If you’ve visited a Fringe festival in the last 12 months, chances are Emma Hall has been there too, winning awards, critical praise, and sold out stickers.
We May Have to Choose, the debut one-woman-show she wrote and performed, was most recently thrice decorated at the Melbourne Fringe.
Among other trophies, Hall took home the coveted Melbourne Festival sponsored Discovery Award. Billed as “621 opinions in 45 minutes”, that is precisely what her show delivered. “It was an attempt to tell the world what I think about everything,” says the Adelaide- raised performer, who now lives in Melbourne.
In person, she is as funny and intimidating as on stage. It is a surprise that, for someone now so professionally opinionated, Hall spent years putting off performing. “I got it into my head that if I wanted to be a brilliant actress I’d: A) have to show my boobs on screen, and B) be a really good singer. I didn’t want to show my boobs – I didn’t think I had very good ones – and every time I sang people would tell me to stop. So I just decided I couldn’t act.”
After studying political science in Adelaide, she moved to Canberra and took up a promising career in public service. “I didn’t do my basic research. I didn’t realise Canberra was a third of the size of Adelaide until I got there. If I’d known I might never have left.”
After serving in the Department of Employment, “and another one, which was a really long acronym, but, basically, it was social policy,” she got a gig at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It wasn’t until her late 20s that Hall abandoned the bureaucracy and set off for drama school. “It was just one of those ‘letting fear run my life for 10 years’ things. I mean,” she says reflectively,
“I did want to change the world too.”
Throughout our conversation, disillusionment is a theme. Currently in the process of drafting her “difficult second album”, the new show she’s bringing to Adelaide during the Fringe is provisionally titled Ode to Man. It’s inspired by Sophocles, classical sculpture, and “a series of unfortunate romantic experiences”.
“It’s about the death of heroic man, and how masculinity isn’t what it was. It coincided with a dissatisfaction I have for the male species in general. I thought, what better way to say farewell to man than with a talented, charming male actor?” Work on the show with one such chap was proceeding smoothly, “except that he’s just taken a contract in Japan to work in a theme park”. “Financially, I can’t argue with him,” she says.
“It’s the right way to go – to do a five- minute piece over and over for children for a massive corporation. “But it captures the issue I’m obsessed with. This really talented actor – these are the choices he’s making in his life – for many good, sound reasons. But what are men doing with themselves? Is anybody growing up?”
Emma Hall Ode to Man Format Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 emmamaryhall.com