The fourth in our series of actor profiles. In this post OOC’s Laurie talks about his new book, working on the new show In/Hospitable, flipping the coin, how acting changed his life and the challenges he’s faced along the way.
Name: Laurie Furnell
Describe yourself in 3 words: A creative person
What other creative projects are you involved in?
I’m involved with creating sculpture for a play. I’m involved in music…in a (Communitas) choir. I’m involved in writing poetry.
Because you are a musician, tell us about being a singer songwriter.
The singer-songwriter came out of my writing poetry. I used to sing. I had a very bad stutter for many years but I could sing. So, I used to sing my words. Singing has always been a great thing for me. I love to sing but I couldn’t play an instrument. Then I learned to write poetry. I taught myself to write poetry and then, quite by accident, I discovered song writing. I had written so many song-like lyrics and so I experimented with a guitar and came up with one or two early songs. That was it really. I really loved that. It was combination of three things I loved coming together - music, singing and writing. That was fantastic. A symbiosis going on there. So I love writing songs.
It’s hard to imagine you without a guitar.
Yeah…you’ve always got a guitar around.
I do carry a guitar around. It’s the same with my writing. I have to carry a writing book with me because things come to you at odd moments and I have to write them down there and then, otherwise you miss them. Once I was on my bike going round this roundabout and this melody came into my head, really strong, and I had to just stop there and then and write it down, otherwise I would have lost it. It’s weird isn’t it? I managed not to get run over anyway! I’ve learned that you have to be prepared. It’s like having a door half open all the time…ready for something to come in. I discovered it rather late in life but it must have always been there, you know?
Speaking of your writing notebook that you always carry with you….you’ve just published a book. The first book to be published by Converge. Do you want to tell us what it’s called?
It’s called ‘Words from the Well of Wisdom’. It’s words that came to me as I used to wander around. More acurately it was when I was going through a depression and I found myself in this ‘deep zone’ and these words would come out. So I used to write them down and it was part of my therapy. When I wrote them down I felt better afterwards.
Luckily I kept all the little notebooks that I used to write stuff in. They’ve all been typed up into a book so now I’ve got a book. I was going to call it ‘Words from the Hell of Wisdom’ because really these words came from a very dark place. It was like I fell down into this very dark space but there was light at the bottom. That’s the best way to describe it.
But it’s a very positive book. It’s not a depressing book is it?
No, it was as if I was trying to cheer myself up. I was trying to find hope, so it is very hopeful and there is a lot of positivity in it.
So you’re a very busy artist in lots of ways…
Yeah, very busy. It’s how I like to be, really.
And acting is one of those ways. How long have you been in OOC?
I think - four years. It doesn’t seem that long but time flies. I did the introduction to theatre with Nick Rowe and that really brought me out of myself. It helped to give me a bit of confidence in myself, helped my speech, my voice, gave me an awereness of space which was nice. Also, an awereness of working with others which was a very good skill to learn.
What was your first production?
More Tales From Kafka. Which I found difficult.
Why was it difficult?
Well because I had to learn the lines. I found them difficult. I really thought they were impossible but gradually I got into a technique of learning them. Although they appeared completely impossible to begin with I found that if I adopted a certain method I found I could pick them up. I used to rehearse them. Everytime I walked to the bus stop in the morning I would read my lines and this sort of worked, you know. It was a rhythm I had. A habit I got into.
What led you to join the company?
Curiosity. I thought I would like to write something. I had that in mind. I thought if I could write poetry I might be able to write something for the theatre. It was really curiousity but I didn’t realise it was going to be so life-shaping. Because it has changed myself. It has changed me. It’s gvien me confidence and I really enjoy working on productions, working with people. The social life that comes out of it is nice. It’s been good. A very positive time.
What has been your favourite role?
I think I liked King Lear in Disturbing Shakespeare because I had to really holler. Something that is totally against my psyche to shout. As a child I was never allowed to raise my voice. So to shout was to ask for big trouble. There was something stopping me. Everytime I tried to raise my voice there was this thing stopping me. Fear, I suppose. To have to shout and holler was a difficult thing for me…but I did it eventually.
Yes, you did really well in that storm scene. You’ve touched on this already but how has being in the company affected your recovery?
I think it’s affected me a lot. It’s really helped, really helped. It’s given me a confidence in myself. It’s helped my self-esteem. It’s enabled me to take risks because, as an actor, you have to take risks. That was good for me. I needed to take risks. So that’s been good…it’s helped my self-esteem especially. I do feel better for it…I’m not in such a dark place as I used to be. I can somehow ‘flip the coin’ and use my difficult experiences for a good, positive outcome.
What do you think of Bootham closing and the plans for a new hospital?
I thought it was a very tragic thing. A very tragic thing because I went to Bootham myself for a short time and I was very inspired by the place. I thought it was a wonderful place. One always had that sense of history; that it had been there for over 150 years. You think of all the people who had been through it. And it is a spectacularly beautiful place. The prospect of it closing was a terrible disaster because it was perfectly placed to help people. It was near the city centre but out, just enough, to have a bit of peace and quiet. So, it was very carefully positioned. It also had that history - groundbreaking in many ways…coming up with new ideas and new treatements for people. So, from that point of view, it was a very special place. Okay, it didn’t have the latest, modern ‘whatever-it-was’ but it had something else. It was very special.
You’re in this new play, In/Hospitable. What do you think this play has to say about hospitals now?
I think In/Hospitable is able to take people’s experiences of being in mental hospitals and poke fun at them which I think is a good thing. To caricature what goes on, which is a good thing, because it helps to change things. It gives an opportunity to look at the future and think about what would be a better hospital. What do people like ourselves actually need in terms of treatment. It makes you think about what works and what doesn’t. The ability to look to the future and imagine what could be is a very important thing.
On a brighter note what advice do you have for other actors? Be brave.
No, I think that’s it. I think this is the thing about acting. It pushes you to go to places you don’t normally go to and I think that’s good. It pushes the boundaries of your experience.
Thank you very much!
You can read more about Lauries book and his story here and You can buy Laurie's book on Amazon by searching for Laurie Furnell author or for the title of the book.
In/Hospitable is being performed at Temple Hall, York St John University on the 12th June at 8.00. To obtain tickets please email firstname.lastname@example.org. It will also be performed in the same venue on the 13th June as part of the York Festival of ideas at 7.30. Tickets can be obtained via YorkFestivalofideas.com