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An interview with Emma White - Musician/ Tour Manager/ Textile Artist

February 4, 2019

Tell us about yourself in your own words.

My name is Emma. I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and I am the Tour Manager of a band who plays music for children.

 

You play the synth in a band - what is that band called?

That band is called Snape, it’s pop inspired shoegaze and we released our debut album earlier this year.

 

You’ve been playing the piano for a long time.

Yes, since I was 5 or 6.

 

What got you interested in playing music and continuing to play it?

I remember being in the car with my mum, waiting for my brother to finish soccer training. I hated going but I was always dragged along. My friend Danielle had started getting piano lessons and I basically wanted to be like her at that time. So I asked my mum if I could get piano lessons and that was it. I really liked it. I did all of the piano exams, and the AMEB exams up to 7th grade. That’s the Australian Music Examination Board and there are 8 grades of different levels of music and you have to do an exam to go to the next grade. I did that for most of my piano life and then I didn’t do music for 2 years - the last 2 years of school, because my parents told me I should focus on getting good marks in my HSC. Then after school I did a Music and Theatre degree at uni.

 

Why did your parents say you shouldn’t do music at school?

They said it’s too subjective and I wouldn’t be able to be sure I’d get good marks.

 

Did you keep learning piano or playing piano outside of school?

No at that point I just stopped music altogether which sucked. When I was in year 10 I asked my parents if I could go to a performing arts school and they said no. I ended up doing 4 unit math and physics and biology and things that I don’t really use in my day to day life now.

 

You’re also a very visual person - is there a visual art that you enjoy doing or gravitate to?

I really enjoy drawing and painting and those kinds of things but I’ve just never had a good ability or affinity with it. I think for me, writing and making theatre is really visual in a similar way and I really enjoy doing that.

 

Tell us about your involvement with theatre and film and productions. What sort of role do you take on in that setting?

Heaps of different stuff. I’ve done a lot of producing which hasn’t been super creative and that’s kind of my role at my job currently. My favourite thing that I’ve done was my fringe show which was ages ago now. I really like theatre theory and existentialism and all of that kind of meta-theatrical stuff and then translating that to a visual theatre production which I’ve done a little bit of in writing, directing, and design. 

 

Do you act as well?

Not so much acting. I’ve done a bunch of performance art but not really straight acting, I don’t find that’s for me.

 

Do you prefer one role over the other? 

My favourite thing is dramaturgy which is a form of directing but it’s more technique based, and leeches into theory based practices and the overarching ideals of the production.

 

What sort of creative activity do you most enjoy doing?

Currently my favourite thing to do is knitting. My grandma taught me to knit when I was really little but I was so bad at it. I always had needles and yarn in my drawers, but I never produced anything. My grandma always had to cast on for me and cast off and I always just had to throw stuff in the bin because it was awful. I just thought I hated knitting because I was really bad at it but then I taught myself how to crochet 2 years ago and I really liked it. I wanted to make some other stuff but the pieces I wanted to make were knitted, so I gave it a go again and now I just love it so much.

 

What is your creative process and how has it changed over time?

I think I usually have a super general idea or spark of a thing at the beginning of a project, and that kind of steers me into reading heaps of certain things that catch my attention within that general framework. Then I hone it in from there until I can’t sleep at 3am because I’m just constantly thinking. Until I get up and do something, write something, or produce something I can’t go to sleep again. I find out how it all ties together in the end and go from thinking that it’s all just random bits but it’s actually not. It’s been the only successful way that I’ve worked. I’ve never been able to produce something that I’ve liked when I’ve said to myself ‘I’m going to sit down and make this thing’. But it’s taken ages to realise that’s how I work, and it’s great that I now know that so I can just go with it.

 

What sort of themes do you like to explore through your work?

It sounds really corny but basically exploring everyday life, but in a way that questions why we do the things we do -  underlying reasons behind actions and social behaviours and everyday performativity.

 

What do you as an artist stand for?

Equality and life and respect.

 

What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I think the biggest thing for me is that I never feel qualified enough to do something that I’m trying to pursue. I think, who is going to care about anything that I would make? and if I try to do one thing I always just think there’s 500 million people who are going to be better at this thing than me. I guess just never feeling up to par.

 

How do you work through that?

I research, a lot. If I have an idea I’ll be researching everything to do with it. I take on things other people have made as inspiration, and I use the making process to learn and grow. I try to do my own thing while also learning new skills. I just want to learn things all the time, I’m probably always trying to learn about 5 new things at once.

 

Can you tell us about your experience with tour managing and booking shows?

For Snape I get a lot of help from the lovely beautiful bassist in our team whose name is Erin. For the kids’ band I work for I do a lot of different things. Tour manager is my role title, but I’m  also doing a bit of everything and anything, as we are a fairly small team. I’m responsible for booking venues, helping mount the show, making props, booking all the tour logistics and then going on tour and being the tour manager, stage manager, front of house manager, and the merchandise manager.

 

What’s your favourite part about the job?

Going on tour definitely. I think I just really thrive off thinking on my feet and solving problems in the moment. I feel comfortable working with and around people and I just love helping to create live performance.

 

How did you get into it?

I was working at a cafe after I finished uni and was working on lots of independent theatre projects while working there. I had this really awesome boss who just wanted me to succeed, he was the best person ever and so would give me time off whenever I was doing a production, and I always knew that I had that job to come back to. But then he sold the cafe and I needed a new job, so I was applying for everything and I saw an ad for 2 weeks of stage managing on the road with this band around Sydney. I thought it would be fun, had never heard of them before, just applied and got the job. Then when I was on tour they were discussing how they were expanding and I said I wanted a full time job. They gave me a contractual position which I was invoicing for and I was also teaching piano as a freelancer at the time. For the first year I was working with the band I was also teaching piano at 3 different schools and it was too much. Just waking up every morning and trying to remember what day it was and where I had to go for work that day. It was the first time I’d ever worked as a sole trader and all of my income was from invoicing people. I had 30 students and the band, so I was invoicing 31 different people, and no one pays you on time as a music teacher - it’s a nightmare. After that the band offered me a full time job.

 

What is the biggest challenge of your job?

The thing I dislike the most is just being in the office 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday in between tours. I’m definitely not cut out for sitting at a desk that often, I always feel like I need to be doing something new and different.

 

What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

Just do it. Make everything that you think of because something’s going to be good and even if it’s not, all of it will help you grow as a person and help to gain confidence in yourself and your opinions. Not everything you make has to be something you show people, or something that even gets finished. I think just putting all your ideas out there and giving everything a go is going to bear some kind of fruit.  

 

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