The swans first became enamoured by this lady when we witnessed her performance in London, many moons ago in ‘Masque of the Red Death’. This production by theatre company Punchdrunk was an immersive experience where the audience could choose their own adventure, so we took a ride with actress Maya Lubinsky’s character… Madeleine Usher. She knocked our cashmere socks off – she was mysterious and wild, portraying the beautiful lady of Edgar Alan Poe’s famous House of Usher. Since then we have been tracking her trajectory to the stars and recently caught up with her for a chat in New York about her newest play and pursuing the dream.
Miss Maya, tell us a little about your role in the long running sensation ‘Sleep No More’… Sleep No More is an interpretation of Macbeth, so I play a character from the play – Hecate the queen of the witches. It is amazingly enjoyable. I get to be mischievous, the most powerful character in the show, and very glamorous. It’s set in the 30s era, so I wear a stunning silk gown, with ostrich feathers and a cathedral length train. It was actually very challenging to get to grips with such a powerful character at first, because you don’t often get to do that – mostly one plays humans unfortunately, and they tend to have weaknesses.
You have spent some time darting between LA to NY to London. Where do you wish to be right now? Well, there’s a part of me that always wishes to be where I’m not! I’m nomadic and there’s always something propelling me away and back again. Currently I’m in New York, so Los Angeles seems very appealing because it’s got beautiful palm trees that you can’t get anywhere in New York. But truthfully New York is a far better place for the work that I do. I do straight TV and film, but really I’m an experimental theatre and fine art person and there ain’t none of that in LA (well there is, but not to the same degree). Here I can act every day in the beautiful Sleep No More, and simultaneously develop my own writing and art projects. I recently wrote a performance piece with the artist Peter Burr. It premiered in the Museum of Moving Image in New York earlier this year, and is now on tour in Europe. I think I should forgo the palm trees for now…
The sets that Punchdrunk create can be quite disorientating. Do you ever forgot your lines? or does the roaming of the audience allow you to improvise? I have got very poor orientation skills. The Punchdrunk sets confound me! At first I get lost frequently, but then I get used to it, and always find my rightful place. Luckily my actor’s brain is very good with lines, and they tend to stay put, despite how confused I may otherwise be. During the performance we could improvise a bit – and we do in the sense that no repetition is truly identical – but it would really not do anyone much good if we strayed too far from the beautiful material we’re entrusted with.
And was scriptwriting a natural progression? Scriptwriting is both identical and opposite to acting. The things that you consider as you write a character, are the exact things that you plow the text for when you’re playing a character in a play. So that way of thinking was second nature to me by the time I started writing. But as a writer you generate, whereas the actor interprets, so that’s very different. Although in my case, I had been performing a lot of devised theatre – as with Punchdrunk – where you author your own role, except you’re not sitting at a desk to do it. So yes, it was very natural. When I started writing, I realized that to some extent I had been doing it all along.
Your theatrical practice had also lead you into the world of performance art, both in the US and London. Tell us about your working relationship with artist Tai Shani? It came about gradually, and developed into something bigger and more special than I ever thought. At first I appeared in some of her portrait projects, and then had a cameo in one of her films. But it was at the moment that she moved more towards working with text, that we really clicked. She started writing with me in mind, and I was the voice in all of her works. I would do the voices for all the characters, and sometimes she would even pitch shift my voice so I could play a man – and this in pretty major places, like the ICA and the Barbican. And we still do this. Sometimes I appear in person, and sometimes I participate as the voice. Her work is so beautiful, and it’s been extraordinary to have such a central place in her art practice.
Back in 2008, you were cast by Gail Pickering for the one woman performance piece that premiered at the Tate Modern entitled ‘Zulu: Speaking in radical tongues’ Was this your first move into the fine arts realm? What was that like? I had done some gallery based projects before, and acted in a few art films, but this was different. It was a solo performance, highly unconventional, showing to a couple of hundred audience members, at the Tate. I spoke non-stop for half an hour, and it was all text borrowed from 60-70′s political movements, so it was very weighty stuff. We got to do it four times at the Tate, and then went on tour with it, and it never stopped being very challenging. It was amazing though – I really got to cut my teeth on something there.
Your storytelling voice has the ability to transport a listener. Have you ever performed a pre-rehearsed line from the stage and let integrate into your real life? Oh yes! I am a bad one for quoting. I usually admit it though, and don’t try to take credit for other people’s eloquence. I write poetry, and on occasion a line out of a play will appear in a poem. I will usually take it out!
Theatre and spoken word has the ability to transport a listener. In your day dreams, where do you go? All over the place. Ha that’s a brilliant question. To romance, to glory! I imagine winning a Nobel prize, or being an astronaut. It’s normally outlandish and very geeky.
We also know you as the lady in red. If you were to choose an item from the swan collections to compliment your ruby desires, which would it be? I am straying away from red – a blue item struck a chord. The Always Late Cape (Mine). I have been known to be late, and I ride a blue bicycle. I might even add the cream anchor tights (Yes Natalie), for the ultimate late superhero outfit.
If you’re in the big apple, you can see Maya in Sleep No More, at 530 w 27th st in Chelsea, every day at 7.30 pm, and watch out for Special Effect – it may be coming to a gallery near you. Keep a look out for this hot lady. Definitely one to watch x