Acting workshops with Emma Flett
We’re proud to have talented alumni working across all sectors and it’s always a pleasure to have them return to the School. Emma Flett trained with us before going on to have an extensive career in dance, theatre, musical theatre, and film creation. On 14 and 15 September, we welcomed her back to the School to deliver acting workshops to our 1st Year Upper School students. Before she headed into the studio to teach, we caught up with her on her life and work.
Emma began her dance training with us at White Lodge. She reflected on her time at the School:
I had a very happy time here. My year was an exciting one to be a part of – I trained alongside Christopher Wheeldon, Christopher Hampson, and Jonathan Howells. As young people, we were encouraged to choreograph and develop as artists and I very much took advantage of that. We all shared a hunger to create things and I carried this with me throughout my career but it was definitely catalysed by the opportunities I was given at White Lodge. I really relished that time and have a lot of precious memories. I still have so many friends from the School – lifelong relationships born from the hard work done at the barre together!
After her time at White Lodge, Emma continued her ballet training at Elmhurst Ballet School and progressed straight into the West End, performing in productions such as Crazy For You, West Side Story, and Martin Guerre. We talked about her transition from dance to theatre:
I was in a place where I wanted to explore other avenues. I’ve always been able to sing and I wanted to develop other talents so I went straight into the West End at 19; it was terrifying, but I absolutely loved it. I loved the dancing, the singing, the acting and of course, my training had helped me to get to this point. It felt brave doing things I’d never done before in front of thousands of people but I felt there was a gap in my training when it came to acting. I saved up my pennies and I took a year to go to LAMDA. This experience was incredible – it really helped to feed me as an artist. This helped when I went on to do lots of work in straight theatre, plays, as well as musicals.
With such a dynamic background, it was no surprise that Emma was eventually approached to teach:
I remember when I was training at drama school thinking: why aren’t dancers given these acting tools? When I began teaching at various drama and dance schools, I found myself giving these skills to dancers and also helping young actors with moving their bodies. It’s an absolute privilege that I’ve come full circle to pass on my experience to the next generation of artists. My favourite thing about teaching is helping students to find their process. There are so many different tools and what works for one person, might not work for someone else, so I try to offer lots of different tools so that students can see what helps them.
This is the second year that Emma has come to the School to teach students and we asked her about what her workshops involve:
Dancers are expected to know how to act and so in my workshops, it’s good for them to have a space to work specifically on these skills. They have amazing imaginations and it’s about giving them the tools to guide them. We work on things like taking a character through a journey, responding to other characters, and staying in character whilst still achieving their technique. There’s a lot to focus on when you’re dancing and I want to help them to empower the artistic and dramatic aspects of performance.
Emma also spoke about how she works with actors on their physical skills:
It’s interesting working with young actors because I find that many of them are more engaged in their faces, their expressions, and getting into depth with the script, but they sometimes find using their bodies more challenging. As a dancer, you have command over your body and use it to tell a story and it’s great to be able to translate this to actors. Lots of ex-dancers go on to be movement directors for theatre companies because they have so much to offer in this area and so I think it’s amazing how dancers and actors can learn from each other in this way.
Aside from her performing skills, Emma is also a talented film-maker, and now directs her own company Flett Films. We asked about her experience in this:
In 2015 I made my first film. I’ve always been passionate about choreography and when I started out making films I thought ‘oh, this is choreography too!’ so that’s why I started my own film company. It felt like the same muscle as choreography to me. I absolutely love the editing process because it’s so creative. It’s gratifying to be able to do something so different and yet it’s using the same energy and imagination. For me, it’s all about storytelling and I love being able to communicate stories in the films I make.
We’re excited to hear about what our students learn from Emma this year. She talked to us about the best pieces of advice she’s received in her career and what she would tell young artists today:
I’m a big fan of the Director of The Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare and when I interviewed him a few years ago he said that ‘artists need to stay curious’. I absolutely love that. I’ve always been curious, and I still am – if you’re always curious, you’re never bored. When I was working with Ian Glenn, he similarly said ‘there’s no excuse to be bored because there’s always something to learn’. And I think young dancers should always take this with them, whatever they end up doing.
Emma’s vast career has given her a range of opportunities and she told us how embracing the unexpected helped to open doors for her:
It’s easy to get fixated on a particular route when you’re training. Mine wasn’t necessarily the most straightforward path but it doesn’t need to be. If you stay open and passionate, it will always serve you, wherever you go. I always try and communicate this with students; it’s so important to keep an open mind and know that it might not work out how you expect. There’s a lot of fear in not meeting your goal but I’ve worked with actors and dancers who are terribly famous and successful and they’re not satisfied because they feel there’s someone above them. This is why you need to be happy with wherever you are on your own journey. I hope that I can pass on to students that there are so many opportunities, there are so many different ways, and wherever you’re heading, you just need to be brave.
Thank you, Emma, for the catch-up and for delivering insightful workshops to our students.