Ann Juries-May is an actress, presenter and voiceover artist who is currently starring as Claudia Cupido on KykNet en KIE’s telenovela, Arendsvlei. In 2018, she starred in Tara Notcutt’s historic production of The Taming of the Shrew at Maynardville, which resulted in her Fleur du Cap Theatre Award nomination for her performance. On screen, she was recently seen in a Showmax crime series, Die Byl and stars in the highly anticipated Afrikaans Feature film ‘n Ander Mens, which will be released later this year. Her theatrical career has seen her collaborate with The Magnet Theatre Clanwilliam Arts Project, The McGregor Youth Arts Project and arepp: Theatre for Life. In 2014, Ann moved to Vietnam, where she dedicated her time to studying the martial arts form of Vovinam. She is also a founding member of the Hai Phong Youth Theatre, where she held weekly drama and movement workshops. Returning to South Africa in 2016, she is also a seasoned voiceover artist. Her work includes radio and television commercials, animation and public service announcements.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I think the arts found me. When I was a little child, the adults around me noticed that I liked performance and then when I got older, I think telling stories started to become my inspiration. I think that’s mainly why I pursued the career because I like telling stories.
You did your training at UCT. What was your time there like?
It was a life-enriching, amazing time for me. I loved every minute. It was dark sometimes and I had lots of challenges but in retrospect, it was four years of my life that I feel was extremely valuable and it’s definitely something that I value a lot. I loved it. I felt like I grew there. I learned how to think analytically, how to express myself through the voice, the body and even academically in writing. My lecturers became my lifeline and also part of my network now. I have life long colleagues that I met there who I respect and am now working with. UCT was amazing.
During your time at UCT, you were awarded a bilingual class medal. Did you always want to be a bilingual performer?
At Stellenberg High, when you are in Grade 10, all your classes are 50/50. The teacher teaches the class in English and in Afrikaans. That was kind of a no-brainer when I went to UCT and they gave an option to do your degree bilingual and I just did it like that. I think it was a shock when I got into the industry because I didn’t actually realise how much Afrikaans work was out there. That’s when I really decided, “I’ve got the skill, I’ve been working with incredible teachers.” That’s kind of how that happened.
Do you find it to be quite advantageous to be able to work within both languages?
Absolutely. I’m trying to not limit myself to just English and Afrikaans. I try and pick up as many languages as I can but I think in terms of communicating and being able to express your art, I’ve been open to a lot more platforms because of the two different languages. I’m on Television in Afrikaans but I just did a Shakespeare play in English. I think that is really beneficial for an actor in terms of keeping all those muscles alive and keeping in touch with how vast this medium and this craft actually is. You can work across all kinds of platforms and the fact that you can actually grow by something so simple like learning another skill, which another language actually is, is absolutely beneficial.
I was so surprised to learn that you are an avid martial arts fan and that you have extensive training in it. How did that come about?
I think part of it was the decision of wanting to be an interesting actor. It’s a very superficial thought. I felt like martial arts would just be something unexpected and that’s part of why I did it. But also, I was using public transport throughout travelling and I always had these anxieties and fears of, “What would I do?” It’s not that I would be able to fight but just feeling that power of knowing I can either get out of the situation or I can defend myself, was a big reason for why I wanted to do martial arts.
Do you feel like it lends itself to your acting career at all?
Absolutely. I’ve had a few auditions for a role where a woman has to fight and one of them was quite a big one. It’s definitely benefitted me as an actor. With martial arts, it’s a culture. I did it for very superficial reasons and then it became part of my life and the teachings and the disciplines and patience have been useful. All of those things started to seep into my life. When it comes to learning lines, I don’t struggle with that and with setting goals and achieving them one step at a time because in order to learn how to do a kick, you need to do it a thousand times. When you have that understanding, it definitely helps. And then resilience, I’ve been punched, I’ve been kicked and as an actor, you face rejection. It’s part and parcel of it and I think I’ve learned how to take a few punches with grace and poise.
Do you plan on taking your martial arts training further?
Absolutely. It’s a practice now. It’s a part of life. It’s kind of like yoga. It’s something you’ve got to do every day. You forget, you get rusty, you get slow but it also helps with breathing through life, being present and enjoying every moment. I actually haven’t had a fight in my life. I had one competitive fight but generally, I’ve not needed to fight.
My first encounter with your work was when you did The Taming of the Shrew. What was that experience like?
It was life-changing. It was definitely a career highlight for me. I remember being at school and going to see Romeo and Juliet. I was in Grade 11 and the teacher was like, “Write a summary of what you thought of the play.” The next day, I got to school and I had a four-page breakdown of what I thought about the characters, the costumes, the stage. I was in awe. That was my first experience. To be on that stage again, I thought about young Andrea and was like, “Girl, you are on the stage that you were watching and dreaming of.” I don’t even think I expected it. Working with Tara [Notcutt], the concept was so fun and just understanding Grumio, working with Dara [Beth] as well on the puppet, that was also extending my craft to another level. I had never actually done that and she really drilled me physically. The cast! It’s kind of like you had to be there. We had our thing and it was precious and it was beautiful and as women, we got to unpack men and their psychology and we did research and we spent hours chatting and making fun. We had fake penises that we made with condoms. I think it was actually a brother’s bond among women. The whole process made me more aware of being inclusive and understanding conversations around sexuality and all the things that I think are taboo and I feel like this performance was a wonderful opportunity to actually be inclusive. There was a place for every kind of man or woman in that and on that stage. It was amazing.
The audition process for that show has become quite infamous for being untraditional. I’d love to hear about your experience.
It was nerve-wracking because everyone could watch each other and you know when you are auditioning, you are vulnerable because you are selling yourself and saying, “This is the product. Buy it!” But at the same time, because everyone had that same energy and that same feeling, we all enjoyed each other’s auditions and it was extremely playful. We had to sing a song and do a piece and it was 90’s pop music so everything was confusing because we didn’t know the whole concept but because of that, there was a lot of space for play. We got to collaborate with new actors. I worked with someone I didn’t know before in that audition and that is a bonding experience. It was great fun.
You then went on to be nominated for a Fleur du Cap theatre award for your performance. How did it feel to receive that nomination?
I didn’t even think I was on anyone’s radar. I was so grateful to be part of the project and to be on that stage being a support. It was an honour to be recognised and seen amongst my peers. That made me feel really good and validated in some way about existing in this space as an actor. On the other hand, this role was quite a challenge for me because I decided to play in my coloured dialect. It was a very strong choice. Initially, I didn’t know much about Grumio and his psychology. I hadn’t gone into it a lot. As we were working on the character, I started doubting that choice. Working with Sarah Woodward, who was our voice coach, she was like, “Stick with it. Your gut was right. You can pull this off. Let’s find this sound because it will mean something to people.” We worked with a school and a bunch of young coloured women, who I don’t think expected that this was even going to happen, they saw me amongst the cast and afterwards, they came up to me and said, “We had no idea that we could be reading in our thoughts in our own voices. We are putting on these sounds.” In that way, it was really amazing that people felt represented, that they felt that they could use their own dialect and take Shakespeare and not feel alienated from it. But then, on the other hand, because he was a jester and he was of low status, there was a lot of political things and because of the past in this particular country, I had internal conflicts of, “What am I representing?” He was the only character who spoke like that. It was a very dodgy choice and I didn’t really always feel 100% and I was hoping that I wasn’t perpetuating a stereotype and in some way, the cast assisted me. I remember having a conversation with Buhle [Ngaba] and she was like, “Find the dignity and it’ll be fine and the story will be told.” That was the switch for me. When I got the nomination, I had all these feelings that I wasn’t sure of and I hope the message was clear and that my intentions and the character was received with that dignity and love and not just as this funny jester. The feedback I received from people has been really great and reassuring.
You are currently starring on TV in Arendsvlei. What was it that originally attracted you to the show?
The fact that it was an all-coloured cast and when I saw the brief, there were so many different levels of representation within that culture. You had the gangster but you also have the powerhouse, you have the strong educated woman, you have the weak woman, you have the cheaters, the lovers and I, as a young girl watching Oprah on TV and Denise Newman and Lee-Ann [van Rooi] and them, I was always yearning for that. When I realised that this has never happened before and I am being invited to be part of this, it really was incredible. That was the thing for me. It’s been time and I’m really excited about it.
I’m not sure if people know this but you star alongside so many fellow theatre veterans on the show…
My mother on the show is Crystal-Donna Roberts! When I saw the cast list, I went, “Oh my gosh!” Crystal messaged me and then Roberto messaged me and we were messaging each other being like, “We can’t believe it! We are going to be working together.” Being on set with Oscar Petersen, that is someone that every young coloured actor has dreamed of meeting. The epitome of characterisation. Working with David Isaacs as well and Jody Abrahams and Rehane [Abrahams], who is such a force in the theatre and in the world! It’s really like the creme de la creme. It’s an acting masterclass every day on that set.
How do you manage to still stay inspired while you are playing a long-running character?
I think our writers are quite brilliant. The writing team is constantly coming up with things and it’s always shocking even for us who are playing the characters. I find that my skills are really developing. On the first day when I walked in, I was a bit nervous about hitting the mark or being too big with my theatrical history and now, nine months in, I’m excited about the fact that I don’t have those anxieties anymore and that I feel like I can attack a scene and voice my opinion. I think what inspires me every day is the team that I get to work with. The crew is incredible. Those scenes where you feel like, “Can I go there? Am I going to nail it? What’s going to happen?” You walk out and you feel like you’ve done yourself proud and you’ve told the story. Then there is also that process of the editing and that’s a whole other team who takes their art and does their thing and then when you see the finished product, there are so many other things involved in making an episode. That’s why it’s easy to stay inspired because it’s a lot of people who are doing their best every day.
Being on a show that has been as well received as Arendsvlei has, has awarded you an incredible platform. What are the issues that you want to use your platform to bring awareness to?
The first one is definitely bullying. Bullying is something that is depicted in our story. A lot of people watching the story often write to me telling me about their experiences and what they go through and I can see it’s a massive need and people are feeling isolated, especially among teenagers. Besides being bullied, they have puberty and life decisions they need to make and they are falling in love. I think being able to navigate that space and that time of your life, is not always easy. Each of us has our own way of getting through that time. For me, anti-bullying awareness but also creating a space where teenagers specifically are able to make choices. Decision making, not necessarily specific about stay in school, don’t do drugs, but problem-solving and being able to problem solve your way through life and it being sustainable and not only being taught when you get to university and are able to think in that way. Something that is really important to me as well is depression amongst teenagers. My character, specifically, is going through her parents being divorced. She is in matric and she makes silly decisions and decides to rebel by sleeping at her boyfriend’s house. That is the age-old story. She is really looking for a pacifier. Often at that age, you are told, “Smile. You are always so sad all the time.” Sadness is an absolutely valid part of the human experience. It’s about navigating and understanding your emotions and then putting one foot forward to working towards feeling better. Those are things that are really important to me.
Is there anything on your career bucket list?
I definitely want to travel. Being an internationally recognised actress is really one of my next goals. I want to play an action hero, like an ass-kicking black chick. I want to be that and of course, I think I would really love to produce or direct at some point. Those are just a few of the acting bucket lists for me.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Buhle Ngaba, Ameera Conrad, Masali Baduza, Kathleen Stephens, Naledi Majola, Kanya Viljoen, Wynne Bredenkamp, Georgia Lahusen, Denise Newman, Rehane Abrahams, Sara Matchett, Dope Saint Jude, Lady Skollie, Dara Beth, Crystal-Donna Roberts and Shariffa Ali. She is all the way in New York at the moment and she is doing her thing there. And Kay Smith. I could go on and on.
Special thanks to Blythe Stuart Linger.
All photos were taken on April 30th 2019 at The Blue Cafe.
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