Amy Jephta is a 27 year old playwright, theatre director, screenwriter and lecturer based in Cape Town. Amy is just one of several South African playwrights’ whose work will be performed as part of the star-studded Children’s Monologues by Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle. ELLE caught up with Amy to find out more about her work.
When did you fall in love with storytelling?
I have strong memories of my parents taking us to Saturday morning children’s theatre shows in the Baxter Theatre foyer, something I would look forward to for weeks in advance. The magic of that made me fall in love with theatre. Every month end, we would also go shopping at what was then called the OK Bazaars store and I would get a new Ladybird book and cassette tape. I had gathered a whole collection of these books and tapes when I was still very young, and could recite the stories from memory even though I couldn’t yet read the words in the books. I think that’s when I started to love storytelling.
Can you tell us about the journey that that led you to become a playwright, writer and director?
I wrote my first play when I was in matric. Until then I had written short scenes and a short 10 minute piece, but matric was my first full length work. I fell in love with theatre, and with the thrill of writing words for live bodies that are speaking and feeling in the moment you’re watching them. From there, I studied Theatre & Performance at UCT for four years and further developed my craft and obsession. I’ve been working professionally ever since.
Tell us about your involvement in Danny Boyle’s Children’s Monologues ? What went through your mind when you got the news that you were going to be part of this project?
It was a lot bigger than I initially thought. When we were approached, I was happy to be part of a project that had a larger social goal. Dramatic Need as a charity does extraordinary work. It was only later we found out who was involved, and that was just the icing on the cake.
Tell us more about working on the LGBTI film While You Weren't Looking. What did you bring to this project?
I was one of three scriptwriters on the project. The film consists of three interweaving stories following LGBTI couples around Cape Town. My storyline followed a gender curious 18 year old discovering her sexuality and falling in love with a girl for the first time. The project was amazing – a steep learning curve, as it was my first screenwriting project – but enriching all the same.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
I think early on it was the struggle of what I was going to do next: where my next job would come from, if I was going to be able to make a living off my art. As the years have passed, I’ve been less stressed about that. I realize that there will always be room for people who are hard-working, passionate and innovative.
What has been the best moment in your career so far?
There have been so many – I keep thinking that one moment is my favourite and it gets surpassed by another. Every opportunity I’ve had to travel to another country has been incredible – the couple of times I got to go to New York were definitely a highlight. Being on set for my first feature film was a thrill. I’ve just been given a large commission to write a new play in 2016, which is the largest production I’ve ever done. I’m always thrilled by every single opportunity.
Are you working on anything with any other artists / creatives that we can look out to in the near future?
I’m part of a group called PlayRiot. We’re a collective of young South African playwrights who support one another’s work. So together we have quite a few interesting projects up our sleeve. My adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage will be on in Cape Town in early 2016, and the team will be assembled shortly. It’s a very exciting project.
What excites you most about being a woman on the continent right now?
Possibility. Being an African female creative is what it’s all about right now. I wouldn’t say we’re ‘trendy’ (because we’ve always been ourselves, even when we weren’t the flavour of the moment), but the world’s eyes are definitely turning towards Africa. There’s still so much untapped talent here.
Image: Helen Murray