Exploring gender identity, representation and familial love, Emerging is a brand-new production from pioneering company Scarabeus Aerial Theatre, which has its world
premiere at The Lowry, Salford.
Emerging begins its UK tour at the Lowry on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October 2022, before a nationwide tour culminating with a performance at the London International Mime Festival 2023.
Co-commissioned by The Lowry and the London International Mime Festival, this unique
show centres on the relationship between transgender son, Naissa and his mother Daniela, as they journey together through a complex life changing process.
The Lowry’s Head of Theatre Operations, Steve Cowton chats to Scarabeus’ Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart Nielson about this very personal piece of theatre, and it’s evolution to the stage.
The Lowry has been involved in this project since the very beginning and we’re delighted to be presenting the World Premiere. Obviously this is a very personal story for you and your family – why did you decide that you wanted to present this as a theatre show?
Daniela: “Emerging is an act of courage. We want this story to be a vehicle for advocacy and acceptance. We feel very strongly the role of culture is to shed light on pivotal subjects and issues of our time. It’s important to do it sensitively and intelligently. Aerial and visual theatre is the language we know best.”
What is it about aerial theatre – and circus in general – that makes it such a good medium to share your stories and your feelings?
Daniela: “Because aerial theatre and dance use a visceral language that gets under the audience’s skin. It is an extreme language, that transform the ordinary in extra-ordinary, the intimate into the epic. We have very carefully chosen and designed the aerial apparatus we use in this performance, they serve the story and the imagery we aim to convey to our audience.
“The space changes nearly at every scene, the two riggers who are on stage with the performers, silently help in transforming the space. The performance space is created within a 6 by 6 metres box truss structure. An empty stage, inhabited scene by scene by the characters and the imagery they create with their body artistry on the floor and in the air, interacting with their bespoke aerial equipment. A suspended cocoon is the set for a birth scene. A character exploding in a bungee solo, leaping in the air, then recoiling on the floor, becomes a representation of internal turmoil and conflict.
“Three big suspend hoops, woven with rope, illustrate for the audience the ‘going around in circles’ of difficult conversations. Only on the very last scene, the performance space is entirely taken by a huge net, representing a web of life, where our characters’ journey suspended above the audience. The space is also layered with projections, a delicate lighting design and an emotionally charged soundtrack, which transport the audience in a heterogeneous visual and aural landscape.”
What can the audience expect to see on stage – and who do you think would most enjoy the show?
Daniela: “A multimedia performance involving physical theatre and dance combined with aerial skills. Emerging is layered with visual and metaphorical landscapes, created by juxtaposing live performance, text, designed video projections and a bespoke commissioned soundtrack.”
Naissa: “Emerging is an exploration of the dialogue between a mother and a young transgender person, how they inevitably have to navigate the transition in their own ways. It also explores how they have to find ways for the pain not to outweigh the love between them. It is a representation of the true dialogue that went between us, via the letters we wrote to each other over the first three years of my transition.”
Some parts of the show are based on the letters you and Naissa wrote to each other – it’s an incredibly intimate exploration of your relationship. Ultimately it celebrates the love between a mother and her child – how does it feel to be sharing the same stage together? Are you still speaking to each other?
Daniela: “We made the decision to be inspired and share extracts from the real letters we wrote to each other during the last three years. As the artistic director, Iworked very hard with my dramaturg mentor Tessa Walker, in choosing the most significant of these letters, and to edit them to their very essence. Naissa has collaborated in the choice. These letters where never written for the stage, but because of that, they are poignant and draw the audience into a very intimate space.”
Naissa: “In the first three years after I came out, we wrote letters to each other to express ourselves as a way of avoiding conflict and being misunderstood. We discovered that in mainstream media the reaction to trans people is very binary; acceptance or rejection. Our communication felt a lot more nuanced than this and more complex, not a straightforward acceptance but not a rejection either. It feels important to be able to portray that full complexity of this journey.
“And of course we are in speaking terms with each other, otherwise how would we be able to do what we do on stage, which requites a great deal of trust and communication!”
What do you hope people who see the show will take away with them?
Daniela: “We hope the audience will have an emotional connection with the characters and the story. If they have experienced a journey similar to ours, I hope they’ll feel well represented. If they didn’t know much about the complexities of gender identity and diversity, I wish they will feel more knowledgeable and inclined to become allies”.
Naissa: “I want audiences, trans or not, to be able to find some relation to the material, some empathy for our story. Change and acceptance are part of every relationship. Seeing Emerging I hope it illustrates the trans experience and journey, as something we can all find to relate with and therefore have empathy for. I also want other trans and queer audiences, and their families, to feel heard and seen in some capacity.”
Why should everyone come and see it?
Daniela: “Because Emerging deals with one of the hottest and controversial topics of our time; gender identity and its representation. It deals with the subject sensitively, intelligently and with a great deal of honesty. It takes the audience by the hand in an emotional journey into an uncharted territory.
“Through this performance we want to give a true voice to the experience of many unheard people, the trans young people and their families who go through a similar experience to ours. We write our story and history, nobody else can do it for us.
“We to thank the team at The Lowry, from believing in Emerging from the very first time I spoke about it with Steve three years ago. For the generous commission and ongoing support, which has played not small part in convincing the Arts Council and Foyle to fund it. We have felt and feel respected, cared for, trusted and held in high consideration. What more artists who are exposing their strength and fragility in sharing such a complex story can ask for?”
Emerging is at The Lowry, Salford from 7-8 October 2022.