Amy Louise Wilson was announced as the winner of the 2020 Distell National Playwright Competition at an awards ceremony in Stellenbosch on Friday 31 January.
The competition aims to discover and foster new South African voices while also promoting diversity and social cohesion. It was founded in honour of Adam and Rosalie Small, whose work in literature and education formed a rich contribution to South African culture.
In addition to winning a cash prize of R25 000, Wilson’s script – titled Another Kind of Dying – will be developed for staging at the National Arts Festival in June. She will receive the full support of the Festival team in creating, producing and marketing the finished piece.
This year’s other finalists – Tseko Thukani, Happy Gladness Simelane, Tamarisk-Ray Glogauer, and Philiswe Twijnstra – also received mentoring in bringing their scripts to completion as well as a R5 000 cash prize. Koleka Putuma, the 2019 winner for her play No Easter Sunday for Queers, performed at the event.
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Speaking after the announcement, Wilson said, “I’m amazed! This achievement is really meaningful for me as a first-time playwright. 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. My script was written with performer Aphiwe Livi, one of the most incredible actors I’ve ever worked with, in mind. The story is inspired by a recurring dream I kept having, featuring Aphiwe, although the story is not about him or his life.
“The story is about 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 South African 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 South Africa. It’s a play about a man who is able to find himself and find joy because he is in a new environment.”
Wilson thanked Distell and the National Arts Festival “for creating this opportunity for playwrights who might not otherwise have an opportunity to produce their work”.
Wilson worked with translator Livi on the script and was mentored through her scriptwriting process by playwright and director Mike van Graan.
Nobesuthu Rayi, the Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival and facilitator of the competition said the standard of entries was particularly high this year and that it had been tough to pick just one winner. “I would like to really encourage the other entrants to go ahead and take their scripts to the next level. Some of the finalists from last year did that to much critical acclaim, such as Morapeleng Molekoa, whose play Scott was performed at Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Cape Town and is now headed to the National Arts Festival’s 2020 Fringe. Another 2019 finalist, Erica Harris, is bringing her play Medium Rare to Woordfees in March. This is what the competition intends to do: get these new scriptwriters writing! It’s exciting to see it all unfold.”
Bridgitte Backman, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Director at Distell, said: “At Distell, we place a high value on supporting arts initiatives that showcase our country’s rich heritage and diversity, thereby, we believe, building a more inspired and creative society. This is central to our business journey and societal commitment. We are so excited for Amy Louise, but also for the other playwrights whose works were all very impressive. This talented young bunch of writers deserves recognition and a suitable platform for expression and further creative, strategic and functional growth and development. They’ve proven themselves, and we’ll do our utmost to support them in their respective journeys.”
Wilson’s script marks a new direction for the Cape Town-based performer. Since graduating from Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town with an Honours Degree in Drama, she has appeared in numerous local and international film, television and theatre productions. Notable credits include Fox’s The Book of Negroes and the Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City. Her acting credits include a role in 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, together with Francois Knoetze, she co-founded the Lo-Def Film Factory, a pop-up experimental community cinema initiative.
Entries to the Distell National Playwright Competition underwent a rigorous judging process. There were 22 judges over two rounds. The first round was divided into four language groupings, with each language group having a chairperson and two supporting judges. All the judges were given the works to review without the writer’s names attached.
On motivating for Wilson’s script to take first place, poet and judge Malika Ndlovu said: “Issues of substantial gravity and complexity are not all crammed into the first few pages or erratically touched on. The script manages to capture the essence of the matters within short, effective scenes and dialogue maintaining a pace and tension that would keep an audience engaged throughout – especially with a great cast bringing it to life.”
Theatre producer and fellow judge Yvette Hardie commented: “The structure is fast-moving and intriguing, without being confusing. and the ending has the power to be transcendent and hopeful.”
Actor and director Ameera Patel, who was also a final-round judge, said: “It is rare to find a young writer who is able to write natural easy dialogue that feels conversational and real and then move into poetry and metaphor with as much skill. The characters feel believable and well-rounded.”
The first round of adjudication was undertaken by Mike Van Graan, Tara Notcutt, Khutjo Green, Sonwabile Mfecane, Clavin Ratladi, Nondumiso Msimaga, Warona Seane, Robert Lourens, Sello Maseko, Alby Michaels and Penny Youngleson.
The panel of judges for the last-round comprised Ameera Patel, Prof Anton Kruger, Chuma Sopotela, Jade Bowers, Malika Ndlovu, Nompumezo Buzani, Thami Mbongo, Xabiso Zweni, Xolisa Ngubelanga and Yvette Hardie.
- The 46th National Arts Festival takes place from 25 June to 5 July 2020.