First Love Is the Revolution: An interview with Emily Burnett
Emily Burnett is delighted to be making her professional debut as Rdeca in First Love Is the Revolution at Soho Theatre. Emily’s credits include Safiya in Say It/It’s My Shout (BBC Wales), Charlie in Sweet Sixteen/It’s My Shout (BBC Wales), Pinocchio in Pinocchio (Midsummer Festival Company) and Mina in Unga Bunga (Stage Daze). Emily is 18 years old and hasn’t had any professional training. She is fresh out of college.
Tell us a bit about First Love Is the Revolution.
First Love is the Revolution is a new play by Rita Kalnejais. It’s about Basti and Rdeca, two outsiders from different worlds finding each other. That’s the basic understanding of it. The great thing about the play is that it has multiple layers, leaving room for different interpretations – it’s smart, funny and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s a lot of things all rolled into one, a rollercoaster ride, it takes you up and down and shakes you about.
What initially drew you to the part of Rdeca?
When I first read the play what I loved was that I didn’t just love Rdeca, I loved all the characters. I felt it was rare to read a script and find something you loved about every human, chicken and dog to enter the story. Rdeca in particular had something intriguing about her, the decisions she made, and her fiery nature made me want to understand her. Also, having Rdeca as your theatre debut is a dream come true: I could make her my own as I would be the first person to play her.
How is Rdeca similar or different to you as a person? How have you been going about getting into character?
She’s passionate, and I’d like to think we share that. The relationship with her family was something I found interesting, especially the dynamic between Rdeca and her mother. Their relationship was slightly alien to me when I first delved into the script, because I’m really close with my mum. However, there is an emotional and intense love between them, which I found a way to relate to. Getting into character involved a lot of YouTube videos and documentaries about the urban fox, trying to find a way to translate the attitude and movement of a fox into a 14-year-old girl.
What makes the play so compelling? How are you hoping the audience will feel when they are watching it?
I think that’s the great thing about this play, we have no idea what the audience are going to take from it. Personally, I hope that they come out with an opinion, whether that is loving it or hating it, I want them to come out affected. It was Steve Marmion, our director that said he makes theatre for change. So if one person walks out of the show feeling changed in some way, then we’ve done our job.
What was your first role like?
My first role on stage was when I was much younger, and I played a cave-girl from the Stone Age. The first thing I did professionally was a short film called Sweet Sixteen. It was a really beautiful film and I played a quirky 16-year-old, Charlie. I will never forget working with Gavin Porter, the director, because it was his first short film as well, so we were both learning together. That company, It’s My Shout and Roger Burnell, its director, have supported me in my career ever since, which I am incredibly grateful for, I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
Are there any fellow actors or people in your life who inspire you, either professionally or personally?
Professionally, the cast and team I am working with for this show I think will always stay really close to my heart. Simon Kunz and Hayley Carmichael are truly incredible actors, and I have learned so much from them throughout this process. It may sound really clichéd, but in all honesty, no two people have inspired me more than my parents. They have worked incredibly hard for me to get the opportunities that I have got, and have forever been examples of amazing human beings to aspire to. I hope to never stop being inspired by people, never stop learning from them. I have a very long way to go and inspiration is infinite.
What would be your dream acting role?
I want to play as many different roles as I can. Sometimes those that are the furthest away from you as a person are quite exciting to discover. I think it would be great to somehow be a part of a period piece to enter a different time, however, being mixed race that’s slightly more difficult, as their aren’t as many roles available. Maybe James Bond should be a female next, that would be pretty cool!
What has it been like working at Soho Theatre?
Soho Theatre should really be called the Soho family. I have never worked in an environment that has made me feel so safe and welcome. You’re surrounded by people that are passionate about their work and passionate about theatre, and there’s just no better feeling. I turned around to Steve Marmion the other day and declared: “I’m not leaving!”. I loved it at Soho Theatre too much, he would have to keep me!
This is a big moment for your career, what steps will you take now? Are there any particular fields of acting you’d like to do more of, such as TV or film?
I’m going to see where the wind takes me. It’s scary not knowing what tomorrow will bring with it, but it’s also exciting. Obviously, I hope to do more interesting and effective work in all fields: theatre, film and TV. I hope to continue working with extraordinary people that I can go on learning from. I think whenever I act I always want to do better than my last performance, so hopefully the only way is up.
What have you most enjoyed about this experience, and what have you found difficult?
It has been the most electrifying, enjoyable, thrilling, terrifying and daunting thing I have ever done. I think becoming immersed in a different world every day, becoming someone different is what I love. You have tough days though; for me, it was the first time I had moved away from home, got a full-time job and had to brave the world around me and that is a scary experience. I think this job was always going to be challenging for me – emotionally, physically and technically, but the things I found difficult were also some of the things I found most intriguing and fun. Hayley Carmichael, who’s playing my mother in the show, said: “Some of the most exciting things happen in theatre when you are stuck or are finding something hard, because the route to the solution can make you discover things that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.”
You’re just starting out in the industry yourself, but what advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
When I was younger and people asked me what I wanted to do as a career, I always used to say “I don’t know,” when I did – I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Some part of me felt like, saying I wanted to be an actress was a silly answer. I was so wrong. Keep your head up, stay focused and give the honest answer. You will get a lot of “no”s. And you need to be able to handle that, but if you can, and you are passionate and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, you are part of the way there. Be willing to learn. And find a way to love every minute of what you do, because you never know when your next job is going to come along. Don’t take anything for granted, that’s not just within the profession, but also in life. It’s so precious.
Read our review of First Love Is the Revolution here.
First Love Is the Revolution is on at Soho Theatre from 23rd October until 21st November, for further information or to book visit here.