In 2013, Emma Knights took the plunge and launched her award-winning company, Emma Knights Productions. For many years prior to this Emma was predominantly known in the Adelaide theatre scene for her work as a musical director, a repetiteur or playing in orchestra pits. Anyone who has met Emma would agree she has a huge drive to promote local talent and musicians, and to produce unique and original performances. As a person, one can’t help but get swept up in her infectious laugh and warm smile.
I caught up with Emma just prior to opening night of her new show, Lady Fingers, to chat about the show and her journey since launching Emma Knights Productions.
“I got my first professional contract with Opera Queensland in 2013 on a production of Space Encounters. I got the contract on a Wednesday and flew up on the Sunday. It was a very dramatic life change to go up there and tour for 3 months. Then I was looking at what to do when I came back, because I didn’t really want to go back into music retail; I wanted to perform. There wasn’t really anything to go into. Working on amateur theatre shows was supplementing the retail income, but I started to think about the talent in Adelaide. I was playing for auditions for performers who wanted to study interstate, and I thought that we really needed something in South Australia to provide that level between the community theatre and the professional level. That’s why I started Emma Knights Productions, to create work at a paid level for local musicians who want to live here and do what they love without having to move.”
When looking at what Emma has achieved over the past several years, the phrase ‘anything’s possible’ really does spring to mind. From setting the musical Oklahoma on a farm, with real horses (and a peacock), Pirates of Penzance on a boat and The Sound Of Music staged at a monastery, audiences are always immersed into the world that Emma creates. What sparks these ideas?
“My brain! I’m a little bit crazy. It sort of came around originally when I was looking to do some fundraising shows for my newly launched company. I was looking around and thought that I didn’t really want to do what everyone else was doing. We have plenty of concerts happening in churches, halls and performance spaces, so I wondered what I could do that’s a bit different, that makes it unique. So that’s when I decided to put performances on a boat, which is how Floating Melodies came about. From there I went, ‘Cool, we have opera on a boat and wine and cheese goes perfectly with opera’, so I got some South Australian wines and cheeses involved. From there I expanded this idea by thinking what else I could do on a boat, and that’s how Pirates of Penzance on a boat came about. This then opened me to thinking about what other things I could do in crazy spots? I love exploring and living in South Australia, so I started going around to different places thinking, ‘I could do this here’ or ‘that would work in this place’.”
Recently, Emma has stepped away from casts, sets and costumes and started writing and performing her own solo cabaret shows. I was curious to find out how Emma finds this brave new venture.
“It’s terrifying! I did my first solo show over at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 so I could be as far away as possible from anyone I knew. If it sucked, no-one would know about it. The first lot of performances was pretty terrifying. But I was far from home, so that was slightly less pressure. When I did do the debut back here in Adelaide, I felt a little more confident as I got great responses overseas, but I still was very nervous. However, when I stepped out for that first performance here, I really loved it. There is such a beautiful energy when it’s just you and an audience. It still is terrifying. Sometimes you make a cheeky joke and no-one laughs. I really am enjoying it now.”
In December this year, Emma will be launching her debut album, Anticipate, which she recorded with local musicians, including Brody Green (drums) and Milush Piochaud (bass).
“It’s all original works, but there is a special bonus track that my Nana transcribed in 1935; I have her handwritten transcription that I recorded with my sister. Everything else is original. One of the tunes I wrote back when I was studying at WAPPA, back in 2002. That piece has been around for a while, but I haven’t really done anything with it until now. I decided earlier this year that I’ve got this set of songs that I’ve written from the ‘I heart songwriting’ classes that I took part in and I thought they were pretty good. So earlier this year I presented them to an audience and gave them all a card with all the titles on it, and asked them to give each a score out of ten and write comments. I got all the feedback from that, and some songs I’m still working on from that, but it helped me select what I wanted to put on the album. I also added in a few other things. Ten tracks, all my own works. I was able to get a grant from the Music Development Office to record, but anyone who has recorded before knows it’s an expensive thing to do. So, the whole album was recorded and mixed at House of Bamboo in five days. I like it though: it has a live studio album vibe to it, rather than a high production album. I’m pretty excited about its release, but I’m also rather nervous about what people will think. There are some good, solid songs on there and a summer hit, and an ode to Stirling, as I spend a lot of time up there eating chocolate.”
Emma’s most recent venture is a new show, Lady Fingers, that she is currently performing as part of Star Theatres Back2Back Short Show Festival.
“The title actually came about from the cover of an old book of piano solos that I found. It is the most ridiculous cover. From there I decided I needed to write my own song called ‘Lady Fingers’ and I found there are actually many other piano songs out there called ‘Lady Fingers’. So that’s kind of the basis of where that came from. The show will also include songs from my ‘Anticipate’ album and a little bit from my cabaret show, ‘Piano Men’. This year I’ve also ended back at University, doing my Honours in Pop Music, because that’s what you do, and for that I’ve had to write and record a second album, so there will also be a couple of songs from that. I will also perform a couple of newer songs I’ve written as a result of life in 2020, including my amazing song “F**k The Footy’ and a song about Fruchocs.”
Lady Fingers is now playing at Star Theatres for 2 shows only. Friday 23rd October at 7.30pm and Saturday 31st October at 9pm. Tickets available through Star Theatres’ website.
Interview by Ben Stefanoff