Ameera Conrad describes herself in her twitter bio as ‘Cocky AF’, an upfront clue to her way of engaging with the world. She studied drama at UCT during #FeesMustFall, and she co-curated, co-wrote, and performed in The Fall, a play which tells the story of the struggle of a group of students during that time. The play has resonated deeply with audiences both here and abroad.
Marie Claire identified Ameera as one of the bold, disruptive women honoured in our Badass Women April issue. We asked Ameera about what made her into a badass, how she accesses her superpowers and whether it ever just gets a little tiring…
What were the circumstances that influenced or shaped your character? How did you become such a badass?
‘I think my parents and my family are the main sources of my badass-ery. I grew up in a big and close-knit family – both of my folks have three sisters each, and all of my aunties are loud as hell. So it means that when you want to say something or be heard you have to command attention, you have to speak up, you have to own your voice and space. I reckon that’s what’s really been the catalyst for me. My dad is a cricket coach too, so I was raised half in my parents’ home, and half on the cricket fields – there’s a certain boldness that comes from being surrounded by adult sportsmen your entire life. My friends are also the ultimate hype-women. I have this really close group of women who I’ve known since high school – we are all working or studying in different sectors, but we all support one another unconditionally. That doesn’t mean we don’t check one another when we’re being problematic, because we definitely do!’
Was there a particular moment when you first felt different?
‘I don’t know if there was a specific moment. I think it’s a collection of moments that build up to finally feeling like; “Yes I can do anything.” I think the first moment that I knew that my life was going to be dedicated to the arts was in Grade 11 when I did the Shakespeare Schools Festival at Wynberg Boys’ High School. We did Macbeth, and I played Lady Macbeth. That performance solidified for me that I was supposed to be on stage; so, my teacher (Kseniya Filinova-Bruton) and I convinced my parents to allow me to forego becoming an engineer to at least give this arts thing a try. And I am so glad that we did. I could never have been an engineer.’
Does your frankness get you into trouble?
‘Sometimes! But I think that’s part and parcel of owning your voice. I am unapologetic in the way that I present myself and I think that for some people it’s a bit of a shock because they think that a young woman of colour should act a certain way until you earn that attitude. I don’t necessarily agree. You should obviously come into a space aware of what the dynamics of the space are, and not be arrogant, but I also fully believe that you should know your worth and not settle for less. When you settle for less you set a precedent. I’m aware that I have a certain knowledge base and skills base that allows me to own my space in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to a couple years ago.’
When do you feel most vulnerable, and what are your fears?
‘I’m most vulnerable around my period. (I’m not going to lie and try to find some sort of fake-deep answer to that.) As people in the arts, our currency is emotions so I’m very in touch with mine, and I’m pretty good at controlling them. But around the time of the Great Red Flow I feel more likely to let my emotions run the show instead of letting my mind do it. This sometimes means I get some really beautiful work done, but it also means that I’m likely to be scrolling through videos of babies and crying. I don’t know, hey, it’s a fine line I walk on.
‘I’m actually afraid of a lot of things, to be honest. I’m afraid of losing myself in all of the other stuff. I pride myself on being level-headed and down to Earth in that I don’t get swept away by the hype. It helps that whenever I’m back home, I go to my mother’s house where I’m nothing more and nothing less than her daughter, who kind of reminds everyone of her when she was younger.’
How do you access your superpowers? Do you have particular clothing or rituals or music that put you in ‘badass mode’?
‘I go directly to Instagram and I look at the women who inspire me from all around the world; my friends, family or any of the amazing people of colour who are currently working towards making this industry more inclusive and shaking things up. When I look at the company I’m in, I get double-inspired to just be better and work harder and make more of my day. Rihanna has the same number of hours in the day as I do, so why waste them?’
Does it ever get tiring?
‘Oh I’m in a constant state of exhaustion. But I’d rather be exhausted than be complacent.’
What have been your biggest challenges in getting to where you are now with your work?
‘Funding is always a challenge for most artists who do this as their primary source of income. I want to write more, but it’s difficult to focus on being a writer when you have to work on other projects to fund your writing-time. I don’t get to really focus on finishing one project properly; I’m always working on five million things at once.’
And lastly, is there a book that changed your life? What is it?
‘The Harry Potter series. I’m a complete Harry Potter nut because I think it was the first time that I had seen a bushy haired, big-toothed, bookish little girl as one of the major heroes in a world-famous series of books. I always saw myself as Hermione Granger, even though a lot of people around the world can’t accept that Hermione is definitely a woman of colour, no doubt. I started crying when I got to meet the incomparable Noma Dumezweni (who plays Hermione in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). I also just finished the most amazing book by Reni Eddo-Lodge called Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. It talks about race relations in the UK and it was an absolutely phenomenal read. The next book on my to-read list is Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime – for the culture mos.’
Ameera’s earlier work Reparation is a satirical look at how the debt of apartheid could be repaid to black South Africans. Ameera Conrad was the youngest recipient of the Theatre Arts Admin Collective Emerging Theatre Director’s Bursary in 2016, and The Fall received an honourary Encore Fleur du Cap award in 2017, and has won multiple international awards since.