LILY HOWKINS

Choreographer/ Actor/ Not so secret nerd

 

Lily and I spent a wonderful evening taking photos and chatting with chai tea and listening to late nineties grunge.

 

Ellie: Right, my first question is what do you love?

 

Lily: In life in general?

 

Ellie: Anything. What makes you incredibly happy?

 

Lily: Um… Family. Definitely. I’m lucky I have a very, very close family who… are fun. We just have a laugh. Things like Christmas, it’s hysterical we now have a fancy dress theme every Christmas dinner and just dick about and get drunk. I’m really close to my sister and her fiancé, he’s like a brother to me already, so just hanging out with them makes me really happy.

 

Ellie: Your family sounds great.

 

Lily: I’m really lucky; I appreciate how lucky I am with them, that’s it’s quite unusual but my sister and my mum are my best mates and I know they’ve got my back at all times. My close friends as well, that makes me happy; they’re brilliant. I think it’s often the little things. I mean obviously working makes me happy and being creative, but then on a smaller level it’s little things: getting up, liking where I live, making myself a coffee, sitting down and picking up some work and doing that on a Sunday morning. This morning I got up, did some exercise, got myself a coffee and sat down with a script and I was just… happy. I don’t have to be off travelling the world, just that makes me really bloody happy.

 

Ellie: Just to clarify, you enjoy getting up?

 

Lily: I’m such a morning person-

 

Ellie: Oh god, how?

 

Lily: I can tell what I prioritise because whatever I think is most important I will always do first thing, because my head is clearer, but by lunchtime my brain gets muddy, I get bored and I can’t concentrate.

 

Ellie: You eat your big frogs first. I wish I was like that. I have wanted to be a morning person my whole life, I want to jump out of bed in the morning singing ‘I’M ALIVEEEEE’ and then run down and make a smoothie and get outside and moving. But I just can’t. Whereas 11pm I’m like ‘I’m gonna write a book’. The other night I came home at about midnight and decided to run a load of songs for this concert I’m doing. My poor boyfriend just has to put up with that. Can’t do early morning, unless I suppose it’s going to rehearsals because then for some reason I’m springing out of bed.

 

Lily: Because it’s something you love. For Christmas my mum got me this travel mug and this year, for the first time, I’ve got in to listening to music when I’m walking places. I’m listening to a lot of new musicals, and having a hot drink and music on the way to rehearsals – I’m just so happy. I think I’ve decided to try and focus on those little things, rather than always striving for something bigger.

 

Ellie: I couldn’t agree more. So I write a gratitude journal every night and I find that helps so much with appreciating the little things every day. It helps you to focus on the individual things that make you happy each day instead of always thinking of your overall success.

 

Lily: I actually once had a casting director who I did a workshop with tell us we would only get feedback from the session if we sent her a diary of twenty things that made us happy each day for the next week, which felt like SO many; I felt like I was really scraping the barrel, like ‘my porridge this morning was great’. And then when she gave the feedback she said it was designed both to show you things that make you happy but also to teach us to find happiness in the every day, away from this industry and our work. It’s so hard not to feel like your happiness is dependent on your success and she was showing us that you get all sorts of happiness from other things every day.

 

Ellie: What a wise woman. That is a brilliant idea. What do you love about yourself?

 

Lily: That’s a nice awkward one… I think what I’m maybe proud of is I like to think I’m a pretty self-aware person in terms of knowing my own mind and being aware of my faults. I think. I know there is stuff I do that isn’t nice, like taking things out on friends or family, but I would like to think that I know when I’ve done that. It’s something that I try and work on; just being more aware of my behaviour because I want to be the best person possible. I think over the last five years or so I’ve become a lot more sure of my own mind and my own self. A few years ago if someone had said to me ‘you did so and so and I didn’t like it’ that would have crippled me, I would feel I was a horrible person and no one likes me; whereas now I feel I could think ‘okay, I’m really sorry that something I did upset you but that doesn’t make me a horrible person’. And I’m proud of that. Because none of us are perfect.

 

Ellie: Absolutely, and knowing the difference between ‘I did bad’ and ‘I am bad’. It’s the difference between guilt and shame. That is something that I personally really struggle with: being so crippled by what other people think, believing other people’s opinions of me over my own, because I’m not as sure of myself as I want to be. On one hand I really want to celebrate you for what you just said and I feel equally proud as someone who is very aware of my own behaviours and willing to make changes and keep growing – I find it very sad when I see inflexibility in others. On the other hand I kind of want to lambast you for saying the one thing you love about yourself is that you know you do bad things sometimes.

 

Lily: (Laughs) Yes okay. Um. This is such a silly one but I love the fact that I can be single. I have spent so much of my life single and I am honestly very content with myself. If I go out with someone or am seeing someone that is great, that is a bonus 50% in my life but if they go away I feel like I’m still at 100% on my own. I don’t feel the need to have that other half. I’m proud to be okay with being a single woman about to turn thirty.

 

Ellie: It’s amazing to be able to love yourself enough that you validate you; you’re not desperately looking for someone else to do that for you. What would you say is the biggest challenge that you’re facing in your life right now?

 

Lily: Oh that is really difficult.

 

Ellie: Well, that’s probably a good thing if it’s not immediately obvious.

 

Lily: I think actually the way friendships shift at the moment. I’ve been very lucky in this last year to have been very busy with work and as a result my time commitments have changed and the groups I’ve socialised in have changed, and my lifestyle has changed and there have been a few realisations with friends recently that we’re not who we were twenty years ago. I had a bit of a revelation the other day talking to my mum about how books and films and TV shows really enforce on us this idea that there will always be certain relationships that will be there for you in your life no matter what – certain friendships. Actually the reality is that people change all of the time, so it’s normal for these relationships to change. It’s fluid and it’s in flux. Friendships come in and out of your life. So that is the challenge I’ve been facing at the moment: just accepting that some things change.

 

Ellie: That is something I imagine a lot of people will relate to. Friendships sort of ebb and flow often and you find that old friendships resurface at different points in our lives. A wonderful friend of mine sent me a text recently. We hadn’t seen each other properly for a year, and it said ‘But we always come back’ and I thought that was beautiful. I like what you’re saying; it’s not about facing up to things ending, it’s just facing and accepting change.
Which women inspire you and why?

 

Lily: Oh God, right. Who should I go for? It sounds cheesy, but honestly, my sister. She is such an amazing girl: she has a heart of gold and her commitment to her friendships, her partner… she is always trying to be the best version of herself and I really admire that. My friend Emma Butler who has in recent years just stormed it career-wise, because of choices she has made. She is completely rocking it in her life, and all off her own back, all from her own choices. I have so much respect for that.

 

Ellie: More and more I think it’s the way forward. Often when we first start out we attach a lot of shame to doing our own work, doing it ourselves, because we’re not being validated by other people; but eventually we all kind of have to make our own stuff. Because so often you get validated by someone else only to find you’re involved in something where you have no control or creative input and you can feel powerless. Whereas, what I love with my own projects, with this website, is that I have control. I have all the control mwahaha. Right, moving on, what assumptions do you find you often make about other women?

 

Lily: Probably… quite a lot. Um. I think, appallingly, I probably misinterpret confidence for arrogance, sometimes. I think I’m quite intimidated by it. And also women who are very confident about their bodies and their sexuality: I think I sometimes interpret that as quite intimidating or as people being cocky or a bit full of themselves, which is exactly what I complain about when I’m assertive – that people will think I’m arrogant. I think I’m partly intimidated because we don’t see it as often as we should.

 

Ellie: Absolutely. I am all about cultivating self-love; it’s what so much of my work is about. But every now and then I will hear someone celebrating something in themselves or their work and I catch myself thinking ‘that was a bit self-congratulatory’. It’s crazy, it’s my favourite part of these interviews, hearing what people love in themselves. I sit there thinking ‘yes all those parts of you are amazing and I love them and I want you to sing them out’ but when I hear self-love out of context it takes me by surprise. We have to normalise it, make it a regular part of our narratives so that the dialogue surrounding what we love about ourselves doesn’t feel so unnatural both to ourselves and others. Also it’s not our fault that we feel that; we have been conditioned to never feel satisfied in ourselves and to feel jealous of those who appear to be content with who they are. It’s what the beauty industry and diet industry are all built around.

 

Lily: It’s so hard, and those assumptions colour your impression of someone. The other thing, which I do with men as well but a lot more with women, is just assuming people’s lives are great, just by what they say. Or their Instagram. I think Social Media is just pure evil for that.

 

Ellie: I am a criminal comparer when it comes to Social Media; comparing other people’s outsides to my insides. And no matter how much I tell myself that you cannot know what is going on in their lives, I just struggle to believe it because I’m like ‘BUT THEY LOOK SO HAPPY’. Absolutely. I was saying in my interview with the wonderful Lucie Shorthouse that I often assume that thin women are happy, and I’ve just realised another one for me is the assumption that people experiencing a level of success in our industry are having the best time ever. I struggle to remember that they might also be having a hard time.

 

Lily: The body image one is definitely a big one for me. It’s awful, and I’ve got a lot better about it in the last few years and I’ve developed a healthier attitude towards it, but yeah when someone walks into a rehearsal room and they have the most amazing figure I just assume ‘well you’re fucking happy aren’t you?’.

 

Ellie: I also make the terrible assumption that thin women think I’m fat. Not necessarily in a nasty way, just that I must seem much bigger.

 

Lily: Absolutely. I’m working with two really petite girls at the moment, and I’m getting on for 5”8 and I’ve clocked that they’re smaller so I just assume they have done the same.

 

Ellie: As a fellow tall girl, sometimes I find it weird when I realise that people who are smaller than me just have a whole different angle of me. And probably not a very flattering one.

 

Lily: Also growing up as a dancer being tall meant being at the back for everything. (Laughs) So I associate being tall with not being very good and being shoved at the back.

 

Ellie: For you which stigma surrounding women has got to go?

 

Lily: That you need a man. Especially because I’m about to turn thirty; feeling this pressure to have to find someone. What really pisses me off is that every time people harp on at me about ‘You should try dating, go online dating, you should be dating’ it chips away at the part of me that knows I’m fine on my own, by telling me I’m not. It really upsets me because surely I’m at my most attractive when I am totally happy and doing what I love, being 100% me; but if I was scrabbling around looking for someone, that isn’t an attractive quality. I’m happy on my own and it feels like every bit of society is telling me I’m not. I feel like I constantly have to justify myself.

 

Ellie: It’s so true. It’s interesting what you said about being needy and not being attractive; I think what’s horrible is the way, as a society, we chip away at people about being single. It creates a sense of desperate women searching for men which then exacerbates the narrative that the woman has to be needy and the man has to be the dominant protector; it feeds an unhealthy relationship which we see all over the place. It’s a vicious cycle. We should start a campaign. It’s gotta go.
How does gender affect you at work?

 

Lily: A lot. Certainly when I was younger; often walking into a rehearsal room as a choreographer in her mid-twenties, to an all-male production team, feeling you have to prove yourself more. There is a benefit of the doubt not given to you; you have to work so much harder to really earn people’s trust on your decisions and opinions. I feel like the first few things I choreograph often feels like I’m showing my homework; demonstrating that I can do it in order to gain their respect, instead of having it to begin with. I remember the first time I worked with an all-female production team, I thought it was going to be a nightmare and actually there was a pressure taken off. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself, and as a result I was much more open to ideas and experimentation from day one, without feeling I needed to prove I was good at my job. Also just interacting with female cast members and male cast members – as a female creative member, when you’re telling them what you have to do.

 

Ellie: When you feel like you have to demonstrate your work to gain respect, do you also feel like you’re being judged on how you handle cast members and how authoritative you are? There must be a pressure to prove you can control a room in a way when the male creatives are given the benefit of the doubt.

 

Lily: Yes and I find it very frustrating because I consider myself a fairly tough personality; I’m not afraid of taking control of a room at all, so it’s very frustrating to feel I have to prove I can do that. And also it’s annoying that I know I can, but as a woman I then feel I have to qualify why I am being assertive in order to remain liked. I’ll have a day where I am really tough on what we need to get done and getting people to shut up and focus, but at the end of a day like that I’ll call my mum panicking that everyone hates me.

 

Ellie: One thing I find really sad is that whenever I’ve been assertive in a rehearsal room it has never happened because I’ve thought ‘right I’m gonna need to be assertive in this moment’ or ‘no I’m gonna put my foot down now and be assertive’; it comes entirely naturally. You only see it as assertiveness from the attitude you get back. I think there is a misinterpretation that when women are assertive they are always making an active choice to be ‘tough’ or ‘strong’ whereas you’re just being yourself in that moment. It’s only when you get reacted to as being bossy that we feel ‘shit, now I’ve been unlikable’. Have you ever felt that you have had to apologise for being a woman? Have you ever felt shame as a direct consequence of being a woman?

 

Lily: Yes, people assuming that sometimes you are using being a woman in a way to get what you want from men, when that is completely untrue.

 

Ellie: That is such a good answer.

 

Lily: I’m a twenty-nine-year-old girl and I think when I am having fun with a male colleague or relaxed around someone that people make assumptions you are behaving that way to get something out of them. It’s such a horrible stereotype about women. You see it a lot in films: the manipulative man-eater. It really annoys me that sometimes I feel I can’t relax around men because I’m a single woman in her late twenties so I must have an agenda.

 

Ellie: What is one bit of advice you wish you had been given your younger self?

 

Lily: If I had given it to myself I still wouldn’t have listened – I still can’t listen to it – but ‘Chill the fuck out’. Over everything, work and friendships, just ‘Chill the fuck out’. It’s weird though because I sort of don’t want to give my younger self that advice because I wouldn’t want her to work less and not get to the person I am now. But just have a holiday every now and then, do things for you. More self-care. But still work hard.

 

Ellie: Jeez Lily, chill the fuck out. So I have a question for you from the amazing Sylvia Darkwa-Ohemeng: Who were you and who are you?

 

Lily: Ooh. God. Um. You know what, I don’t want to make it all about work, but I think I was someone who was trying to make it as a professional and I think I am now a professional. That has only happened in the last year or so, and it’s been a big realisation for me. I would like to think that even if I didn’t work for six months I would still keep that attitude and think of myself as a professional, whereas a few years go I felt like I was playing at being a choreographer. I was waiting to be validated.

 

Ellie: The brilliant Hannah Hauer-King, who I interviewed a few weeks ago, said a similar thing: that for the first time she felt like this is what she does and it’s her job, not something she is aiming for. I’m so jealous of you guys, I still feel like I’m waiting for someone to turn around and tell me ‘Oh yes, you’re an actor’. I so want to find that grounded sense myself.

 

Lily: Oh yeah, I feel that as a choreographer and a movement director, but I don’t feel that as an actor. As an actor you’re always at the end of someone else’s validation and waiting to be told what to do and what is wanted of you. I think it is harder to get that validation of yourself as an actor.

 

Ellie: So finally what is your question that you would like to be passed on to the next woman interviewed?

 

Lily: What do you feel, either in life or in yourself, is your biggest source of strength?

 

Ellie: I honestly don’t know how you all come up with these questions so quickly – it would take me about an hour. What do you feel, either in life or in yourself, is your biggest source of strength? That is just beautiful.

Leave a Comment