Sarah Emmott talks Declaration and creating autobiographical work

If you follow us on social media, you’ll have seen a lot of stuff about our play Declaration, a frank, funny and fearless journey through ADHD and mental health.

We’re touring Declaration across the UK until the end of November. Thinking of joining us but want to know what Declaration is all about? Well fear not, co-creator and performer Sarah Emmott sat down to tell us all about what you can expect.

You’re starring in Declaration, can you tell us what the show is about?

Declaration is a joyful and candid autobiographical exploration of my life and mental health. It’s punchy, springy and packed full of humour and hope kickstarted by my experience of facing a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder) in my 30s as I was struggling with my symptoms impacting on my daily life. I knew I needed help but left the doctors with more questions than answers. I felt powerless, vulnerable and misunderstood; I didn’t want to be seen as broken, I wanted to be seen as a warrior who was ready to fight to feel well.

Declaration doesn’t shy away from the difficulties but absolutely celebrates the positives of ADHD; the fun, laughter, curiosity, spontaneity, being able to hyper focus on things for hours and never running out of things to say. It’s uplifting, celebrates difference and the positives; because once we have the things we need, we’re able to thrive.

When I went to an adult ADHD support group I felt so much relief that I wasn’t alone. My feelings of being misunderstood resinated with them and I felt galvanised to share my story. I felt part of an understanding, supportive collective and I want others to feel that too.

As soon as you say ‘mental health’, people think of grey, but Declaration is far from that! It’s colourful, joyful, motivated, springy, punchy, and funny. Laugher often helps us digest things, and also makes us feel relaxed and part of a collective, and that’s what I want Declaration audiences to feel like; a collective.

How does it feel to create a project that’s so closely autobiographical?

The decision to make Declaration was born out of frustration, so it feels quite natural. I’m really honest in the performance, which sometimes surprises people. I hate the ADHD stereotype of a young boy tearing round a supermarket, and the lack of visibility of women with ADHD, so I wanted to be as loud and proud as I could, using my real life events to break that stereotype and help people to understand. Audiences have said that the imagery and personification of traits like anxiety and impulsiveness have really helped them understand themselves, so it has felt a bit like donating an experience to them, which we now share.

At Art with Heart, we make work which challenges audiences, challenges preconceptions and instigates change. So as I was going through this experience, it felt natural for me to be at the centre of it. We wanted to create a sense of community and boost honest conversations, not only about ADHD but about mental health labels, struggles and highlight how important it is to be able to reach out for help.

What’s your favourite part of the show?

I know this will seem really cheesy, but honestly, it’s the audience. Before it all starts I get to welcome everyone into the theatre and have a good chat with everyone. Throughout the performance there are loads of opportunities for me to interact with the audience, but sometimes my favourite bits are seeing someone look at me and smile in acknowledgement that they understand or feel the same way as how I’m describing. And seeing and hearing people laugh is one of the best feelings ever.

There are lots of points where things will be a one-off because it happens off the cuff. My brain is constantly going off on tangents and so sometimes I follow it; from complimenting people’s laugh, sharing snacks with the audience to checking someone was alright after a massive sneeze. Every audience is different, which makes every performance different, and I love that.

You performed this last year, how has the show changed or what have you learned ready for this exciting tour? 

Our tour last year was brilliant, but I feel even more excited about people seeing it this year because I think it’s even better! Declaration has always been about the here and now, so we’ve updated it to reflect my current situation. I’ve spent the last few years learning about myself, more about ADHD, anxiety, the way my brain works and figuring out what I need to be well.

On tour last year I promised every audience member that I would be kinder to myself and I’ve stuck to it. I’ve started taking days off, eating better, and weightlifting. A year ago I never thought my top 3 emoji’s would include the weightlifter and bicep arm! I feel stronger both emotionally and physically and this tour definitely reflects that. Expect it to be bouncier, and for the kick-ass to be turned up to 11!

I’m genuinely excited about meeting new audiences. Oh, and using the giant props again because, I’ll be honest, I bloody love that massive pencil!

What would you say to encourage people to come and watch Declaration?

It’s fun, bubbly, honest, joyous, riotous and kick-ass. There’s laughter, curiosity, spontaneity and each performance is different. However, the best people to talk about it are our audiences! If you check out our hashtag #ADHDeclaration you can see plenty of positive things they’ve had to say!

There are parts which you can interact with (but don’t have to); joining in with a song, ringing a bell and having a chat. When people hear ‘audience participation’ they think of being up on stage and made to look a fool – this is the opposite of that! I promise. Last year a few people chose not to interact with sections and told me afterwards they wish they had. We even had people come back again so they could be part of the bit they missed!

What do you hope the audience will take away from the show?

Declaration is a nod to all of us square pegs who, no matter how hard society tries, are never going to fit in that standard round hole.

I hope that my honesty will help people articulate their own experience with mental health. It’s difficult to describe a feeling, something that is inside you and put it into words. I’ve tried to use really visual ways of describing things, like a rabbit tunnelling a thousand burrows, and a squid wrapping and squeezing it’s tentacles around me which a lot of people said has helped them articulate how they feel.

We tour with a wellbeing space for people to take a moment away from the noisy world to focus on themselves. We encourage everyone in the audience to use it, either to ground themselves or take the opportunity to make a pledge to themselves to improve their own wellbeing.

I hope that we can all take away that it’s ok to ask for help, that we don’t have to hide ourselves, and feel a little more comfortable and proud in their own skin.

What’s coming up for you once the tour finishes?

Honestly? Some time off! I’ll be catching up with friends, baking cakes and sitting in my living room in fleece pyjamas inhaling boxsets! After that there’s lots of exciting work at Art with Heart; we’ll be producing my new play and creating a brand new interactive project which will both tour across Greater Manchester and then nationally. It’s a really exciting time, but first, I’ll need to eat cake and make a bum shaped dent in my sofa!

Any advice for budding actors/actresses?

Watch theatre, as much as you can afford to see. Don’t be ashamed of your ‘pay the bills’ job. Work hard, be approachable, keep learning, listen to your gut, treasure days off, give back, be kind to yourself and celebrate everything you achieve, no matter how small. Oh, and don’t measure your success by the figure in your bank account!