Playfully destructive, Emma Frankland is demolishing one of London’s theatres
Emma Frankland’s latest production is We Dig, which will be staged at London’s Ovalhouse in October.
I caught up with Emma Frankland for a behind-the-scenes look as the show.
What was your jumping off point for the development of this piece of work?
Ovalhouse theatre in London has been in operation for over 55 years – this is the final season. They put out a commission, looking for shows that would in some way demolish the building.
My show is the final show in the main space, so I proposed the excavation of the stage and the digging of a giant hole.
I’ve been having conversations with trans women around the world for the last few years – I’ve been fortunate enough to tour my work to Brazil, to South East Asia, and to North America – connecting with trans women and trans femmes in those places has been really important.
When I was in Brazil, I had a conversation with a person who, in their words, described a genocide that’s happening against trans people in Brazil – they said to me that we need to bury our knowledge until the apocalypse passes. That struck me as a very profound thought, that trans people need to bury what we know so that in the future it can be uncovered by future generations.
I think this idea of burying, or digging up, has really stuck with me. When there was the opportunity to actually dig – an actual hole – and bring a group of trans femmes from around the world to do that, it seemed ideal.
How do you go about pulling together a theatre event such as this?
You do it with an amazing team. We have any amazing team of predominantly trans-identified people – every person across the production is just doing amazing things. That’s the way it works, through teamwork.
One of the challenges was bringing artists from other countries and negotiating border systems and visas. I’m really happy that we were able to bring over everybody we wanted to bring.
Each night of the run will feature a different guest performer – how did you select the guest performers that are featured?
We knew that we wanted the guest performers to also be trans femmes – everybody that’s performing in the show is trans feminine.
Then, we sat down with the company and we put our heads together and came up with a list of people – it was so easy to think of 13 names. In fact, we thought of many many many more names – the challenge was actually about who to ask first.
That feels really significant, that in 2019, we were actually able to access a lot of incredible trans feminine people that we wanted to invite to come and join us.
The production notes describe your style as ‘playfully destructive’ – what does that mean?
There’s always an element of destruction in my work, but it’s never negative, it’s never about destroying something, it’s always about deconstructing something, or looking at the action of taking something apart.
As a trans woman, I enjoy taking up space that is usually reserved for more masculine bodies – digging a hole, drilling, chopping something up,
In the past, I’ve used axes, circular saws, fire, demolition things – always with the spirit of play and playfulness.
What do you hope that people feel when they’re watching We Dig?
I hope that people reflect on the fact that they very rarely get to see a group of trans people working and playing and dancing together, and the narrative not being about our struggles and our traumas.
To see a group of trans people – and the fact that this has been a trans-led production – allows us to actually look at things we wouldn’t normally be afforded the luxury of looking at.
I hope that people consider that, and I hope that it makes them think about what things they would uncover. Also, if they were digging, what would they be digging for?
Photos: Rosie Powell