A versatile actor, writer, improviser and comedian, Emily Taylor has done it all: theatre, stand-up, film and television. Her latest project is a solo show, created in collaboration with primary school children. Backwards is running as part of the Darebin Arts Speakeasy program at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, and we chatted to Emily about the show, about school children and comedy.
You’ve premiered a new show every year for the last three years in a row. Do you find that it forces you to turn over work much faster? How do you ensure you keep everything high quality while also making time for rewriting and revising?
In a way I’m always thinking one show ahead, or of multiple shows at a time. I often get ideas that don’t fit into the show I’m making so I shelve those ideas to use later.
Having said that, yes, time is precious and there is never enough of it! Making shows for festivals does mean you’re under the pump. The first season of a show teaches you a lot. It usually develops during that time because it finally has an audience!
For this show, you worked with primary school aged children. How was that experience?
I’m a freelance drama teacher so I’m used to working with kids of all ages, and enjoy their company. The process for Backwards was a bit different though because I wasn’t their teacher, instead I was interviewing them, finding out what they care about, what their opinions are on life and the world, and getting them to create content like short stories, poems and drawings.
Do you have any funny stories from working with children, or are they about on par with funny stories about adults?
The best thing about working with kids is that they’re very honest.
I loved hearing what they thought the worst kinds of adults were (ones who do baby talk featured quite strongly, as well as “toilet farters”).
Their brains were also really quick. One minute they’d be making poo jokes, then suddenly they’d start commenting on current politics, and then they’d swing back to riffing on bodily functions.
It was a poo/politics roller coaster.
They do say to never work with animals and children. Will your next show feature animals?
Well my last show was about pets, so in a way I’ve already worked with animals! Next stop…plants?
Backwards is written for people of all ages. What inspirations do you draw on to ensure that it’s accessible to 7 year olds, 27 year olds and 97 year olds?
I think that because childhood’s something we all share, there’s material in the show that we can all relate to. Whether we have fond memories of childhood, painful ones, or are living childhood right now, there’s enough complexity in the theme of childhood to make it resonate for all ages.
The characters in the show range from 2 to 65 and are hopefully diverse enough that there’s something for everybody to recognise.
Your background is more in theatre, but obviously you can write humour – which do you prefer?
My last show PET was more along the lines of stand up comedy/storytelling, with characters thrown in as well. Unlike Backwards and my other show Cannonball, it wasn’t a multi character narrative.
I enjoy both forms of comedy, but personally I do like disappearing into a story, getting to know my characters and exploring how they interact with each other.
How do you find a more theatrical comedy show differs from the traditional stand up format that usually dominates the Comedy Festival?
I guess with traditional stand up comedy the big difference is there’s no ‘fourth wall’.
The audience is there the whole time. For both the performer and the audience that’s a big factor. The fourth wall can still disappear in theatrical comedy but I don’t think it’s ever really there in stand up.
Maybe theatrical comedy creates a different kind of audience expectation?
The Melbourne comedy scene is bursting with female comedy talent at the moment. Do you have any advice for women who think they might be funny and want to go into comedy?
Just go ahead and do it. The best way to learn is from doing and experimenting and trying out material in front of an audience.
What are your picks for this year’s Comedy Festival?
I really like the Pajama Men so I’m looking forward to seeing their new show. I missed Zoe Coombs Marr’s show Dave the first time round, so I can’t wait to see that. And also Anne Edmonds is very funny so I’m definitely going to catch her show too.
Backwards has previews from the 26th until the 29th March, and shows run from the 31st March till the 18th April, at Northcote Town Hall. Tickets start from $15 and can be purchased at the MICF website or by calling Darebin Arts at 9481 9500.