Bradford-born playwright Emma Adams has her sights set on a career in children’s television. Julie Marshall met her.
It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon and Bradford-born playwright Emma Adams and I are sitting chatting together on a bench down by the river in Leeds as the photographer snaps away in the background.
Emma is in expansive mode, arms gesticulating wildly as she emphasises some point or other and I have a hard time keeping up with her narrative as she darts about from one subject to another.
She is celebrating as she’s recently been chosen as one of only eight participants invited to take part in the New Voices initiative, a six-month placement in Salford with CBBC, the BBC’s children’s channel.
“More than 450 applied, so I feel really privileged,” says Emma. “It’s aimed at people from the arts who work in other mediums but haven’t had much TV exposure. I can’t think of anything more fantastic – I’m so made up about it. Getting to meet all the producers and all the people who make decisions about how the shows are going to be made – it’s like gold dust. I’m also going to get to sit in on storyline sessions for current in-house shows.”
Emma grew up in Shipley and hated school where she was often branded as lazy due to her undiagnosed dyslexia. It wasn’t until she was 18 that an enlightened history teacher realised what was wrong and encouraged her to go for a diagnosis.
Despite her less than happy schooldays, Emma managed to scrape together enough A-levels to secure a place at Liverpool Hope University (Then Liverpool institute of Higher Education) to study drama and theatre studies.
I’d never considered myself a writer,” says Emma. “Despite writing lyrics for Chest, the indie pop rock outfit I was a member of for years.
“It wasn’t until Sue Everett, one of my tutors at Leeds Becket University, where I was studying for a certificate in film and video production, took me to one side and said: “Do you know, you’re a writer?”, that I began taking it seriously. Her encouragement led me to take an MA in video production.”
After securing her MA, Emma’s focus was on developing films, but in 2007 she put together a treatment for a play (a story outline) and sent it to Rod Dixon, artistic director of radical theatre company Red Ladder.
”He called me up the next day and said he wanted to commission the piece.” Called Forgotten Things it explored teenage suicide, toured nationally and was shortlisted for the Meyer-Whitworth Award.
Ugly, was also produced by Red Ladder and published by Oberon in 2011.
The following year, Emma was appointed as writer in residence during West Yorkshire Playhouse’s New Writing Season an experience she found immensely useful and for which she received good feedback.
Much of her writing is community-focused and site-specific. For a month she was the writer in residence at Shipley pool and spent time working with the pool’s users, capturing their stories.
The result was a piece called Northern Big Board, which involved participants jumping from a diving board into the pool.
“It was all about developing narratives within the community. It was about the time that lots of cuts were happening and I wanted to know what I could do as a writer to help save things that are important.”
Following a two-year project working with older people in the community and in conjunction with Freedom Studios, Emma penned Home Sweet Home.
It was first performed in Bradford by a group made up of older professional actors and members of the community and then went on to tour Stockton and London.
“We did loads of research,” says Emma. “We went into homes and got involved in community arts events and we tried to produce a snapshot of what it was to be older in 2016.
“We looked at some of the rubbish things that happen when you grow old but also some of the good things.”
Making a living as a playwright is not easy, says Emma, who also teaches part time at the Northern Film School.
“These are tough times for a lot of people with all the cuts to the arts budgets.
“On the surface it looks like there’s lot going on but when you talk to them you find out that a lot of people aren’t getting paid or they are just eking out a living.
“Sometimes it rains, then it pours and sometimes there’s a drought and there’s no work.”
“Although as a writer you spend a lot of time on your own, I never feel lonely.
“There are periods when I’m working very feverishly then a week of lulls.
“I work really slowly and I have to work hard but once an idea gets into my head I’m really stubborn and I have to work on it.”
Emma recently won funding from ACE /The Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Leeds Inspired (The Leeds City Council Arts Fund) to research and write 360º Of Hope, which is set in Leeds and is a play about a Parkour gang and their modern day search for the holy grail.
She has also recently written Animals which is about the pervading nature of capitalism and how it works to implicitly hold up discriminatory systems, such as ageism, sexism and black markets.
Supported by Arts Council England, Animals is currently being performed at new-writing powerhouse Theatre503 in London and is receiving favourable reviews.
“I started writing Animals in 2011 so it was great to see it on stage, “says Emma.
“There’s nothing quite like sitting in an audience and seeing all the stuff that was in your head come alive on the stage.
“I’m really pleased with what Lisa Cagnacci (associate artistic director of Theatre503) has done with it. The cast are great and it’s so lovely to see these fantastic older performers getting to behave extremely badly.
“I wanted to write something that was political and thoughtful but I also wanted it to be fun, which it is, although it’s darkly funny and there is a lot of anger. It picks up the audience and takes them on a massive roller coaster ride.”