Every year on the 8th of March – one day before my actual birthday! – I feel immense gratitude for the amazing women I am privileged to have around in my professional and personal life. International Women’s Day is one more chance to recognise the great achievements, the skill and the love with which women create work (in all fields, but in the arts even more so).
This year I am thrilled to be working with an amazing array of female creatives as we prepare to open The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree in one of my most favourite venues in London. The play is an ode to a woman’s bumpy journey towards a difficult metamorphosis. In our story, the Tree stands for self-growth, self-love and self-care. Inspired by the Ancient Greek myth of the nymph Daphne, the piece follows Daphne, a 30-year old woman, as she tries to reinvent herself. While Daphne is desperately looking to create a version of herself which her society would deem as acceptable or even respectable, I come to wonder how many sacrifices young women keep making in order to shoehorn themselves (their bodies, their ideas, their lives) into what others want for them.
In the myth Daphne pleads to her father so he can turn her into a tree and save her from Apollo’s manic chase. The myth would always make me angry: why should a young woman, who is very clear about not wanting to have sex with a horny God, should have to sacrifice her human existence in order to escape rape? Working with Lisa Langseth, the writer, in developing this production has been a real privilege. Lisa’s way of re-inventing the Greek myth and re-introducing Daphne in a modern context comes with a lot of wit, humour, and a beautiful touch of magical realism.
The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree depicts a woman’s frantic race to keep up with the latest fashion trends, latest stereotypes about how the ‘perfect’ woman should look, talk, walk, eat, sleep, flirt. Our Daphne is obsessed with how others perceive her and that’s why she keeps running away from her own self, from her own wildness and madness. But soon she realises that this race is pointless, it turns her into an empty shell, void of emotions and of real desires.
At a time when young teenagers have access to a plethora of social media, when they create online profiles and they get to curate the content they receive and present online, I marvel at how easy it is to lose touch of one’s ‘true’ self. Imagine being bombarded daily with unrealistic stereotypes of beauty, with particular body images and shapes, with consumerist lifestyles, and so much content about how your make-up, your hairstyle or your attitude should be…
When our Daphne meets the Tree she comes to glimpse a sense of freedom and a wildness – a wild soul, a wild voice – which she had been trying to suppress. I wish for every woman to meet her Tree, to grow strong and become her own wild creature. Lots of trees together create powerful Forests. Each tree is different, and yet no one ever cared why this tree is tall or the other one thin. They don’t compete, but they grow strong and beautiful together. As we keep saying in rehearsals, how liberating it would be when we come to admire our unique beauty.
I personally feel scared of a world where more and more people are feeling utterly alone and disconnected, lacking real intimacy and touch. The bigger the city, the smaller the sense of community or belonging.
And as this project also comes to celebrate great international collaborations, today I want to celebrate all the incredible women who have made this production possible across different countries and cities: Lisa, Camilla, Sissi, Marie, Bridget, Bathsheba, Ioli, Sanjana, Alex, Ellie, Tash, Amy, Ioana, Lucy, Rochelle, Eve… and of course Daphne (across the centuries!) I believe in teams, in powerhouses and communities!
This day might only be an excuse of course, but let’s celebrate all the amazing Women, Humans, Souls that help us grow daily.
Emily was born and raised in Athens, but moved to London in 2013 to read English at UCL. She then trained at Birkbeck’s MFA in Theatre Directing.
Since 2015 Emily and her company, Collide, have created 6 cross-art performances with sold-out runs and 5-star reviews, while collaborating with more than 50 London-based international artists.
In addition to her professional directing credits, since 2021 Emily has also directed students as an Associate Lecturer & Visiting Director at University of the Arts London, as well as other drama schools such as East 15, Rose Bruford, ArtsEd.