Hula Hoop Artist, Helen Orford, Talks About Hula Hoops, Circus Training & Making Her Own Bed of Nails
I’m very excited to welcome the lovely and very talented Helen Orford to my site today. I was very privileged to meet Helen on the night of a reading at Sh! Women’s Store, where I learned that this lovely lady is a hula hoop artist! Yes, you heard me right. And she is totally amazing! As you can imagine, I was over the moon when she agreed to let me interview her for A Hopeful Romantic. Welcome, Helen Orford! What a pleasure to have you!
KD: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Helen. And in particular, how did you become a hula hoop artist?
HELEN: I’ve always had a pull towards the circus ever since I watched a Cirque Du Soleil video as a young child. It was only when I was 15 that I found online about a circus training centre in Sheffield, Greentop Circus, which I could go to two evenings a week after school. After training in swinging trapeze, static trapeze and hula hoops I saw a poster for a little 6 person circus looking for performers to join them. After auditioning I was told they needed an aerial silks act (think of ribbons hanging from the ceiling), so I quickly went away and had a couple of lessons and made an act very swiftly and quite literally ran away with this little circus, Circus Ferrel. While still at school getting my GCSE’s and A-levels, I’d keep running away and spending as much time performing as possible. When I was 18 I auditioned for a place at Circus Space, a Circus University in Shoreditch, London and after a gruelling two day, hard-core, intensive audition I was accepted onto the course! It was there that I specialised in hula hooping and spent 3 whole years training more than six hours every day to hone my craft and to train my hula hooping skills and acts.
KD: Tell us what a typical day is like in the life of a hula hoop artist?
HELEN: Every day and every week is completely different as my work is so varied even day to day, but recently a day in my shoes would be a very exhausting one! This week for example: I get up early to prepare for the day and make sure my LED hoops are charged, all my costumes are prepared and clean and that I have everything I need for the shows ahead. I then happily head off to a full day of circus training or rehearsals for a new show. After a long day of rehearsals I often have to rush off straight to an evening show or cabaret in which I’m performing my hula hooping acts late into the night. I’ll get home just after midnight, finally have a quick bite to eat for ‘dinner’, peel off my false eyelashes and fall into bed for 6 or 7 hours sleep before getting up and doing it all again the next day! People think the life of a circus artist is all fun and games (which it truly is!), but it’s also really hard work!! Much of my work is last minute bookings in which I’ll only get from 3 days to two hours’ notice to perform, so my schedule is always changing and ever unpredictable! However it’s not uncommon for me to get bookings 6months or more in advance too!
KD: I saw a lovely, if a bit scary photo of you on Facebook lying on a bed of nails! Ouchie! Tell us a little bit about your strange mattress, and is that also a part of your performance?
HELEN: While working in the travelling circus, it was a great opportunity to train in new circus disciplines and to create new acts as we had all day to ourselves and had the circus big top in which to practice. I don’t know how the idea came about, whether from myself or from my boss (the circus clown!), but the circus could do with another act and I had it in my head that I would perform a bed of nails act – despite never even laid on one before! The following day I heard a knock on my door, and it was my boss with a plank of wood, a drill and several hundred nails! By the afternoon I’d finished making the bed of nails all by myself and started creating an act, which was in the show a couple of days later. I no longer perform that act, but I believe my ‘strange mattress’ is still in use at that circus even now!
KD: What’s the best part of your job?
HELEN: Meeting so many different, exciting and innovative people! In my job I connect with people from all walks of life, which really helps me be motivated, stay centred and continue to be focussed on my goals. Meeting like-minded artistic people is so inspiring and keeps my mind thinking which is great in a job which can sometimes become repetitive when performing the same acts over and over.
KD: What’s the worst?
HELEN: The unsociable hours can become quite hard to get used to at times. The majority of my performances occur between the hours of 7pm and 3am, meaning that my internal clock can sometimes become confused and I’ll end up eating breakfast for supper and dinner for breakfast! Saying this some of the most interesting characters tend to poke their heads out of the woodwork very late at night, and when performing in such fun and exciting venues, I’m always guaranteed to have a great time even if I do get home at 4am!
KD: What inspires you most as an artist?
HELEN: Looking at other peoples work really inspires me to train harder, to create more and to develop new ideas. It could be watching a fellow circus performer’s work, or listening to a piece of music that makes me want to get up and train straight away, but often it’s reading a book that makes me think or stirs something inside of me which causes my brain to start ticking with more and more ideas. I’m always inspired and forever thankful of this fact.
KD: Tell us something about you that would surprise us, Helen.
HELEN: Where to start…?! Well, not many people know that I regularly sneak off to the countryside to clay pigeon shoot. I’ve been shooting since I was 15 years old and started going with my father. Now I have my own very pretty engraved Miroku over and under shotgun, which I keep with my other gun in my gun cabinet in Yorkshire. When life gets too stressful in the big smoke I disappear for a weekend of shooting by myself, and it really does help me relax! You should try it!
KD: What exciting things are happening in your career right now? If readers would like to see you perform how can they find out more?
HELEN: I’ve just finished a really exciting show with a brand new company called Extraordinary Bodies, formed by Cirque Bijou and Diverse City, which is a small 8 person integrated circus company formed of leading disabled and non-disabled dancers, actors and circus performers, we also had an amazing 4 piece band and 100 piece choir (both singing and signing) to accompany our show. After only 3 weeks of rehearsals together we came out with a brilliant show with a completely original musical score which we premiered in Exeter, headlining their Unexpected Exeter Festival, drawing crowds in their thousands. This project has plans to be developed after Christmas and is in talks to tour France next year and even further in 2015! As well as this I’m always performing in crazy cabarets, themed evening experiences and shows, and posh corporate events in and around London, not to mention teaching hula hoop lessons all over London too. You can hear all about my upcoming performances and hula hoop workshops on my Facebook page and Twitter account.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/helen.orford.1
Twitter page: www.twitter.com/HelenOrfordHoop
KD: Thanks so much for stopping by, Helen! What a pleasure to have you!