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Performance maker Emma Frankland: ‘We shouldn’t be casting people who are not trans in the very few parts that are’

Emma Frankland Emma Frankland

Emma Frankland is headlining an event celebrating trans and non-binary artists as part of the Trans Pride season at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. She tells Giverny Masso why a lack of trans role models in the industry is a huge issue…

How did you get into theatre?
I normally start by talking about my drama school training, but it’s important to acknowledge the stuff that came before. I was in a local drama group from the age of five or six, where I did amateur dramatics. I did that for 15 years before I went to Central School of Speech and Drama. I then studied a masters in classical acting at Central before I started making my own work.

Tell me about the work you have made?
I went to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008 with a show called Paperweight, created with Sebastien Lawson and Jamie Wood. It won a Fringe First. It was a black comedy about two office workers. I’ve been working on a project called None of Us Is Yet a Robot for the past seven years. It consists of five performance pieces, reflecting what I was going through with my transition at the time. When I was a student, I used to work as a lifeguard and I loved having a duty of care in that role. I think it’s also important to consider what your duty of care is as an artist and I believe you have a moral obligation to make work that reflects the world as you experience it. My experience was being heavily informed by my transition. What I’m making is coming to a natural conclusion and I’m excited about making work from now on that speaks to a wider trans experience.

What will you be performing as headliner of Trans Pride Art Night at the Marlborough?
Trans Pride Art Night is such a great thing and I’m really pleased to be involved. One thing about Trans Pride events, as opposed to other LGBTQ+ events, is that they are still very much a protest. I’m making something specific for that night, looking at responses from trans people in other countries, trans history and the absence of visible role models, using Kurt Cobain as a way of exploring that.

Is an absence of trans role models an issue in theatre?
It’s a big problem in the theatre industry. The issue is that when we see trans women, mostly what we are seeing is trans women in performances we have made about our own lives. What there is less of is plays with trans characters. We also need trans people writing and directing for that to change. There’s also this idea that we can only cast a trans actor as a trans character, rather than as a character that happens to be trans. The other big problem is we shouldn’t be casting people who are not trans in the very few parts that are.

What is your process for making work?
It’s always the same – it’s about collaboration. I always like to be surrounded by people who are scarily brilliant. The older I get, the less worried I am about not having ideas. I tend to make work by splurging it out and then going back and refining.

Trans Pride Art Night is at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton, on July 19. More information on Emma Frankland’s performances can be found here: notyetarobot.co.uk

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