HOW DO you follow the hit status of a show like The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults, especially if it was also your first?
“You choose a title with fewer words,” says Jemma Kahn who knows she nailed her first entry into the world of theatre. She’s not joking. Amateur Hour is her new effort and this time she teamed with writer Gwydion Beynon, director John Trengrove and actor Glen Biderman Pam.
They started a few months back in Cape Town with a play titled The Theatre of Death and this evolved to where they’re now with Amateur Hour.
Part of where Kahn’s head is at has to do with her international travels with the hugely successful Epicene Butcher. “I saw so many shows while travelling,” she says. It’s been inspiring and it allowed her to look at her craft with fresh eyes and huge enthusiasm. “I don’t want to make art that’s already out there. What’s the point?”
And that’s partly where Amateur Hour comes from. With Epicene Butcher as the reference point, it’s clear that she comes from a wacky place. It’s not going to be storytelling 101 with a, “Once upon a time…” intro.
But she might also play with your head and do exactly that.
As the title suggests it is perhaps about people who shouldn’t be on stage but are. “I hate it when people start talking about high art,” says Kahn. Just differentiating between shows and placing some on a higher level gets her squirming.
“We should all be out there trying to do our thing and if that’s what you want, go for it. That’s what she admires most, those who really shouldn’t be performing but are. “That’s so brave,” she says as she has her own brave moment right at the start of Amateur Hour in which she completely destroys her previous success.
But let’s not spoil anything for those who are still going to watch.
Benyon notes that he’s writing for people with short attention spans. “I shouldn’t say this, I know, but I often get bored in conventional theatre.”
That’s also why the blurb explaining this new show, underlines that it is something for the YouTube Generation. So when you’re watching, there’s a youthful energy, an innocence, a devil-may-care attitude as well as an irreverence which was so much part of why Epicene Butcher had such charm. It’s about having fun.
Experimental is the word Kahn is probably most attached to. She started out as a fine artist, which is why her design strengths are as strong as her acting and improv abilities. As the designer for Young Artist Award Winner: Theatre, Greg Homan’s Oedipus @ Koõ-nu!, she says these are gloriously out there but then she enjoys playing the field a little and in today’s theatrical land- scape, most people have to have multiple strings to their bow. “It’s about jumping in and failing even bigger,” she argues.
“If you don’t stretch those boundaries,” is the motto with which she approachesthe stage. “Theatre isn’t always fun,” she explains and that’s another of her goals. “You have to do it well, but it should be fun,” and she means for the actors and the audience. “It’s not about who’s making real theatre,” she says.
And she knows. She has been drawing them in for more than 250 shows for Epicene Butcher and it’s still going strong with yet a final run at Grahamstown this year.
That’s her thing. She’s working all the angles and hoping that for everyone it will be lift-off. And while this first-ever performance wasn’t quite there yet, and it couldn’t be, I know they will be talking and listening and playing around until they have a real rumble. That’s who Kahn and her troupe of artists are.
Catch them at the National Arts Festival if you’re going or on the regular theatre circuit where After Hours is sure to show up.