Declaration examines the faces we wear to fit in and what happens when we are forced to declare our differences. Developed in consultation with medical professionals, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and mental health support groups, Declaration challenges stereotypes with a curious, comic and candid look at ADHD, mental health and diagnosis in the 21st century.
We caught up with writer and performer Sarah Emmott to find out more.
You’re taking your show, Declaration, out on tour, what’s the show about?
Declaration is a curious, colourful and candid autobiographical exploration of my own journey to an ADHD diagnosis. It’s both personal and political. I felt driven to make Declaration after a trip to the doctors that left me feeling powerless, vulnerable and misunderstood, feelings I know now are shared by lots of adults struggling with their mental health.
As soon as you say it’s a theatre production about ‘mental health’, people think of doom and gloom, but Declaration certainly isn’t that. It’s joyful, springy, punchy and funny. I don’t shy away from the darker side of ADHD, but it’s rare you get a space to pull that back and shine a light on some of the positive traits it gives you.
How much of it is based on your own experiences?
All of it! It’s an autobiographical story about my own experience with ADHD and being faced with a diagnosis. A few years ago I took myself to the doctors after I couldn’t hide anymore as I wasn’t ok. I talk about the symptoms and we creatively explore how they manifest, and what it’s like for me now.
Each performance is different; there are sections which change each time depending on the response from audience members, and I’m really honest about what I’m feeling that day. It’s hard opening yourself up like that, but it’s not a historical account, it’s about the here and now.
Why did you decide to make Declaration?
When I was faced with the label of ADHD, I looked for others like me and there was a distinct lack of representation. There is still a huge amount of misunderstanding and misinformation about ADHD. There is such a lack of visibility of women with ADHD, and the diagnosis rates are shockingly low in comparison to men and boys; meaning a lot of women and girls go so much longer undiagnosed.
At Art with Heart, Rachel and I make work which challenges audiences and instigates change. We wanted to make something which challenges society’s preconceptions and pushes for progress in understanding. We wanted to create a sense of community and boost honest conversations, not only about ADHD but about mental health labels, struggles and highlight how important it is to be able to reach out for help.
As I was going through the process of seeking a diagnosis, The Lowry announced a scratch night with the theme of ‘here and now’. It was perfect timing, and the rest, as they say, is history!
How is it different to your previous shows?
Our work always has the audience at the centre of it, and Declaration is no different. Even though it looks at the world through my experience we always consider and question how useful it is to audiences – they should be actively engaged, not just a sounding board.
I’ve always made a mix of theatre genres: contemporary, traditional, live art, storytelling, stand up… but what links them all is that they were the best genre for that story. I think that’s such an important decision when you have a story – what is the best medium to tell it in?
Even from the initial ideas we knew that Declaration would be contemporary in form. We wanted it to be a communal experience, something which is shaped by interaction with audience members. I’ve made work like that before, but it’s never stemmed from my own personal story, so this feels very, very different. I feel more vulnerable performing it, but I also feel stronger for being able to share it.
Why is it important people understand adult ADHD?
I love that you’ve asked that! It’s so important. I think if I’d had understood adult ADHD I could have avoided years of feeling lost.
We wanted to challenge the stereotypical image of a small boy tearing around a supermarket by highlighting that sometimes it’s a woman in her 30s struggling to get to work. There are some times when I talk about ADHD where people have questioned it (some with their facial expressions, others verbally) with – ‘but, you can’t have it, you’re not [insert stereotype about not running around and being able to stand still], which is really frustrating. It’s also important for people not to just see a label and judge what they think I need rather than asking.
ADHD is your worst enemy and best friend, but we often only see the negative aspects of ADHD. Without shying away from them, we also wanted to highlight the positive traits and give a joyous, riotous, respected nod to all of us square pegs who, no matter how hard society tries, are never going to fit in that standard round hole.
We’re hoping everyone that comes will feel like they are now part of a collective who not only know a little bit more about ADHD, but also feel a little more comfortable and proud in their own skin.
How will you keep yourself motivated when you are out on tour?
I’ll be honest, on some days it’ll be tough. I’m going to be continuously meeting a room full of new people and telling them things I’ve kept hidden for a long time. Even though that might be hard, it’s important. I’m privileged to be in a position where I can tell my story, I have the confidence and support around me, and a platform to tell it, so I think that will keep propelling me forward.
A big part of my motivation will be the audience and sharing an experience with them. Declaration isn’t historical or retrospective, it’s about my ongoing situation, and I feel committed to supporting others who may feel isolated, misunderstood and vulnerable, just like I did – that will keep me packing my bag and continuing on.
I also really look forward to it! It’s a lovely, warm, welcoming, collaborative production to perform. The set is like a warm inviting den with things from my life on washing lines. It feels homely and because it’s set in the round, it feels, from the very start like we’re all in it together, and I love that.
Is it lonely doing a one-person show? How do you combat that?
I might be the only person performing, but I’m certainly not alone on tour. There are four of us on the road; co-maker Rachel, our Technical Production Manager Rob/Aileen and Steph our Mental Health Support Worker who will be running our Wellbeing Room for audiences, and supporting me too. We have such a wonderful and supportive team on the road, I don’t think I’ll ever feel lonely.
We’ve got some days off to explore too, so if you’re from or live in any of the towns we’re touring to, send us some tips of what to see and do! Oh, and come and see Declaration, obviously.
I’m honestly so excited to get Declaration on the road – it’s going to be bright, bold and bouncy and I can’t wait to share it with people!