Astoria Characters: The Next-Stage Performer

Anna starred in a hit TV show in Greece.

It’s a glorious morning in Astoria Park, so Anna Tsoukala celebrates by bursting into song.

Her voice – “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child … A long way from home, a long way from home” – pierces the somnolent silence, shaking the sunlight and floating over the East River like a rose petal in the wind.

It’s just a traditional tune, a spiritual, yet there’s something in her choice that resonates far beyond this time and space.

Anna, you see, is a long way from home. 

Born in the port city of Piraeus, Greece, she spent the first decade of her life in Tunisia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates, places where her father, who was in the construction industry, found profitable work.

It was during that time that she made the grand proclamation that would define her life: “I’m going to be an actress and a singer,” she triumphantly informed her skeptical yet supportive parents.

Anna, who has long raven-black hair and loud neon-red treble clef-shaped earrings, started with dance, immersing herself in ballet, gymnastics, flamenco – anything and everything that got her body on its feet.

By the time the family returned to Piraeus, Anna had mastered many steps, including the ones that would lead her to a successful career on stage and screen.

“I always saw acting and singing in my mind,” she says. “But I didn’t take lessons until I was 18 after my father died. He’s my hero – he rescued two people from a burning boat even though he knew he wouldn’t survive the act. So I poured my energy, my sadness into acting and singing.”

For seven years, she studied the craft, including at the top-ranked Greek Art Theater — Karolos Koun.

During her student years, she was cast in the hit-TV series “Don’t Say Goodbye,” which is what most of her fans still identify her with.

In 2015, after becoming a leader in Greece’s #MeToo movement, Anna moved to Astoria.

“I had nothing, and I didn’t know any English,” she says. “I chose the United States because it’s a spiritual country where people from all over the world come to make their dreams come true.”

She settled in Astoria because of its significant Greek population.

“People really helped me out,” she says.

For the first six months of her stay, she was alone and lonely, but things changed when she began singing at her church.

“When they introduced me to my pianist, a Greek-American man, I fell in love immediately and knew that I would marry him,” she says.

Six months later, she became a bride.

“He’s my angel,” she says dramatically. “People told me it was a risk to marry so quickly, but everything in life is a risk.”

She picked up a couple of roles in movies, including the 2022 short “Rootless,” which just happens to be about a young woman in Greece who comes to New York City to pursue an acting career, and will appear next year in “The Last Night.”

“We’re hoping to bring ‘The Last Night’ to the stage, to Broadway,” she says.

When Anna’s not on the stage or the screen or working on musical numbers with her husband, she’s a tutor, giving children private lessons in the Greek language, theater and music.

At night, she studies vocal performance at Juilliard.

It is, she says, a very full and satisfying life.

But it’s far from static.

She has big plans.

Sometime, she’s not sure when, she wants to move to West Palm Beach, a culture-rich city that’s fluent in film and opera.

After that, she sees herself in Los Angeles, specifically Hollywood, if not in films then at least living there.

“I’m taking things step by step,” she says. “I’m not going fast – I have to build things up.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

The Present on the Porch

On my front porch, smack in the center of the top step, there appeared a mysterious package.

I had spent the morning masked in Manhattan, and it was the first thing I saw when I opened the gate upon my return.

I have received more than my fair share of misdelivered parcels – I could tell you about the Pampers that arrived during the pandemic, the license plates that were for a neighbor around the corner or the time I chased the UPS driver down Ditmars Boulevard after he left a pile of packages on the porch that weren’t mine – but I instantly knew that this one was different.

The 3.25-inch white cube, spotlighted by a shaft of sunlight through the shade of the petite white blooms of the crepe myrtles, was decorated with three black polka dots set on a diagonal.

On the top was a single word that made my heart beat faster: McCartney.

It was, I realized, a piece of Macca merch from his McCartney III album that dropped in 2020.

When I opened the box, I saw a black card on top with a pre-printed Thank You and the MPL logo. On the flip side, there’s a photo of the album cover, a white die with three black dots.

There was no address – return or recipient.

The item, which I’ve since found out is officially called a desk ornament but that someone who isn’t a marketing maven would refer to as a paperweight, is a pewter die set on a piece of polished black marble.

I’ve been a diehard Beatles and Macca fan ever since the band shook up The Ed Sullivan Show with “She Loves You” in 1964.

Not a lot of people know that about me. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Last year, though, I did mention in a Queens Gazette profile about me that I’ve never done an interview with Sir Paul, but surely …

Anyway, my friend Judy swears she didn’t drop it on my doorstep – she was, after all, on vacation in Indiana when it landed — but she says she wishes she had.

And my friend Jimmy, he does like to frequent thrift shops, which is where I initially suspected this came from, but the only thing he’s ever tried to put on my porch was a bag of new flannel shirts that he threw up on my roof by mistake.

Having struck out, I started sleuthing. I searched official and unofficial McCartney sites but no such item appears in any of the e-shops.

Nor did it come up when I did a general Google search.

Just when I thought I had reached a dead end, I happened to look on the bottom of the box, where I discovered that the die was a custom collectible copyright 2021 by Macca’s MPL from, as it turns out, became at the beginning of this year.

Pennyroyal is owned by a Los Angeles drummer named Tim Foster, who used to work in the record industry. He started out in 2006 making jewelry, and in 2016, he branched out to collectibles, most of which are rock and roll memorabilia.

His items are sold at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and include really cool stuff like a Sgt. Pepper enamel button and a heart-shaped “All You Need Is Love” necklace.

I called him up and found out the desk ornament is the first of only three designs he has produced (the others are the sold-out 50 th -anniversary Wings ornament, of which only 50 were made, and one that features the Beatles drum head that retails for $195).

What’s more, the McCartney III is not available anywhere, which is why I couldn’t find it.

MPL commissioned Tim to make a limited number for distribution to VIPs on a special, secretly guarded list.

“It was an internal project not meant for public consumption,” Tim says, adding that he started work on it in 2019, a year before the album was released. “It’s the most closed-door project I’ve ever done. Not many people have seen it or have it. Whoever gave it to you hooked you up big time.”

I’ve placed the McCartney III on my desk as inspiration, next to my copy of “The Lyrics.”

Of course, I’m dying to know who gave it to me, but speculation is part of the seductiveness of this splendid surprise.

And all I can say to the anonymous giver is, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, if this is love you’ve got to give me more, hey, hey, hey give me more …”

Astoria Figures: The Woman Leading Hour Children

The fastest Alethea Taylor has ever driven is 125 miles per hour, and it was only for a second or so.

“When I got close to 100 and the car started bucking, it was really scary but exhilarating,” she says. “I stayed at 90, where I felt comfortable.”

She’s as new at racecar driving as she is at leading Hour Children, the 35-year-old organization founded by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald that takes incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State under its wing.

 “I love to drive and experience the freedom behind the wheel,” says Alethea, who joined Hour Children in January as the second executive director in its history.

Mind you, she doesn’t push her leased 2021 Infinity SUV past the legal speed limit despite her daily commute from Hackensack, which she says, takes 30 minutes when there’s no traffic. Which is, of course, never.

It’s the same with her job. She’s taking things at a patient pace, spending time working side by side with staff members at Hour Children’s thrift shops, communal house, food pantry, low-income housing complex and jail and prison programs.

“I’m getting to know how things operate,” says Alethea, who wears her black hair short and her heels high. “I want to see the employees’ and clients’ issues and struggles, and I want them to know me.”

Although Alethea never envisioned herself running Hour Children, she has spent her entire life preparing for the position.

“I didn’t choose this path,” she says. “This path has chosen me.”

Alethea, who is from Browns Town, Jamaica, spent her childhood alternating between her grandparents’ farm and her mother’s apartment in Kingston.

“My father really wasn’t in the picture,” she says.

When she was 8, her mother moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the family, which eventually numbered five children, lived in a one-bedroom apartment. The children slept in two queen-size beds, a bunkbed and a crib, and her mother slept in the living room.

“I’ll never forget when the plane landed, and I ran to my mother,” Alethea says. “She had come here before us, so I hadn’t seen her in a year.”

Coming to New York was, to say the least, a difficult transition for Alethea.

We had accents and didn’t dress like the other kids – our  mother made our clothes,” she says. “We were devout Apostolic Pentecostals – we stayed with people of our own culture. And even though we lived in a community that was predominantly of people of color, people would say things like, ‘You came over here and took our jobs … go back to your own country.’”

Alethea became a dedicated student (she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in women’s studies from Stony Brook University, a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from New York University, a doctorate of rehabilitation from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and is a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor).

After her first graduation, she went to work for Greenhope Services for Women, which helps formerly incarcerated women who have substance abuse and mental health issues.

Through the years, she worked for Greenhope off and on. When she left it to become a full-time professor at Hunter College, she was the executive director.

“I had worked with Hour Children when I was with Greenhope,” she says. “When five people I knew came to me over a period of three months last year and said I should work there, I took note.”

With Hour Children, she declares that she has found her life’s purpose.

“I want to bring choice and voice to women, who, if they had the opportunities and support, may have made different choices,” she says. “Women who now need their voices heard and who want to – and will – make meaningful choices if given the opportunity.”

One of her priorities will be creating a day-care center for tots through teens, a project her predecessor pushed.

“I also want Hour Children to take more of a lead on social issues connected to our mission,” she says, adding that she has been doing some internal restructuring, placing a priority on inclusion and diversity.

To accomplish all of this, she’s working a superwoman schedule. She laughs when asked whether she puts in 80 hours a week.

It is, she says, far more than that because “I have a lot to catch up on.”

She also has been evaluating her own life. She’s hoping to buy a house in New York City, probably in Queens, that’s spacious enough to accommodate not only her (she’s divorced and doesn’t have children) but also her mother and stepfather.

Lately, she’s been taking some breaks. “I realized that I can’t teach women to take care of themselves if I don’t take care of myself,” she says.

Hence the racecar driving. She’s also exploring kickboxing but admits that she’s not very good at it.

She insists that she’s not the least bit tempted to show off her speed skills on her daily commute.

“I don’t drive fast when I’m in public,” she says as she exchanges her heels for flip-flops for the drive home.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

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