Actor, writer and director Emily Feltham is determined to create a space where individuals feel seen and known through the power of storytelling. Growing up, she loved performing but didn’t see people who looked like her on stage. Here, she explains her understanding of church as a ‘sanctuary’ for those who are marginalised and hurting, and how gospel performances can invite everyone to see their place in Jesus’ story.

Emily, 33, has a huge sense of FOMO and wants to join in every interesting conversation she overhears around her. Friends might even joke that she has an opinion on everything, and that those opinions are liable to change, but Emily says she just loves other people and is curious about exploring their point of view. 

Born and raised in Bristol, she lives with husband Joseph, and says she loves the town’s friendly, creative feel – scruffy and authentic.” 

As a child, Emily’s mum took her to Sunday church. At seven, she got baptised because she 


loved Jesus and it was the obvious thing to do!” but it was a year later, on a Christian camp, that she says she decided to take responsibility for her own relationship with Jesus. That year, Emily’s mum married her stepdad, and she gained two older stepbrothers. 

Being mixed race but raised by white parents, Emily felt she had one foot in one camp and one in the other” when it came to her identity, and didn’t get to experience both cultures. And, even though she performed confidently and could make the audience laugh in her school play, as a teenager she was discouraged by the fact that she only saw English rose-type actresses up on stage. You grow up with these unconscious ideas,” she explains, I used to go to the theatre, and internalise the idea that in Shakespeare plays… there weren’t any mixed race or Black people.” 

These experiences have made her really deliberate about seeking stories that examine a sense of identity. I’m interested in the people who get glanced over in the Bible, like Hagar… God’s goodness, and promises [to her], saying, I see you.’

Emily in Faultlines, domestic abuse play and workshop (Heart Behind the Art)

Emily dreamt of becoming an actor, but was warned not to, because unemployment was high at the time. So, she studied English at Oxford, then trained in museum curation in Exeter, working with global indigenous art.

While in Exeter in 2016, Emily’s stepbrother Paul died unexpectedly. She has also lost her brother Mark, who died in 2005.

In 2016, she recalls a community church service about grief where she had a tangible experience of who God is – He reaches out with love and comfort in the most difficult times.” She believes church can be a sanctuary, a place people can feel held and comforted – something she understands deeply.

Emily believes theatre can have an intermediary role between church and community and now works for Saltmine Trust, a Christian charity and theatre company which visits churches, putting on affordable performances which she says gives people from outside the church a fun, positive experience in a church building.”

One example was her take on Rapunzel which she wrote and starred in: Rapunzel had curly afro hair, it’s described as out of control, frizzy and wild. She’s struggling, feeling like she had to conform – based in my own experiences… The message was, you are a masterpiece!”

"Emily believes theatre can have an intermediary role between church and community."

After a performance in a church with many global majority, Black and Asian people, little girls came up for photos with her because they were so excited! Church should be a safe space where people come as they are, feel able to share and be accepted,” Emily says. 

I draw inspiration from stories of people who weren’t hugely impactful, didn’t have a huge audience, just identified one little thing that was an injustice in their community, and they collected themselves and decided to address that problem.” 

We sometimes completely underestimate the impact of what pursuing justice does in the world,” she reflects. It makes people sit up and take notice. I’m inspired by seeing the ripple effect that has in the world.” 

Whenever [Jesus] shares a story, He’s getting people to engage with it in a different way than when He’s preaching or sharing it directly… And that’s what I want to achieve with theatre.” 

Emily in Saltmine Passion Play as Mary Magdelene (Heart Behind the Art)

The whole [writing] process is a real act of worship; worshipping in spirit and truth. Often, I get faced with a project and I think I don’t have the capacity, I don’t know if I can do it.”

But the Holy Spirit helps her find a way through, she says. I have direct access to the Creator of the whole universe… we have the ability to tap into a creative source that’s hugely beyond anything we can create on our own. I can very quickly picture the characters talking, what they do and who they are. The Holy Spirit gives me ideas, I’ll be asleep and things come into my head.”

As an actor, one of her favourite verses is John 14:26. The Holy Spirit will bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

He is present during her performances too, she shares. I always felt this shiver when you connect with someone in the audience and you think this is the right person to hear this right now, there is something in God’s Spirit that is connecting what I am saying to you.”

With that in mind, Emily senses a need to be a bit selective in what projects she takes on in her career. She seeks out material with purpose” – projects she thinks are life-giving” and share difficult stories that need to be heard, even if they’re not always nice” stories. If you’re telling a story that’s going to have a positive impact on the world, that’s where my interest as a Christian lies,” she explains.

"The Holy Spirit gives me ideas, I’ll be asleep and things come into my head...”"

For the last two years, Saltmine has produced a Passion Play’, an ambitious” retelling of the gospel story in city centres with a community cast of 80 – 90 people, using a contemporary script and costumes, lots of music (for example, Samba music for Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem!) and local dialect.

Emily feels that helping the community cast to overcome their reluctance to act out the mocking and jeering of Jesus can actually help them to be moved with compassion by Jesus’ story. That would have been me [shouting crucify’] because I didn’t know any better… A Christian actor’s challenge is, you have to engage with those moments of tension and be really vulnerable about your position in the story and access truths that perhaps you don’t want to have to think about too much.”

I think there is a real curiosity for what Jesus is about and who Jesus is,” Emily explains. When we go on the streets like that… it arouses a whole lot of curiosity for people shopping or out for the day. They see a story and they want to know more about it.”

Find out more about the Saltmine Trust at Salt​mineTrust​.org​.uk

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