Interview: Sarah Emmott

Sarah Emmott and Rachel Moorhouse are the founders of Art With Heart, a Salford based company, who have been creating high quality, accessible artistic experiences for audiences and 
participants since 2010.  Their latest show Declaration, written and performed by Sarah takes a look at ADHD through a theatrical lens: autobiographical storytelling, comedy and conversations with audiences, Declaration takes you on vibrant and daring adventure. LGBTQ Arts caught up with Sarah about the show.

AT: Tell us a little about you and how you came to work in the arts…

SE: From a really early age I loved performing. I had constant energy like a coiled spring, so my Mum helped me channel it constructively by sending me to dance, drama and singing classes and I was even in a marching band! I loved telling stories and exploring the world through the magnifying glass that theatre holds up to it. Aged about 12 I found a copy of ‘Saved’ by Edward Bond. After reading it I felt like I had a clearer understanding of humanity and wanted more.

To be in the arts, I knew I would need to work hard; there weren’t many women who looked like me, were working class and part of the LGBT+ community. After University I met my (now) mentor and quickly realised that I wanted to make my own work, so I started finding my artistic voice, writing, testing out ideas and I haven’t stopped!

AT: What was the inspiration behind Declaration?

SE: I’ve had ADHD symptoms all my life, but by my late 20s they were having a huge impact on my everyday life, I was struggling and I knew I needed help so I took myself to the doctors. As I faced a diagnosis for ADHD at 30 I felt lost and vulnerable.

I noticed the lack of visibility of adult women with ADHD and was constantly faced with the stereotype of young boys tearing round supermarkets. There is a huge gender gap in the diagnosis of women and girls because we often disguise our symptoms by replicating behaviour; we hide ourselves and slip under the radar.

When speaking to medical professionals you only what is ‘wrong’ with you which made me feel like I was broken. I started to seek out adult ADHD support groups – it was a huge relief that I wasn’t alone. My feelings of being misunderstood resinated with them and I felt galvanised to share my story. I felt part of an understanding, supportive collective and I wanted others to feel that too.

I don’t shy away from the difficulties but I want to show the positives of ADHD; the fun, the laughter, the ‘anything could happen’ (in a good way!), being curious, spontaneous, able to hyper focus on things for hours, never running out of things to say and making super speedy connections off the cuff.

AT: What can audiences expect to see?

SE: Declaration is a curious, comic and candid autobiographical exploration of ADHD. As soon as you say ‘mental health’, people think of doom and gloom but Declaration definitely isn’t that; it’s a joyful, punchy, springy hopeful celebration with plenty of laughter!

The Declaration set is like a big den which we all sit inside and I welcome audience in. It’s made up of various parts of my life which I chat to the audience about as they come into the theatre. Each performance is different and there’s (non-scary!) audience interaction which you only have to participate in if you want to. A few people have said that they don’t want to, but then about 90% have told me afterwards that they regret saying it because it was fun! I’ve even had someone tell me they are going to come and see it again so they can be part of the interaction they missed out on!

AT: What do you hope they’ll take away from watching?

SE: Declaration is a solo performance exploring my own experience but it isn’t just about me, it’s about all of us; knowing that it’s ok to not be ok, and to ask for help when we need it. We have a Wellbeing Space run by mental health practitioner Steph with wellbeing activities for audiences and a chance to get a brew, have a chat and talk about what Declaration may have stirred in you. I hope audiences will understand more about what ADHD is, how it can manifest itself, and what the positives are. We want audiences to leave thinking about their own mental health and situation but also how they can support and celebrate others.

AT: Describe the show in 6 words:

SE: Joyous, riotous celebration with humour & hope.

AT: What’s next for you?

SE: We’ve got some exciting things in the planning stages! I’m writing a new play and we’re making lots of connections with other organisations and community groups, so there’s plenty on the horizon. Although, we’re hoping that we might get to share Declaration a little more and reach even more people too, so watch this space…

Declaration has now closed, but keep up with all Art With Heart adventures on their website, or Twitter: @artwith_heart

Dec 2 (Credit Sam Ryley)-2

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