Theatremaker Emma Rice was given the outstanding contribution to British theatre accolade at this year’s UK Theatre Awards, held on October 27 in London.
She was presented with the award by the designer Vicki Mortimer. Here is her acceptance speech in full.
Thank you, Vicki and thank you to the UK Theatre Awards. This couldn’t be more perfect, and I couldn’t be more delighted or proud; my cherished UK, my lifelong love of touring, and theatre – the big enduring love of my life. All rolled into this amazing award.
So, why when this afternoon is all about theatre is my mind wandering to opera? Well, there’s an easy answer to that, I have just finished my first job working in opera and it’s been quite an experience.
The opera took years to plan and throughout the many meetings, rehearsals and tech sessions, one question was asked again and again: what is your vision? Tell us your vision and we will cost it. Describe your vision and we will deliver it. Explain your vision and we will show it.
I have rarely found myself so ill at ease.
And this award tells me why. It reminds me that I am a theatre animal to my bones and that it is in theatre and theatre alone that I thrive. It reminds me that I only really make sense when I am surrounded by friends. That I am at my best when my vision fizzes with the vision of others, when my dreams mingle with the dreams of those around me. I fly when the collective imagination takes flight; my lonely individual imagination would never get off the ground alone (and those who know me, know that this is true. I can lie on a sofa with a biscuit for England if I am left alone for too long). And because of this life-long commitment to collaboration, this award cannot speak only of my outstanding contribution, but of the outstanding contributions of others.
I have to thank my Cornish giants Mike Shepherd and the late Bill Mitchell who carried me aloft and gave me my artistic home, my creative freedom and a wildness that I protect to this day. I thank Kneehigh’s long-time producer Paul Crewes who would wrestle any self-doubt to the ground, physically and spiritually with his irrepressible enthusiasm. I thank industry giants Michael Boyd and Nick Hytner who opened doors for me and other women of my generation that had historically been closed. And I thank Shakespeare’s Globe for showing me not what I couldn’t do, but what I could.
And who would imagine that I would be standing here now? Not my lovely mum and dad as they watched me stumble out of Nottingham with two average A levels wanting to make a career in theatre over 30 years ago. They watched, always supportive, as I strayed from the path. I strayed to Theatre Alibi in Devon and to the Gardzienice Theatre Association in Poland and to Kneehigh in Cornwall where I unpacked my bags and stayed for decades. Thanks to my Mum and Dad and all these inspirational companies for the huge impact they have made on my life and career. Then, after a brief and ill-judged attempt to get on to the path in London, I packed my bags again and followed the theatre pebbles to a new creative home with Wise Children. At Wise Children, I intend to stray from the path over and over again, visiting all the brilliant regional theatres that have been such a large part of my journey and will continue to build relationships with those theatres and communities.
Thank you to Poppy and my brilliant team at Wise Children for making this new adventure such an exhilarating and joyful ride. Thank you to my loyal gang of creatives and actors, stage managers and administrators, board members and supporters who have stuck with me through thick and thin. Thank you to my friend and agent, Alan Brodie who has weathered many storms with care and wisdom.
Thank you to David Jubb who turned me from artist to leader and Allegra Galvin who helped me follow the pebbles to Wise Children.
And thank you, Simon Baker. My partner in all ways, and in all things. I wish you were here.
You, my team, with your generosity, genius, integrity and treasured friendship are the greater sum of all that I have achieved.
So, today feels like coming home; surrounded by theatre friends old and new, celebrating what it is to make work with, and for communities, and recognising our power as outsiders, as radicals and as rebels. And on a day like today I realise that somehow, without a plan, it is now me that has power and, as we know, with that power comes responsibility. And I willingly take it on. As others did for me, I promise to use all my strength, joy and experience to keep holding the doors wide open, I promise to pull down the ceilings and to keep defying those pesky unwritten rules that still seem to nag at our industry. If a rule is unjust, break it.
So, thank you theatre friends. Let’s keep using our collective power for good. Let’s keep listening to the stories of others and let’s keep choosing joy and hope. Let’s stay curious and loyal, humble and brave. Let’s keep changing the world, one company, one community, one play and one audience at a time. We are all theatre animals and I shout to the moon in gratitude.