Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Emily Beecher: Summer Camp For Broken People

By | Published on Friday 5 May 2023

Beginning a run at the Pleasance Theatre this week is the latest work from Emily Beecher, the talent behind the rather acclaimed ‘The Good Enough Mums Club’. 

‘Summer Camp For Broken People’ draws on Beecher’s own experiences, and focuses on a victim of sexual assault undergoing therapy at The Priory whilst maintaining her relationship with her daughter. 

I spoke to Emily to find out more about the play and the talent behind it. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘Summer Camp For Broken People’? What story does it tell?
EB: ‘Summer Camp For Broken People’ explores the life of ‘Emily’, a 40-something single mum who’s attending The Priory for ‘intensive psychiatric day patient therapy’ in the aftermath of a violent sexual assault.

We’re with her as she has to navigate recovery, the difficult therapeutic space, and the playful domestic world she shares with her daughter ‘Maisie’.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
EB: The show obviously looks at mental health and sexual violence, but also motherhood, recovery, the power of the human spirit and, ultimately, love.

CM: To what extent is it informed by your own experiences?
EB: The show is entirely based on my personal experience and has been created out of diary entries, letters and essays that I wrote during my experiences at The Priory, and in the time that followed as I put my life back together.

I originally wrote it as a memoir actually, the plan had been for it to be a book. Then, when I was shopping it around to literary agents, a very generous agent had a chat with me about it and she suggested it was a play.

I was a bit like “Noooooooo! I’ve already written a play – I wanted to write a book!” But the more I thought about it the more I realised she was right. 

Then when I finally worked up the courage to share it with my friend and co-producing business partner, Reece McMahon, he came back to me and said “Well it’s a love story about you and Maisie isn’t it?”, and that’s when it clicked for me.

Christa Harris – the show’s director – and I started the R&D process with something like 37,000 words. The first read-through of all the material was about three and half hours! From there, together we’ve crafted it into a 75-minute show.

CM: How does it feel to share these experiences? Is there an element of catharsis? What motivated/inspired you to do this?
EB: It’s a funny thing sharing autobiographical work because, in the beginning, you’re not actually sharing it with that many people, so I got really comfortable and safe with it.

Then when the show was properly announced I had a moment where I was like “Oh s@!t – so all that info about what happened to me is public knowledge now?” I definitely had my vulnerability hangover moment. 

Then we did a reading where we invited women who had lived experience of sexual violence, and speaking to, and working with, them was the most amazing experience – it really galvanised me.

As much as the show is based on my personal experience, sadly, this is a lot of women’s stories, and if the show makes even one person feel less alone, less like she is somehow to blame, then it will all be worth it.

CM: What messages does the play have? Would you regard it as political?
EB: This is a deeply personal show and I think is an example of when the personal can’t help but be political.

We’re at a crossroads of a lot of different things here – even putting the horrific stats around sexual harassment, abuse and violence to one side for a minute – who gets to tell these stories is political.

It’s ridiculous how much misogyny there is around who ‘gets’ to be a victim – how many stories have you heard about sexual violence that have been told by someone over 40? How many films or shows have you watched about it where the performer was something more than a size ten?

It was bloody 2020 before we had Michaela Coel’s brilliant ‘I May Destroy You’, which centred black women in the narrative. 

After the reading, when I was speaking to our focus group, every single one of them mentioned how refreshing it was to have a story about sexual violence that wasn’t told by a skinny, blonde, eighteen year old.

We know representation matters, but this means all kinds of representation, everyone who’s experienced sexual violence deserves to see someone like them recovering, needs to feel like they aren’t alone, that they can be believed regardless of who they are.

If you then layer in the stats it gets even worse. WHO stats are one in three women have experienced sexual violence, and last year UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged eighteen to 24 have been sexually harassed.

How on earth are we OK with those stats? Do we honestly think that if 97% of men had been kicked in the crotch by women they would be OK with it?

We have to remove the shame around this happening to us so we can speak candidly and have an open, honest conversation about this.

#MeToo was the start of that conversation but we need to keep going, for our own sake but also for the sake of young women like Maisie, and the generations to come. I really hope ‘Summer Camp’ is a spark of those conversations.

CM: Were you always planning to perform this yourself?
EB: In the beginning I wasn’t sure. I created ‘Summer Camp’ with the idea that I would develop it, but that ultimately the role would be played by other women in the future.

The reality is this industry isn’t great for parents and it’s even worse for single parents – how on earth could I do a long run of the show or go on tour when I also have this amazing teenager who still – mostly – needs me and no one else at home?

We’ve lost so much amazing talent because the whole industry is set up for young, middle-class, non-disabled people with no responsibilities, who are constantly told there’s someone who will work harder or longer for less. 

I’m a big believer that there is always another way – I love challenging the ‘way things are done’, I love a job share, love kids in the room, think we should always have paid associates on shows, and I don’t believe anything magical was ever created in a rehearsal room after 5pm.

So I’m thrilled I get to make this show, I get to originate ‘Emily’, but I’m grateful every day I have the amazing Charlie Coletta who is sharing the runs with me.

And we have a team of brilliant, creative people, who – when we say we want to do fifteen days rehearsal over five weeks to accommodate both my caring responsibilities and my disability – don’t tell me how it’s impossible but who say “sounds great – let’s do it!”

CM: Did you always want to pursue a career in the arts? How did your career begin?
EB: I’ve had an interesting career path – I think it looks more like a game of snakes and ladders than the upward ascent we’re supposed to aim for.

I originally trained as an actress in Canada and the US many moons ago, but gave it up in my mid-to-late 20s and moved into film and video production, making commercials and promos until I had Maisie and I couldn’t juggle that any more either. 

I didn’t start writing until I was 34. I didn’t know I had it in me. So I started writing my musical ‘The Good Enough Mums Club’, and worked in the corporate world for a while, until the assault – and the aftermath – brought my life to a standstill.

While I was finishing up my therapies, I decided to do my MA and it was during that time that I rewrote ‘The Good Enough Mums Club’ and wrote the original memoir version of ‘Summer Camp For Broken People’.

Just before COVID, I met Reece and we set up The REcreate Agency in 2021 – I’m really lucky that I get to co-run a creative agency with my producer hat on that helps people realise their own creative ideas, alongside getting to develop mine. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
EB: I’d love to see ‘Summer Camp’ continue to have a life after the Edinburgh Fringe run we already have planned – so tour the UK and internationally, I’d love to take it to Canada where I grew up.

I have a dream version of the show which is similar to how ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ran in the West End.

So, you’d have four very different ‘Emily’s – an older woman, a global majority woman, a disabled woman, a stereotypical ‘victim’ – but audiences don’t know who they’re going to get each night and you have to watch the show with the filters and biases we all have.

Ultimately I have an absolute love for stories and storytelling, and I’d love to be able to keep developing and growing that. I’d love to write for film and TV, and would love to adapt ‘Summer Camp’ for TV.

As a producer I’m committed to raising up voices of people who are underrepresented and underheard. I want to tell the stories people only whisper about – there’s so much power in bringing the unspoken out into the light. And, to quote Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia, if we can burn the f@&%king house down while we’re doing it – all the better!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
EB: Well, as I said, we’re taking ‘Summer Camp’ to Summerhall at the Ed Fringe, which I am thrilled about, but before then we’ve got ‘Blueprints’ by Ashlee Elizabeth-Lolo at The Pleasance in June, which The REcreate Agency is producing.

We’re also taking ‘Blueprints’ and ‘I Love You, Now What?’ by Sophie Craig to The Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh for the Fringe. I’m excited both to perform my own work at the Festival this summer and continue to produce and work with these other incredible writers, performers and artists.

I’d love to see ‘Summer Camp’ – and the other shows! – go on tour from the autumn and then ‘The Good Enough Mums Club’ will be going on tour as well – it’s definitely a watch this space moment!

‘Summer Camp For Broken People’ is on at Pleasance Theatre from 9-20 May. For more information and to book tickets, see this page here.

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Photo: Alex Brenner