Emmy Happisburgh and the creation of Contentment Productions
Emmy Happisburgh is no stranger to a cardigan (her words, not mine). She is also no stranger to, being typecast as every kind of "Mum" in the book. Usually though, Mum in cardigan, crying.
But Happisburgh is taking matters into her own hands. "I am forty-four" she tells me blatantly, and although she has had her fair share of acting work over her career, in her recent years, most of those characters have been weepy, mis represented mothers. "I'm a Mum, and I know a lot of other mothers and I have to say we are not weak, we are fierce!".
It is this kind of stereotyping, this misrepresentation that is one of the biggest motivators for Happisburgh to create her own company, aptly named Contentment Productions.
Good, authentic storytelling is important to Happisburgh, and it is clear that her passion for the company's first project, is incredibly deep. "This is a leading character, a forty year old woman that does not simply focus on being a mum or the men in her life." Not since performed after it premiered at The National Theatre in 2008, Harper Regan by Simon Stephens is a bold, interesting and genuine example of what can happen when someone different takes the spotlight. "I love the dialogue between Harper and her daughter! That is so interesting and complex" Happisburgh gushes, and goes on to commend the work that has been done by her team and the cast of their upcoming show.
When asked about the casting experience, there is a real sense of excitement in Happisburgh's voice. "I ended up casting actors that I had never met, because the pool of actors we auditioned was so huge and so full of talent". It is obvious as the conversation continues that the energy and work that goes on in the rehearsal room is something truly special. "There was one guy we cast on the spot! He was so perfect and we couldn't believe he even auditioned for us. It was amazing!".
And while Emmy has had a successful career not only as an actor but also as a producer for the likes of MTV, it has always come back to acting.
"I just think it is important for women to have the confidence to get out there and make things happen. The reason that I went after this play was because I was sick of playing women who didn't feel real".
"Call in favours and get stuff made!" is the real message that comes from our conversation. Her passion and devotion to the craft pulsates from her as Happisburgh explains that something she really does love is working with other creatives who have the same mindset as her, and who she can share her knowledge and skill set with.
And it is this skill set that has brought together this immensely talented cast. Mentioning that she pays her actors is also an important moment, as Happisburgh's commitment to good producing comes to light.
"What is really important to me is to get the piece as close to the writers voice as possible".
The role itself however, is not particularly natural to Happisburgh, and it is this that makes it so attractive. "Harper wears leather jackets and smokes and that isn't me!" She laughs, "I am a very warm person and my director keeps telling me to cool her down!"
With a creative team of predominantly women, the tone turns serious as Happisburgh makes it known how important the work of the 50:50 Equal Representation of Actresses and Time's Up campaigns are to her. "It is funny because often in school and growing up girls tend to be the ones who are better and more interested in English and creative writing and the boys are more interested in science and maths. However as women get older the confidence gets knocked out of them and the number of female writers diminishes. I believe it is important to champion women and support each other because this is where it starts."
As the conversation draws to a close (Emmy needs to carry on learning lines- she does have a lot of them!), we come back to the show and what it means. "I am so excited to share this brilliant piece of writing with the world again. The cast is so immensely talented, I really need to raise my game!".
I do get to ask one final question before our chat ends however. "What can we do to support more female-led stories? What needs to happen in our industry?". Happisburgh's answer is immediate.
"So much needs to be done. Among other things, childcare needs to be more readily available to women and families and men need better paternity leave so they can actually stay home and look after their children without guilt or difficulty attached."
And what is in store for the future at Contentment Productions?
"Some very exciting stuff! Possibly a musical, with a 90s soundtrack that is set mostly in the rave scene because thats where I spent my teenage years. And I want more women characters around my age in the show, we need to remind audiences that women my age have fun too!"
Harper Regan opens on the 15th of May and runs until the 1st of June at the Tabard Theatre Chiswick.
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