A friend of mine has recently started teaching a group of drama students, and asked the question – what advice would you give them, from what you know now? I always laugh when people ask me questions like it, because it implies I am some kind of wise sage that knows exactly what they’re doing all the time. Truth is, as it is for many of us, no one knows what’s in store for them when they wake up that morning. And waking up the morning of the first day of rehearsals for As You Like It, I remember the absolute nerve wracking anxiety that ran through me. Honestly. I had just had Covid19, alongside an almost comical string of ill fortuned life events, resulting in long term physical and mental health issues I will be managing for the rest of my life. How am I going to do this?

EM Williams in rehearsals AS YOU LIKE IT
EM in rehearsals for As You Like It

Funny thing about humans I think, especially in a capitalist structure, we are so self centered aren’t we? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. We think it’s all about us, that the entire world rests on our shoulders, and if we mess up, everything will crumble. From the moment I stepped into the rehearsal room, and for so many other occasions throughout our time together so far, I have been reminded that we are creatures of community. We thrive in connection and in communication with each other. If you close that communication down, what is left? Nothing. Just people staring at each other, wondering what the other is thinking. What a waste of time!


EM as Rosalind in As You Like It


Throughout this production, and for so many others in my life I have rediscovered what it is that drew me to theatre as a “yout” back at the Castle Youth Theatre, Wellingborough (when my ma took me to the older kids group by accident cos it was the only night we could make it work). Opening my scared little heart, finding more pathways into authentic, bold, expressive and vulnerable communication, not only with others, but with yourself. Putting yourself into other people’s shoes literally and figuratively, in the hopes that you will find sanctuary in them and them in you. The truth. And being able to show that truth, to people who are there with you, and want to watch and share that with you. I never thought I’d be an actor, but I always knew I needed to do work in places where this magic happened.


EM as Rosalind in As You Like It

I was supposed to have my New Vic Debut in 2019, when Theresa Heskins was about to put on an adaptation of Angela Carter’s Company of Wolves. I was so excited, I trained and trained to be ready, but Covid had other plans (one day we’ll be back wolfpack!). Recovering from Covid, before this rehearsal process? I did what I could. But all I could really do was rest to make sure my mind and body were in a place to receive and give. I cannot express how much pride I have in this company, in the ambition of this piece and the work we have all put in, and the gratitude of portraying such a role as my authentic self. The permission to ‘go there’ has not only been welcomed, but nurtured, and honestly, I have never seen a Shakespeare production quite like it. As this industry goes through possibly its most transitional phase in certainly my living memory, these permissive, authentic spaces are certainly as I like it.

And, I hope, As You Like It, too.

by EM Williams (Rosalind in As You Like It)