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Centre Stage with… Emma Mary Hall

NAME: EMMA MARY HALL // ROLE: WRITER, PRODUCER & PERFORMER // SHOW: ODE TO MAN

Which three words best describe your show?

Batty, sad, immense.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

The other night an audience member told me the work opened doors in her mind, to enable her to think about and talk about gender and love in new ways. I love that image, the opening of doors. I am hoping I can do that for people by sharing what I know and don’t know, and offering different perspectives on some age old conflicts.

What was your first experience with theatre?

My first memory of a stage show was seeing Elton John perform at a tennis arena in Adelaide when I was 8 or 9 years old. He wore a bright pink suit with glitter and I remember thinking that was impressive, but he was very far away and it was very cold and I didn’t know any of his songs so I fell asleep.

What made you first realise you wanted to pursue a career in theatre?

The first time I understood how wonderful theatre is and why I want to make it was when I saw Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular at Melbourne’s Artshouse in 2009. The piece was a two-hander: a man downstage wearing a skeleton suit describing a show that wasn’t there, in the form of a bad stand-up routine, and a woman upstage performing a series of overly dramatic, hammy, death scenes over and over again. At one moment the man in the skeleton suit says to the dead woman on the ground something like “they don’t believe you. Die better.”

Spectacular showed me how theatre can allow us to unpick ideas through time and space. It was also funny, clever, emotional. By describing a performance that wasn’t there (“normally, there is a jazz band right about… here”) he acknowledged how critical the audience’s own imaginations are, and how absence and death can be physical and present. Before Spectacular I’d always misunderstood audiences as passive witnesses to a story, when in fact theatre like that is just dead and should be on film. It also made me see that theatre can be research, and can help to advance knowledge about the world, not just depict emotional journeys and/or social relationships. My brain was buzzing for days, I couldn’t sleep when I got home.

What kinds of works are you most drawn to?

I like work that shows me the humanness of the performers. They have to be there, really there in the room, sharing something honest, and willing to listen to the audience as well. Otherwise I would prefer to be in the cinema. I love movies.

What was the last show you saw?

Glittery Clittery at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival by the Fringe Wives Club. The costumes were immense pink sequined vaginas and the performers were so incredibly beautiful. And they sang songs. Made me teary.

What’s the best show you’ve ever seen?

Einstein on the Beach. I simply love what Philip Glass does with time, and the precision of the dancers, and the use of language, and the wonderful imagery and light. I was utterly spellbound. And often wonder how on earth they ever could afford to make that these days, when it would require months of full-time rehearsals, and who they would have to convince to invest in it and make that happen.

What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?

I am always on holiday, and I am never on holiday. Since I started making my own shows my imagination gets to play every day and I don’t have to feel guilty about daydreaming. This is a gift.

Who has been your biggest influence in theatre?

Tim Etchells, hands down. I admire deeply his generosity, relentless rigour and curiosity, his intelligence and political integrity, his prolific career, his willingness to work across artforms. Another huge influence on me closer to home is the brilliant Nicola Gunn. She is a Melbourne performer who tours the world and with every work she makes she evolves and transforms as an artist. I am so inspired by that and think it is one of the most generous things an artist can do, continually put themselves up for new challenges and risks so we are watching the stretch, the struggle, the questioning. I don’t need art to give me the answers and I don’t get very excited by skill and craft alone.

What excites you about Perth?

I am SO EXCITED to be away from my day job for 3.5 weeks and actually get to use the day times to rehearse, work on new show, think about grants and other residencies I would like to apply for, and meet WA artists. I cannot wait.

I am also going to go to Fremantle and meet the sister of the wife of a first cousin I didn’t know existed until we toured to Auckland, New Zealand last month. I didn’t even know the first cousin existed, let alone that he was married to a beautiful M?ori woman who promptly welcomed me into the Wh?nau and told me I would have to stay with her sister when I go to WA. I left New Zealand as a small baby and my family has always been spread around the globe, so it will be very special for me to meet some new family in Fremantle!