about yourselves. How did you learn how to do what you do? You are both directors and you split in between you the two sides – is it flexible and depending on the play or do you stick with certain tasks because you are more experienced with them?
Everleigh – We are both trained actors originally. We met years ago doing a course at RADA, Maria then trained at East 15 in their world’s performance course, and I trained at Drama Centre London. Both intuitions have very different methodologies. At Drama Centre, the focus is on “in to out” and at East 15 it’s a lot more about “out to in”. In rehearsal spaces, there is a beautiful balance as I will sit down with performers and analyse lines and intention and Maria will have a look and give us great suggestions on choreography or movement sequence. I think our main strength is that we really amplify each other’s work.
Sara – I would love to hear more about the play coming up next week at Barons Court. What is it about?
Everleigh – Flumps, our new play, it’s a piece of new writing by the writer, Emma Pallett. It’s a 70-minute show. We call it a magically truthful coming of age story. It follows two siblings Harvey and Felicity over a summer as their mom goes missing at the beginning of the show. In order to make ends meet they start stealing pets from around their neighbourhood and returning them for reward money, which ends up getting them into sticky situations. In the meantime, they are trying to figure out the mystery of what happened to their mother. The directorial choice was to set it in 2012 with a bunch of 90s beats and puppets, which offers a nostalgic vibe, especially when you have adults playing kids. We believe that a lot of the audience will find themselves and see the truth about their own childhood with this piece.
Sara – How traumatic (their mom missing) or how comedy or coming of age is the play?
Everleigh – We like to take these hard-hitting topics and bring the comedy out of them. We find that humour is often the way humans deal with tragedies in their lives. It’s also the most accessible way for audiences to grab on to big concepts. So, Flumps is a dialogue and it’s naturally humorous because they’re kids. All they want to do is to make each other laugh even though they are scared. I would describe it as a tragic comedy; everything on the surface is very light-hearted. You are watching 12-year-olds having a grand ‘ol time with something bigger bubbling underneath.
Maria – We’ve got a very talented, multi faceted cast, with the writer Emma Pallett playing Felicity, and Susie Coutts playing the non-binary older sibling, Harvey.
Sara – Is that something you represent in your plays? The spectrum of gender and sexuality?
Maria – We are very keen on representation, but we don’t want to make it a whole point. We like to bring these important topics – like climate change or gender fluidity into our plays but we don’t always talk about them continuously. The character Harvey is non-binary but it’s not an overpowering theme. It’s accepted by them two and as they are alone in this world nobody is really invited to question that, less an integral, part of the story.
Sara – I feel that’s how kids are anyway, so it’s quite authentic.
Everleigh – Originally, Harvey was technically the older brother character. But as a company, we tend to focus on working with women, non-binary people and people who are nonconforming. We realised the opportunity with this character was that there was nothing gendered about them, and no reason they couldn’t be an older brother without them being labelled as a man. We chose Susie as they have the energy of Harvey, and we knew on the first read of the script that they would be right for the role.
Sara – Did you know the writer or her work before? How do you connect with people you work with?
Maria – A year ago, we put out a call out for a little festival we produced. We went on from producing our show BRAVE FACE to producing a mini festival. We put a call out and Emma reached out to us with a play she wrote 4-5 years ago. We got really interested in her concept and thought it would have a lot of potential. Everleigh then helped with the writing, helped her develop the play and I started producing and we went off to do Brighton Fringe in June and now we are going to Barons Court and then Colchester and next year perhaps Edinburgh. It has been developed in an always-evolving partnership for almost a year.
Sara – How was directing shared for this play? I read something about a movement and puppet coordinator.
Maria – Yeah, this play was very big on movement as we are focusing on childhood dynamics. We did a very movement-oriented play to give you an authentic feel of “play”. Of course, stillness is sometimes needed for deep moments, but we don’t like to be still for too long. BRAVE FACE was on a similar wavelength as well – a continuous roller coaster where you couldn’t breathe. Flumps is a two person play and is a definition of play.
Sara – Can I ask you what BRAVE FACE was about?
Everleigh – BRAVE FACE is my solo show. I originally wrote it for my Screenwriting Masters as a TV Series. I had been pitching it to producers during my second term, and as an actor, I was writing with the intention of playing the protagonist. That got shut down by television producers quite quickly, as I was “undiscovered” saying that’s not the way the TV world works. So, I decided to make it into a play and to make it happen on my own terms. We booked a venue at Edinburgh Fringe before I even wrote the whole play out. The story of BRAVE FACE has been with me for a very long time, and it’s really important to me. To get a chance to get it on in Edinburgh was amazing and because of the amount of stellar feedback we got from being there, we knew we were onto something with the company and what we wanted to produce.
Sara – So, by then you had the company together?
Everleigh – We created the company to bring BRAVE FACE to Edinburgh. When that went really well, we decided to keep going with that because if something works, you work it.
Maria – The play was written by 24 July and the show was booked for 23 August, so we had a month to prepare. I was producing it, creating the schedule – we had the set before we had the play and we had 2 weeks to rehearse. And it went so well, it was phenomenal.
Sara – Wow. Sounds intense and incredible. You got great feedback and you kept going after, didn’t you?
Maria – We did 5 venues, yes. Once we started working together, we realised that we are never going to have a more perfect match. Nobody is ever going to take us apart.
Sara – Are you thinking of bringing BRAVE FACE back or is it done now?
Maria – We will be doing it again. BRAVE FACE is such a heavy subject matter and I think we are at a point where it’s becoming difficult for us to self-produce just because of the amount of effort it takes for the two of us. We’re going to send the videos that we have over to some bigger theatre and try to get a longer run in. We are also trying to get support from other people with the hopes of eventually getting the means for it to get back to the original form of being the TV series that it’s really meant to be. We are also thinking of doing a Northern European tour.
Sara – Did you keep the TV series format for the play, or did you alter it for a one person show?
Everleigh – I altered it fully, an entire season into 45 minutes. But we have a projector at the back of the stage and a lot of interactive videos happening in the background, so you also get to see the inner life of the character. It gives a very cinematic look, and we continually get feedback that the play visually looks like it would serve well as a TV series. I imagine all the other characters on stage, and I have fun performing it, but the play is more about how a woman might deal with trauma in a way to protect herself, whereas the TV series is about a friendship between two women being challenged by the patriarchy. So, the actions in the play and the series are pretty much the same, same methodology, but the way it’s told is different.
Sara – I heard your play described as ‘Fleabag’ like and now what you are saying does sound like it and I love it.
Everleigh – I would describe it as ‘Fleabag’ meets ‘I May Destroy You’ in the world of ‘Euphoria’. We were going to bring BRAVE FACE back in September to Above the Stag, but unfortunately, they closed permanently. It’s heartbreaking as it’s one of the only LGBTQ+ theatres in London. We really hope that they end up finding themselves another home.
Sara – Could you tell me more about your roles of pink and green director?
Everleigh – In our company, we split up our responsibilities into me being the pink director and Maria the green director. Maria oversees that all our work is as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible: all props and sets are recycled, and we do what we can to minimise our carbon footprint throughout the company. I make sure that all the work we do comes from a female, fluid and non-binary gaze. There are a lot (too many) narratives that come from a cis het male perspective. It’s so much so that we are almost numb to it. When doing my masters in screenwriting, and I focused quite intensely on difference between the male and female gaze, so I do everything to ensure we are telling are full rounded stories about women and non-binary people in the narratives we present.
Sara – Can you tell me more about the female gaze? Is it about the roles, the people you work with or what the characters represent?
Everleigh – A lot of it is being able to have complicated women on stage and presenting them as such without worrying about them coming across as ‘too much’. We want to ensure that we create women and non-binary characters who are dynamic and truthful. I approach script work like that as well as the space – making sure that everybody feels heard equally. We try to make sure everyone feels comfortable and confident with their voice, creativity, individuality, independence and what they are able to bring to the story.
Sara – Does this reflect on the places you perform and who you work with?
Maria – Yes, very much so. We do work with men as well; and we aim to work with allies who try to understand what women and fluid folk go through and don’t get overly defensive. It just feels like there are a lot more opportunities for men than women overall, so we want to create as many opportunities for women and non-binary people as possible.
Sara – I had a question about accessibility and inclusivity, I think this answered it as you offer opportunities for people who are not necessarily represented. Are there any other groups you are quite focused on working with and supporting to be represented?
Everleigh – A lot of the work we have developed hasn’t necessarily come from people who call themselves performers or actors. We worked with people who are artists from all walks of life or first-timers who have a story to tell then develop their work into something that is more theatrical for an audience. We also make sure that our rehearsal rooms are about all the creators involved, not just the performers and that everybody in the room is an equal part of the process. We believe no one should feel that their opinions are left out because of their backgrounds or their different sorts of training.
Sara – Even choosing people who are not theatrical I feel is quite inclusive. Working in the theatre industry I imagine it’s hard to get in even if you have all the qualifications and training but when you are a different artist it’s even harder to tell your story. I saw that you give free entry to a few groups of people. Can I ask if that is due to the topic of this play or if you are passionate about the causes?
Everleigh – For these Flumps shows, we are offering free tickets for all NHS workers, asylum seekers and those registered working with a charity. Specifically, for this play, it has to do with the content. We also want to be accessible for people who don’t necessarily have the opportunity or the financial prosperity to always go to theatre. So, we wanted to allow these tickets to be free to those people so they can enjoy the story as well.
Sara – Yeah, definitely. Was it a different range of groups when you had BRAVE FACE on?
Everleigh – What we did with BRAVE FACE is that we offered tickets to people who are fighting a similar feminist fight. During the making of BRAVE FACE, we were talking to a lot of different people on Instagram about how to push out a narrative about sex positivity.
Maria – There are people who come from working class backgrounds and cannot go to the theatre. We try to give options to come for free or donate what you can. We’re very keen on giving as much as possible, which means that sometimes we don’t make a profit, but we’ve been very privileged to be able to still survive. We are also very reachable. If anybody ever reaches out to us (Through the website, Twitter, Instagram etc) we always reply and try to arrange something even if for example they come to see the show at the dress rehearsal. We are accessible in that way.
Sara – Do you have a lot of people reaching out to you? Is it about the topics you have in your show, your experiences or trying to work with you?
Maria – We are very lucky with our marketing manager, Val. She is phenomenal. She is always supporting other businesses and developing our social media so that if people just come to our accounts, they can see what we are about. We have started so many conversations through our website. We did quite a few coffees on zoom. We have been very lucky that people come to support us; and we do everything we can to support them. It feels like a very collaborative space with the people we meet in the industry, as a company, with the audiences, and with our collaborators.
Everleigh – Since we created the space we have, we found a lot of people who reached out with projects, concepts, and ideas. Even if it’s just a chat to bounce off ideas about what we do or a possible project they have in mind, we are very fortunate to be able to make these inspiring conversations happen.
Sara – It sounds amazing, actually. That’s what I’ve experienced so far in the museum world as well that you can reach out and ask questions about people’s careers and experiences, what they would recommend doing to learn certain skills and people are so lovely to support. I love seeing people supporting each other and being kind and helpful, it’s the best feeling.
Everleigh – Exactly. It’s amazing, especially when the media creates so much competition, especially between artists and women. It’s nice that the work we get to do is so collaborative. Yeah. It’s been really lovely. We’ve been lucky for that.
Sara – Tell me more about the sustainability focus within your company. Is your sustainable focus mostly environmentally sustainable or business or social? How do you incorporate it into your business?
Maria – I am a big advocate for environmental sustainability and to raise awareness of climate change. The way all the shows and the business itself is run are very sustainable focused. We aim to produce carbon neutral shows, and hope to have the means in the near future to create the energy for the lights through peddling (bike). The next show we are developing is told through the climate change reality perspective. I had input into that topic, and I did a lot of research on what the world is going to look like in the next 50 years. All our merch is upcycled and done in the least carbon footprint possible way. We do a lot, but obviously it’s a wide subject and there are so many points of views.
Sara – How do you run your company socially sustainable in a healthy way?
Maria – There are some ground rules in a way, we don’t push these causes onto the audiences but have them as reality. Same for the company – the people we work with in the company understand the rules as they are the ethos of the company. Collaborators we are working with are different, but we are trying to create a healthy and kind environment where we check in and out at every rehearsal. We work with a lot of neurodiverse people, so we try to create an environment where everyone is comfortable and has space to be themselves and feel their feelings. We try to have our conversations open and honest so that everybody is able to put work together in the safest and healthiest manner.
Sara – How does this work with your audiences? Do you give out warnings if there is a triggering topic or involve them in the conversations in the play?
Maria – Yes, we have a trigger warning on the website. Flumps is not too intense, it is a 12 + show. It mentions things about drug abuse and there are a few swear words. For BRAVE FACE, we had trigger warnings everywhere posted around the venue, because you had to know what you were going into. We made sure that audiences knew that going in, so they feel safe. It was always a relaxed environment; people were allowed to come in and out. Everleigh is a great performer and people could come in and out to take time when needed. The character herself was allowed to see them and to relate and talk to them. The performance was never relaxed but the environment always was.
Sara – Do you have a certain audience that you see most at your shows? Or does it differ in each play?
Everleigh – Our audience had mostly been young women and queer folk because ofBRAVE FACE. Once we started sharing that story, a lot of young women and non-binary people in similar situations started chatting with us and supporting our work. Every performance opportunity we have, our audience grows. We are writing from a Millennial standpoint, where we know people have very short attention spans (including us), so we are trying to not do shows over 100 minutes. We aim to make our work fresh because we want the theatre world to be seen by this next generation. A lot of our generation is throwing themselves into film as it’s the only viable story outlet, but I believe theatre creates community, that it has always been that way and has the power to grow continuously.
Maria – We don’t want to say answers but provoke questions. Everybody has something they want to talk about with each other. That’s the most beautiful part of doing BRAVE FACE, that at the end of the show people are talking to each other and have such passions that they often share themselves with those around them who were witness to the same energising story. The way we see theatre is like comparing plugging into your headphones to going to a live concert. We love to see the collective conscience and shared experience, build relationships, and start conversations. That’s where we belong.