Rhodes graduate wins SA playwright competition

MULTI-TALENTED: Actress Amy Louise Wilson is the 2020 Distell National Playwright Competition winner
MULTI-TALENTED: Actress Amy Louise Wilson is the 2020 Distell National Playwright Competition winner Image: SUPPLIED

By Zamandulo Malonde, DispatchLIVE


Almost a decade since walking out of Rhodes University, with her Drama and English degree  in hand, actress and now playwright Amy Louise Wilson is set to return to Makhanda after winning the 2020 Distell National Playwright Competition.

The will see Wilson take her winning script into full production to be staged as part of the Main programme at the National Arts Festival.

The accolade is accompanied by a R20,000 cash prize.

“The award has been a huge boost to my confidence, as someone who has primarily identified as a performer.

“I have been writing for years but this is the first time my work will be professionally produced, and I am so thrilled and excited,” Wilson said.

Her script is the story of a young man from a small town in the Eastern Cape who moves to Johannesburg to try to come to terms with his father’s death and is confronted with a new world in an urban setting, having never lived in a big city before.

“This is a common theme that has come up again and again over the years in SA literature — what does it mean for someone to move from a rural to an urban setting?

“This is what I am trying to explore with this play.

“It’s a play about identity, about what patriarchy dictates, about how masculinity is constructed in SA,” Wilson said.

In the play, which Wilson deems a love letter to the city of Johannesburg, she collaborated with Eastern Cape actor Aphiwe Livi.

She said it was greatly inspired by Peter Abrahams’s novel Mine Boy.

“In my research, while working on this play, I read some of the great SA novels, short stories and poems about the city.

“I worked with [Livi] to get the feeling of Eastern Cape and to translate some of the text into Xhosa,” she said.

For the actress, this is the beginning of a new journey of exploring writing as she has never shared any of her writing with the public.

“I’ve been writing for many years, but have always been too shy to put my written work out into the world as I primarily identify as an actor,” she said.

Wilson has been on various local and international productions including Fox’s The Book of Negroes, Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City and the Fugard Theatre’s The Father and The Mother.

She has been experimenting with creating solo performance, beginning with her living-room performance-lecture Other People’s Homes, which she created in New York in 2019.

“It was a one-person show I wrote and performed.

“Interestingly it is also about home, movement, migration and belonging,” she said.

Last year, Wilson cofounded Lo-Def Film Factory, a pop-up experimental community cinema initiative, with her husband, sculptor and filmmaker Francois Knoetze.

The annual Distell National  Playwright Competition is aimed at discovering emerging SA talent and fostering new voices.

Last year’s competition was won by Port Elizabeth poet Koleka Putuma.

Competition facilitator and executive producer of the National Arts Festival, Nobesuthu Rayi, said the standard of entry was particularly high this year and that it was tough to pick just one winner.

“I would like to really encourage the other contestants to go ahead and take their scripts to the next level.

“Some of the finalists from last year did that to much critical acclaim,” Rayi said.