Interview with Ty Jeffries, creator of Miss Hope Springs
Hope Springs Eternal. “To anyone reading, whatever you dream of doing - no matter how distant a goal it may seem - you can make it happen - I’m living proof” – Ty Jeffries
Happy March everyone! Hope you’ve all been enjoying the first few days of the Springtime!!!
We know. Ha very bloody ha.
Thankfully, this week we are bringing you exactly the kind of Spring designed to warm your heart and make you feel better. We have had the tremendous pleasure and privilege to talk to Ty Jeffries, the mind behind the utterly fabulous Miss Hope Springs.
First things first, take expectations you have regarding a man embodying a woman on stage, and leave them at the door. This is no drag show. A classically-trained pianist and composer, Ty studied at the prestigious Purcell School of Music and has played at venues such as The Metropolitan Room and The Lincoln Centre, so you can be darn sure Miss Hope does not lip-synch.
An ex-Vegas showgirl Hope hasn’t had the best luck in the world – but she still has one heck of a voice. Read on to find out how she and Ty found each other.
VBO: Ty, you had, what could well be labelled, an extraordinary childhood, growing up in Beverly Hills, meeting some of Hollywood’s brightest stars – how much did this influence the character of Miss Hope?
Ty: “It’s certainly not been an average life... one minute I was at primary school in Beaconsfield and the next at the Beverley Hills Catholic School in LA. We lived for a while at the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel. I would swim with Franco Nero, who was shooting Camelot with Vanessa Redgrave and my father, Lionel Jeffries, at the time and Maurice Chevalier used to sing to me.
We lived out there for almost two years then at 809 North Camden Drive for the rest of our stay. It had once been Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s love-nest and Miss Hepburn used to come swim in the pool very early in the morning. She was in our lease! Diana Dors was my mum’s good friend and a member of our extended family. Shirley MacLaine and Shelley Winters came to the house for dinner too and lovely Lee Remick...Miss Hope Springs is a little bit of all those ladies- and many more.”
VBO: How did you go about creating Miss Hope Springs and her delightfully colourful and credible back story?
Ty: “She grew over many years. I’m a songwriter and had my first publishing deal as such when I was just 16. I was fascinated by Judy, Barbra, Piaf, Marlene, Peggy Lee and Lena Horne especially... and I wrote songs for those artists as if they were going to perform them. That never happened of course... but then I created my own flawed, multifaceted diva – Hope – with all her history and baggage and career highs and lows. Mainly lows...”
VBO: As a songwriter first, and a drag persona second, having a show at Wigmore Hall must have been magical – did this feel like a turning point for you, career-wise?
Ty: “I like the way you put that - ‘drag persona’. In fact, when you see the show you realise that it’s not a drag persona per se... it’s just a persona. It’s not drag because Hope is a real woman, with a fully populated backstory spanning decades, and I play her as that. It is broadly drag - but in the same way as men used to play Juliet and Lady M in Shakespeare’s plays and The No theatre of Japan always has men play the great female roles.
Yes, being invited to play The Wigmore Hall is very affirming. Evidently it was their best-selling late-night show. I’ve been invited back in 2019 and 2020! Getting to spend a couple of hours by myself rehearsing in the space was magical. I feel extremely lucky. I am an outsider in so many ways- so getting a chance like that was amazing... To anyone reading, whatever you dream of doing - no matter how distant a goal it may seem - you can make it happen - I’m living proof.”
VBO: Other interviewers have described you as a man who enjoys his own company – does Miss Hope Springs offer a way to be extroverted, while still maintaining some solitude on stage?
Ty: “I have been described as the Greta Garbo of drag - ha! That may be the case. I just moved to rural Somerset from Sloane Square to get away from it all. I am an extrovert – wrapped in an introvert- dipped in sequins and steeped overnight in copious amounts of Sauvignon blanc. I must say that I am happiest and most at ease on stage. All the pieces of my life and personality fall into place and make sense...I’m so lucky to have a very supportive, loyal, kind and very clever following... they come along for the ride with great enthusiasm and, more importantly, I like them.”
VBO: From her story, it could be easy to find a good deal of melancholy about Miss Hope Springs’ past – how hopeful a character is she really?
Ty: “It’s all in the name, I guess! I think that’s what people resonate with. Let’s face it- life is tough... and Hope provides some respite – for an hour or two – from reality...her Vegas growing up with her mother, Rusty, in a trailer park, her turbulent (disastrous) love-life (Liberace, Tab Hunter and Barry Manilow were, for some reason, not interested) and her terrible career choices (turning down the lead in both “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”) and she makes people think... ‘Gosh, I’m not alone after all... and if Hope can get up in the morning and face another day - and look fabulous while doing it - then so can I.’”
VBO: Would you say she’s your alter ego? Or is it more complicated than that?
Ty: “Maybe I am hers! It’s difficult to know who’s the chicken and who’s the egg. I can certainly say that she takes over when I’m on stage. Of course, I write all the music and lyrics and spend hours a day rehearsing... but when it comes to a show? I step back and Hope steps forward. I often have no idea what I said during a show...it’s rather metaphysical. Let’s just say when I am ‘en femme’ I don’t respond if someone refers to me as Ty. It’s Hope or Miss Springs.”
VBO: What is your creative process like? How do you start when writing a new song? Where do take your inspiration from?
Ty: “Well, I write music and lyrics and stories all the time – always have done – for Hope and for other artists. Super-exciting singer, Xara Vaughan, is performing a series of shows of 100% my original songs, called ‘Wanderlust’, at Zedel and Brighton Fringe in the coming months, and my first musical theatre project is getting a week of research and development thanks to Wilton’s Music Hall – which I’m thrilled about. I have some big names on board.
I’m inspired by very early pioneers of film and musicals, from 1920s Berlin and Paris, to 30s musicals and 40s film noir... I love MGM musicals. And then, of course, my godmother is Ava Astaire - my Uncle Fred’s daughter. I danced with Mr Astaire down Sunset Blvd after dinner one night...as I said... it has not been an average life.”
You can say that again.
You can witness the glorious Miss Hope in the flesh, in her latest show “Vegas to Weimar” at one of our favourite venues, Brasserie Zédel, on the 15th March (we’ll be there!), every Sunday in April, and May 27th. Or, if South London’s more your vibe, don’t miss her at The 2 Brewers in Clapham on Friday 30th March, 2018.