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Waterfront Festival

Emma Gray On Fleabag Influences And What It's Like To Be A Young Actress

30 March 22 interview: Lizzy O'Riordan

Nottingham is home to a hub of inspiring young actors, among which is Emma Gray - the Fleabag inspired actress who won a Young Creative Award in 2021. We catch up with her about her influences, her time behind the camera, and plans for the future...

You won a Young Creative Award in 2021 for the Theatre Category. Can you tell us about the piece you entered with? 
I performed a monologue from Sounds like an Insult by Vivienne Franzmann, a play from the Clean Break theatre company. Clean Break is a theatre company who work with women in the criminal justice system to make theatre as a means of recovery. Sounds like an Insult gives a snapshot of the lives of women with personality disorders and their experiences in the criminal justice system. I loved this monologue in particular because of its fluctuating emotions, you watch the character discover things for herself as she’s retelling a story.

Alongside being in front of the camera, you’ve also been involved in directing and film making. Tell us about that!
My love for performing has developed from creating my own work. Having grown up in a small town with few opportunities and with my family as my only audience, I performed to a camera first before taking to the stage. When you create your own work you can allow your imagination to go wild, tell the world whatever is on your heart and perform any character you want. That freedom has continued to inspire me to create work from scratch both alone and with other creatives about topics I am interested in, whether that be political or simply to bring some joy to its audience. 

Some of your acting is very fleabag-esque. Is this the style of acting you enjoy most?
I’m a sucker for breaking the fourth wall/speaking directly to the audience. I think there is so much power in it. That relationship between the performer and its audience, it’s so personal and I believe that's what theatre should be. I love theatre that plays with the audience, making them laugh one moment and then feeling guilty/sad/awkward the next. Personally, I think if an audience doesn't leave the theatre or finish watching a film feeling like they want to change the world or parts of their life a little, wanting to chat to friends and family about what they’ve seen, then it hasn’t done its job. To do this though I believe the characters must be relatable and personable, which Fleabag and many performances that break the fourth wall do.

Having grown up in a small town with few opportunities and with my family as my only audience, I performed to a camera first before taking to the stage.

You’ve created a few different social commentary pieces about Grimsby where you grew up. How was that?
Yeah, during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in Spring/Summer 2020 I felt moved to use my skill set as a platform for others, as a means of educating myself and others like me, to listen to those who had something to say. I took footage from the local BLM march and interviewed 3 people with black and ethnic heritage about their experiences of growing up in a 94.5% white town. It was a very different kind of film to my previous film work. I was far more aware of the ethics around filmmaking and editing, to cut down what the participants had said into a concise film but not change their story by doing so. The film had a good response, shared amongst many in our local community and I hope started much needed conversation.

Do you have a project that you’ve enjoyed the most?
All of my favourite projects or performances have been because of the people I’ve worked with. Theatre and performance is all about being playful and if you enjoy it and have a laugh creating work, I think that comes through the final piece. I’ve worked with my brother on a couple of projects which have been hilarious and we’ve had a real laugh filming. I’ve also performed in shows with a large cast that get on really well, then a rehearsal room is really fun to be in. But I’ve also loved performing characters that I feel I can’t be in real life. Characters with sass and boldness, that brings me real joy.

What can we expect from you in the future?
2022 is a big year for me as I’ve decided to devise and write a play from scratch with a friend and fellow creative. Since drama school I’ve created my own work through the medium of film but this will be the first time devising a show that a real life audience can come to since 2018. It’s still in the early stages but we’re hoping to have something performable by November 2022. This is alongside potencial film projects I have in mind and a film/music collaboration with local talent Alice Robins, coming very soon.

And finally, the Young Creative Awards 2022 are now open. What would you say to anyone considering entering? 
Apply! The opportunity to get your work seen and to be given feedback is always helpful and beneficial, as a way of networking or just for a confidence boost. Use something you’ve performed before or create something completely from scratch, get your work out there! YCA may not appreciate me saying this but I applied very close to the deadline.. so if you’re um-ing and ahh-ing about it, take time to think about it… but then apply anyway.

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