BWW Interview: 6 Questions & a Plug with CAMELOT's Helen Anker
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' main stage production of Lerner & Loewe's CAMELOT opened this fall and runs through the winter, telling the legendary tale of King Arthur, his queen Guenevere, the gallant Knights of the Round Table, including Lancelot, and Merlin... a story that people love to return to time and again. Lady Guenevere is played by Helen Anker, who some Twin Cities theatre goers may recall from the Guthrie Theater's MY FAIR LADY two years ago when she also played the lead. Anker took time away from the stage to share more about her return to the Twin Cities and her background in Great Britain and stages across the U.S.
Why do you think the story of Camelot captures so many people's imaginations and hearts -- and what is it about this show that you find appealing?
I feel the story is as relevant today as it was when it was written - wishing for an ideal, perfect world of solidarity and love, with the idea of fighting for what is right rather than for ridiculous reasons. Also there's the love triangle between Guenevere, Arthur and Lancelot, I feel, many people can relate to, in some form.
What is your favorite moment of the show, and why?That's hard to say. I have a few! I love in the first scene when Guenevere meets Arthur, and she doesn't realize who he really is. She's just run away not wanting to marry the King, saying she wants to have the chance to live her own life, and be wooed by men, and have them fighting over her, and idolizing her, rather than end up in an arranged marriage with a man she doesn't know. By the end of the scene she realizes who he is and is enthralled by his story of how he became King, and decides she's fallen in love with him anyway.
I also love the scene of them together (for the last time in the show) singing "Simple Folk" where you see how great they are together. But there's the underlying sadness that all is not well in their relationship, and what is to come?
What brought you back to Minnesota to the Chanhassen (and in the winter!) for a long run after moving to LA? And, what are you thinking now that winter is here?Basically I LOVE to work and I am always happier when I'm working, especially when I'm playing beautiful roles, wherever I am in the world!
When you're an actor, on the whole, you just want to be working, creating and able to support yourself! Also, I LOVED my time in Minneapolis two years ago in MY FAIR LADY, and met the most wonderful friends here, and thoroughly enjoyed Minneapolis. So when the opportunity came up to audition for this role (which I actually didn't know well, having never seen the show) I looked into it, and decided it would, in fact, be another great role to play. And why not come back to work and be around my friends and experience a winter here!
So far, I'm enjoying the winter, especially when it's snowy and looks so beautiful. We never had snow like this in the UK, but when the sun shines, I'm happy just about anywhere (as long as I have the right clothes on!). At least in Minnesota, the roads are cleared so quickly and everyone manages to keep going, and life doesn't grind to a halt.
Now that you've been in a couple productions in the Minneapolis area, what do you think of the theatre scene here -- and does it compare to your experience on the West End or Broadway favorably? How about being at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres?
The theater scene here in Minneapolis is PHENOMENAL!!! The standard of theater is just as good as anything you can see on the West End, and Broadway. I hate the fact that some people dismiss Dinner Theater as not being such a high standard as other theaters, but that (from my experience here) is completely untrue! This show, cast, costumes, wigs and scenery are just as wonderful as you can see at the best theaters in the West End and Broadway. I feel so thrilled to be able to experience this theater, and I know it has the highest reputation.
You started acting at a young age in London - what got you into the profession at that age 9, and did you ever think about doing anything else?I started dancing when I was 3 and was (I'm told) a natural; I was always the 'performer' in the family, wanting to be center of attention... I then landed the role of 'Louisa' at age 9, in the West End production of 'The Sound of Music' starring Petula Clark. I, then, got a place to train at The Royal Ballet School where I trained in pure ballet for 5 years from the age of 11-16. But after the ballet training, I knew I didn't want to be in a ballet company. I wanted to act, sing and dance in other ways... ideally musicals. So after training at a musical theater college for 3 years... I started working in musicals from age 19-now! I honestly never had any desire to do anything else, back then.
You moved from Great Britain to NYC to pursue your career in the States, and after one Broadway show (PROMISES, PROMISES) you moved on to the silver screen and LA... what are the differences or similarities to working on either coast in the U.S. and your previous work life in London?
Theater work on Broadway and the West End are pretty similar, apart from the fact that I started and worked my way up in my career in London, way more people knew of me and my work, so getting auditions was never a problem. But coming to the States and knowing only a few people, it's more like starting again, but luckily, having worked with two of New York's greatest Director/Choreographers, Rob Ashford and Susan Stroman (back in London), that definitely helped me get a foot in the door, specifically for PROMISES, PROMISES! LA is a whole different thing, with not so much theater, unless its a tour coming through, or a show featuring celebrities. I did a play there, which was great, at a 99-seat theater, but it was very hard to get people out to see it, as it's so much more about the film and TV world. I loved living in both New York and LA, but I've not been in LA long enough to really give it my best shot.
What is next for you in your career - do you have any plans after CAMELOT?
I will be heading back to LA after the run of CAMELOT, to try again, and see if I can break into the TV/film world. In an ideal world I'd love to be in a series, and be able to enjoy the LA lifestyle. I do love the ocean, mountains and sunshine of California, and I feel the way of life suits me there. But, saying that I am always happy to travel to work anywhere in the States, and if a job takes me somewhere else, then that's where I'll go. It's strange to never have any definite plans at the moment, but I also love the life I lead and feel blessed I can pursue the career I love and explore more of the States doing it!
Helen Anker Bio:
Helen is thrilled to be back in the Twin Cities making her Chanhassen debut, after playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the Guthrie Theater, two years ago. She originates from the UK where she performed in many West End and regional musicals and plays, then moved to NYC, performing on Broadway inPromises, Promises and many regional shows including The 39 Steps, Curtains, Newsies and Carousel. Television roles include: "White Collar," "Law and Order" and "The Good Wife."
More show information and tickets: https://www.chanhassendt.com
Photo: Helen Anker (Guenevere) courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.