By Sarah Beningfield
“Do you mind if I smoke?” Ameera Mills asks, as I join her at the picnic table outside the Drama department. She pulls out a box of cigarettes and lights one with a match. The sound of high-pitched singing leaks through the closed doors of the department as a group rehearses inside.
Ameera has just finished her last Sunday morning rehearsal, applying the final touches to her highly anticipated Young Directors Season play, Oleanna. She directed Hana Kelly and Philip Sulter in their starring roles and is ready to show the piece to the world.
Oleanna was written by American playwright David Mamet. It explores the changing relationship between a female student and her professor at a university.
“I’m doing the last act of a full play,” Ameera explains. “I don’t want to tell you exactly what happens, but she accuses him of something, and we as the audience never know if it actually happened, because you never see it.”
Ameera recently directed Void, which enjoyed a highly successful run during the National Arts Festival. Void also had a small cast, but it differed from Oleanna in that it was a devised work.
“[A devised work] is a piece where you’re working with a concept and not a script,” Ameera informs me, sensing my confusion. “You either write it yourself, or you and your cast make a piece. We had an idea and then wrote everything and choreographed everything.”
Oleanna is a scripted piece, and the director and cast work off an already existing script. It is clear that Ameera wants to create work that makes her audiences think. She doesn’t want to give them all of the answers.
“I chose Oleanna because I like working with theatre that doesn’t tell the audience what to think. This play is perfect because it’s all about that idea that you don’t know who’s right. Even at the end. I want to give the audience an opportunity to decide for themselves,” she says. “Nothing is ever simply black and white. There are always two sides to the story.”
Ameera describes how she always wanted to study both art and drama, but eventually decided to settle for just drama, and directing in particular.
“Directing is a good challenge, which is what I enjoy,” she says. “It’s nice to be working with other performers and artists and making something that’s all of yours together. It’s a full work.”
Ameera isn’t sure yet where she sees herself in five years. She knows that she wants to go overseas, but plans to come back to South Africa after she’s explored a bit.
“I want to get as much knowledge from different people as possible,” she says. “I want to see if I can do other courses, learn from different ideas and gather as much as I can before I come back. And then see where that takes me.”
Who are your Top Three favourite directors?
“Tara Notcutt. I love her. And then Rob Murray, he’s from the Drama Department and I love his work. Finally Robert Wilson. He’s very avant-garde and different. It’s not my style, but I love what he does.”
“When people interrupt me. Like when you’re trying to speak and someone interrupts you, and there’s nothing you can do. You just have to sit there. That’s a pet peeve. Undercooked pasta. I hate undercooked pasta. And cold coffee, is that a pet peeve?”
What’s your favourite food?
“Paella, I love paella. And I’m vegetarian, so a vegetarian paella.”
“I really like Blackbird by David Harrower. It’s a very good play. It also deals with that ambiguity. If it makes you think afterwards then that’s definitely something that I like.”
And finally, what is your favourite book?
“Just Kids by Patti Smith.”
You can catch Oleanna and the rest of the Young Directors Season pieces at the Rhodes Drama department between 9 and 12 September.