It was a mercy that I was sitting down when I interviewed Emma Knights. Her range of activities, her energy and creative inventiveness, her thoroughness and hard work, have helped her build her company, Emma Knights Productions, from a one-woman niche performing arts unit into a trusted name in entertainment, music and theatre around South Australia. When I met with her, I made the mistake of asking what she’s doing.
Me: G’day, Emma! Anything coming up for you right now?
Emma: Well, I’ve been invited to be part of the Gluttony Cabaret Fringe at the Masonic, where I’ll be doing my solo show, The Piano Men again.
Me: The one you did in the last Fringe?
Emma: Yes, that’s the one. Then I’m taking that show to Melbourne, doing the Melbourne Cabaret Fringe at The Butterfly Club.
Me: And then a nice rest?
Emma: No hope. I’m currently planning my UK season. In August, I’m at Edinburgh Festival Fringe again, this time playing at the Pianodrome.
Me: The what?
Emma: It’s an auditorium built entirely from disused pianos.
Me: Of course it is. You’re doing The Piano Men in Edinburgh?
Emma: Oh, yes, for sure. And also, the world premiere of my latest solo show, The Piano Women.
Me: Aha. I knew it was just a matter of time…
Emma: Of course, I’ve also got a season at Stockbridge Church in Edinburgh, and while I’m over there, I’ll also have my producer’s hat on, scouting for likely artists and shows to bring back to Adelaide.
Me: OK, that’s a huge workload. Ever get a moment off to go out for dinner?
Emma: Funny you should ask. I’ve got a dinner date on 6th June after my first Cabaret Fringe show here. I’ve been nominated as one of the “40 Under 40” Young Entrepreneurs of South Australia. It’s a terrific honour to even be nominated, and I’ve been invited to the National Wine Centre dinner when the winners are announced.
You get the idea… Emma Knights’ energy is prodigious and her vision for new projects crackles with imagination and wit. Here’s some of her observations.
Q: When you’re planning a possible new project, what’s the major element that spurs you to make it happen:
- Its artistic worth
- Its opportunities for employing local performers and using locally-sourced products
- Its sound financial bottom-line
- It’ll be fun to do.
A: [chuckles] Oh, it’s mostly number four. Projects often begin in the most random way. Something happens. For instance, my idea of setting the musical Oklahoma! on a horse farm sat in the back of my mind for ages. Then one day I Googled horse farms near Adelaide. I spotted one that looked likely, so I just rocked up and met the owner. I told her about my crazy idea, and she said she had always wanted to do performance events on her farm. The rest is history.
Q: In every entrepreneur’s constant battle between faith and fear, what percentage of each do you have just before one of your projects starts?
A: In the lead-up to the opening, faith is very high, but the closer Production Week gets, the more the fear rises too. Honestly, my faith is always in the people who are involved; it allows me to have that little bit of fear.
Q: Having done the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before, what lessons did you learn from those previous times, and how did this information modify your approach to this year’s gigs in the UK?
A: Number one – exercise active personal involvement in all aspects of equipment hire. No nasty surprises.
It’s also smart to make sure your shows are booked into well-equipped venues.
Another Edinburgh gem – Uber is expensive.
I also learned the wisdom of making time to talk to people who are willing to talk to me. Doing this last time fast-tracked me into a bunch of really great outcomes. You never know who you might be talking to… so always treat everyone with respect.
Oh, and continue to keep in touch with your overseas contacts. So many advantages for you, and for them.
Q: What’s your balance between dreaming up performance work for other artists and actually performing yourself? Is this balance shifting at the moment?
A: Oh, yes; there’s definitely been a shift in emphasis recently. For the past six years,
I’ve largely concentrated on creating projects which provides employment for other artists. I’ll still continue doing that, of course. But lately, I’ve been tipping the balance more towards my own performance work. It’s keeping me super-busy. In the last few weeks, I’ve performed on the Murray River, in the paddle-steamer MS Marion, in shearing sheds down in Keith, in the Old Adelaide Gaol, and in Ayers House. And I’m about to perform in the Cabaret Festival Fringe Opening show at the Masonic Lodge, and appear in the Quartet Piano Bar of Festival Centre during CabFest.
Q: What made you first consider the idea of immersive and site-specific performance works?
A: I have always loved exploring, and finding cool spaces. And my brain is just a bit over-active… I was doing a lot of work in theatres, and it seemed to me that it was getting harder to attract younger audiences into theatres. And if they did attend, it was harder to get them involved. So, I figured I needed to do something a bit different. There was a lot of theatre in Adelaide already, so I needed to find a point of difference. Immersive and site-specific performances bring together my two big loves – music, and exploring new places.
Q: You’ve become known both within South Australia and outside it, for your principle of paying artists, in an economic atmosphere which makes this a rare thing. Why not ask actors and musicians to do it for mothing? Others do?
A: I want the standard of my productions to be high; to achieve this, I need to employ people who are at a level where they expect to be paid for their skills.
In Adelaide there’s either amateur or professional – no middle ground. I’m attempting to create a bridge between these two positions.
I’d like to make my living as a musician. By paying performers, I’m giving them encouragement towards a professional standard of work and, I hope, providing them with a pathway towards seeing performance as a career rather than a hobby.
Q: Why so many projects? In so many directions? Doesn’t it make it harder for people to identify your unique Emma Knights Productions (EKP) brand?
A: Well, you might think so, but it doesn’t seem to. People tell me they already know and trust the EKP name, because in their past experience, it has always provided high-quality, accessible shows.
I focus on three primary areas when I put a show together:
- Interesting and appropriate locations with an immersive quality
- A culture of inclusive kindness, which makes performers happy to work with each other and with me to create great events.
Q: Why have you remained an Adelaide resident when there are many more well-paying gigs for a talented pianist/repetiteur/MD elsewhere, both interstate and overseas?
A: That’s a question I ask myself every day. I love Adelaide; it’s a beautiful place. Adelaide gives me lots of options. No-one here is doing exactly what I’m doing, so it enables me to be at the forefront of this area, while learning lots through doing different projects and enjoying the diversity of the South Australian community.
Interview by Pat. H. Wilson
Show: The Piano Men
Venue: Gluttony Cabaret Fringe at the Masonic; 254 North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: 6th – 8th June, 2019
For more information about Emma Knights Productions, click here