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Actor and writer Emma Dennis-Edwards: ‘Your value is not based on your work’

Emma Dennis-Edwards Emma Dennis-Edwards

Emma Dennis-Edwards’ one-woman show Funeral Flowers began life as a community project with London’s Royal Court, before transferring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it won two awards. Preparing to open for a run at London’s Bunker Theatre, Dennis-Edwards tells Giverny Masso about the play’s journey…

Tell me about Funeral Flowers…
It is the story of a 17-year-old girl called Angelique who dreams of being a florist. But her mum is in prison so she’s growing up in the foster care system and she’s got a boyfriend who’s in a gang. I didn’t write this with the intention of performing it. It began as a short play as part of the Royal Court Tottenham Festival, with another actor doing it – who was fabulous. I then got asked to be part of a showcase at the National Theatre for BAME artists and because it was unpaid I didn’t want to ask the original actor. I thought: ‘It’s fine, I’m an actor’, so it was an accident that I did it.

What was the original inspiration behind the show?
Chris Sonnex, who is now artistic director at the Bunker Theatre, and Hamish Pirie at the Royal Court approached me about writing a 10-minute show. It was going to be a show for the local community, based on their experiences. Every writer in the project was paired with a member of the community to create a play based around something they were both interested in. I was paired with [community leader and businesswoman] Gina Moffatt – she’s a legend. She runs a West Indian cafe and she started a floristry business while in prison. She was keen to create a character whose mum is in prison.

What was it like taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
I’d been to Edinburgh before and I had been in a show at the Traverse, which is like Edinburgh’s Royal Court. This time, taking Funeral Flowers to Edinburgh in a co-production with Power Play, we had a much smaller budget and I was staying in a flat in Leith, so it was a different experience. The show won a Fringe First and the Filipa Bragança Award, it was incredible and it was a surprise because we only had capacity for 18 people.

How did you get into theatre?
I wanted to be a weather girl so I studied geography and drama. I came to acting quite late, but I’ve always written books and told stories. I’m currently adapting Funeral Flowers into a book. I went to Brit School for sixth form, and I had such a great time. It’s a super diverse school in terms of ethnic and economic backgrounds.

What inspired you to start writing?
A lot of crap auditions. There was a period when I was auditioning when all the roles available were strippers – nearly all written by men. I thought: ‘Is there a way we can have more strong female characters? Can I write them myself? It can’t be that hard.’

What is your advice to emerging artists?
Your value is not based on your work. Develop yourself as a human, family member and friend, and develop what interests you. All of that stuff should be equal to your job. You’re still valuable.

CV Emma Dennis-Edwards

Training: Brit School (2004-06); BA Acting at East 15 (2006-09)
First professional role: Actor in Ma Kelly’s Doorstep with Attic Theatre Company (2010)
Agent: Kat Buckle at Curtis Brown (writing) and Polly Andrews at Polly’s Agency (Acting)

Funeral Flowers runs at London’s Bunker Theatre from April 15-May 4. For more information go to: bunkertheatre.com/whats-on

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