Interview with actor, writer and voice artist Eme Essien

"We did a lot of stuff in secret because my parents worked many long hours and that gave us an early insight into hustling for what it is you want and finding an alternative route."

Interview with actor, writer and voice artist Eme Essien

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Hiiiiii. I am Eme, an actor, writer, voice artist and creative. I tend to cringe introducing myself!

How would you describe your show?

‘Flat shoes in the club??’ is a comedy theatre show watching this “girl” get ready for this big night out. There is dance and music and a lot of high energy as well as some really funny interactions with all these ‘people’ who keep on interrupting her. There is a sense of intimacy in that you are watching a young woman in her private space with all her thoughts uncensored. It’s told through the voice of a young Black woman so that balance of cultural and societal standards is underpinned throughout the show. 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

It’s the biggest Arts festival in the world and such a great avenue to showcase new work.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

I think with it being the biggest, you have people from all over the world coming to participate and engage in people’s shows. It is rare to have the opportunity for that much exposure in such a condensed setting. The city of Edinburgh as the backdrop just adds that extra flavour! 

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I have always wanted to act from when I was young. It never really seemed attainable as I wasn’t allowed to even entertain this as a career. It was when I attended Identity Drama School (the early years) that gave me and others like me, a real sense of belief that we could build on our training and go out there and find work. 

I have taken a lot of inspiration from women who look like me and have created a pathway for themselves. I am in awe of Kelechi Okafor, Michaela Cole, London Hughes, Gina Yashere, Clara Amfo (generally starstruck by her!) 

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career? 

It would be easy to say that my upbringing restricted me from following the pathway that I wanted. I grew up in a Nigerian household where my Dad (an extremely intelligent Mathematician) installed in us the value of education and education alone. It meant that simple pleasures like watching TV on school nights or social clubs were just not allowed. We did a lot of stuff in secret because my parents worked many long hours and that gave us an early insight into hustling for what it is you want and finding an alternative route. For many years I felt so disheartened by not being allowed to do these things but age and experience teaches you about sacrifices that your parents had to make and it made me appreciate every single win.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

I think I was maybe 7 or 8 and we did a version of Noah’s ark for our end of year assembly. I was so annoyed at being cast as the Narrator because I was told that my voice was very good and clear. I mean they weren’t lying, I do a lot of Voice over work but still! I really felt cheated out of a costume!

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

Oh I would be a home organiser of sorts for sure. Anyone who knows me (and not even that well) will very quickly find out my love for homeware, DIY and organising. It is generally very therapeutic for me to sort organise, have labels facing. Nothing more relaxing in my opinion. :)

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now? 

It gave me more artistic confidence because I am such a perfectionist Type A personality. There is order and planning to everything I do and the last few years meant all of that was out the window. I realised not everything had to be perfect on the first go and have really begun to embrace more doing rather than perfecting. 

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Heartbreaking, Challenging, Emotional, Empty and busy. (2021 was not my year!). 

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’? 

I am not even sure I know what cancel culture really means. It seems like a fancy buzzword and overshadows really important conversations. Art is subjective but it is also majorly influential and with that, a lot of harm can be done if you are putting out work that directly affects marginalised groups. I definitely don’t subscribe to that.

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

Adrian Lester. His stage presence is just….. everything!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Decide why you want to go up and be crystal clear with this. It will help to steer you in the right direction. If you want to go up to make money, that’s easy, don’t go! If you want to test new work/take a work in progress, then I would look into the free Fringe. If you want to get exposure and hopefully a tour out of the Fringe then be realistic with expectations. Get writing! Do this immediately as the more you get to know your show, the more you can continuously sell and push it in the run up to Edinburgh. 

Once you decide to go, work backwards with your budget. Decide on costs such as venue, accommodation, promotion etc. Once you decide how much things cost, decide how much you can afford and where to save. Accomodation is cheaper outside of Edinburgh and has good transport links, decide how much PR/Promotion you can afford (they aint cheap!) and what you can do yourself. 

Finally, INVEST IN A GOOD POSTER. I cannot stress this enough as ultimately, this is what truly sells you at the Fringe. Edinburgh in August is an ocean of posters everywhere from boards, railings, flyers in shops and on the street. It is the one true powerful marketing tool to the on the day ticket purchases.

As a bonus, stay hydrated!

When and where can people see your show?

Come catch me in The Underbelly, Buttercup (Bristo Sqaure) from the 3rd to the 28th August (except the 16th) at 3.45pm!!!! Woop!

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

Instagram - @emeessien

https://www.instagram.com/emeessien/

Twitter - @EmeEssien

https://twitter.com/EmeEssien


See Eme Essien: “Flat Shoes in the Club?” at the Underbelly during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 3-28 August. For more information and tickets visit www.edfringe.com or www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk
Header Image Credit: Provided

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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