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Interview: Jade Anouka Finds Her Heart in New York City

After starring in Cock in London's West End, new mom Anouka brings her solo show to the Minetta Lane Theatre.

It's been a busy year for writer/performer Jade Anouka. She gave birth last December and went almost straight into rehearsals for the West End production of Mike Bartlett's Cock. Once that show closed, Anouka and her family picked up and headed for New York City, where her solo play, Heart is running now in a production by Audible at the Minetta Lane Theatre. We don't know how she did it all, but here, she tells us all about it.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Jade Anouka in Heart.
(© Trévon James)

You literally jumped from starring in Cock in London's bustling West End to starring in Heart in New York's bustling Greenwich Village. How has the experience been so far, and what was it like to get used to the country and cultural shifts?
It's been a busy year so far. We started Cock rehearsals in January and it's been constant since then. I had a couple days off before starting Heart rehearsals. I'm glad it happened this way round. After three years away from the stage it would have been terrifying jumping back into a one person show. I feel like Cock got me back into it, warmed me up for this! We rehearsed Heart in London, then when we got here it was straight into tech, and then before I knew it we were up! Surprisingly smooth shift here though. I've found audiences wearing masks strange though. In the West End that's all gone now. I appreciate the safety – Covid's far from gone. But when you're doing a show where you are looking out and talking to the audience it's a shame not to be able to see their faces and have that non-verbal communication with them. Other than that it's always a joy to work in NYC. I really love this city and it's great to be back!

Tell me about the development of Heart. Was it always meant as a solo performance piece? How did it grow and change over the years?
Yes, it was always a solo piece. Well firstly, it was just a poem really. The story was told as one long poem. And then through development with dramaturgs and directors it became more of a poetic play. With a proper story. This is my debut play. And it began very raw and unfiltered. I love how it's developed and a playwright I can't remember the name of famously said ‘writing is rewriting' and boy has this had rewrites. I first performed it as a work in progress at the Vault festival in 2019 and here we are 4 and a half years later and it's finally getting a full production.

What does it mean to you that not only do you get to perform the show live, but that it lives on as an audio recording via Audible that will exist for all time?
Performing this live means so much - it's how I imagined it living. But I'm grateful to Audible that my little play will live on. It's incredible to think people all over the world can dive into the world of Heart and will be able to hear this story in years to come.

Jade Anouka wrote and stars in Heart, directed by Ola Ince, for Audible Theater at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
(© Trévon James)

The early part of the Cock run was a bit tumultuous, with a major cast shift early in the run. What was that like for you as a performer and how did the new actor effect or change your performance?
That's live theatre! Anything can happen. It's part of the thrill. But also part of the skill, as actors we have to be adaptable. So the understudy stepped up and did what he was there to do and the rest of the cast adapted, the show continued and carried on being a great success. My performance probably did change a little as I'm reacting to what the actor is giving me but most of my scenes were with Jonathan so I wasn't affected as much.

You gave birth seven weeks before Cock started rehearsal. How did you navigate the rehearsal and performance process with a newborn? What is it like to navigate the Heart process, in a different country, with a seven or eight month old?
Yes I did. Probably not the wisest idea. But when I agreed to the job I'd never had a baby. It turned out to be the most amazing experience. Yes, difficult at times, but I have a wonderful partner who made it all possible and Elliot and Harper supported me and us so much. It's possible. More than that it's necessary that parents are allowed back as soon as they want to. I felt like the luckiest girl - I was working on a brilliant play with an amazing cast, a director I'd dreamed of working with for ages, and I could carry on breastfeeding and seeing my daughter. I was definitely happier for having her there at rehearsals and in turn a better actor because of it.

What do you want people who see Heart to take away from it?
I want people to lead with their heart. To embrace what makes them different. To love openly, honestly and proud. To realize that although things are so much better for queer people that there is still room to grow, that acceptance isn't guaranteed, that safety is important, that society needs to do better. And that queer joy exists!

What London theater would you most like to see Heart play in?
There are many wonderful London theatres that Heart would be a great fit for. Who would like it?

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