Q & A with Jemma Kahn

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Over a crunchy pear in our offices, Cue chatted to the creative visionary behind the Festival hit We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants, which uses the ancient Japanese art of kamishibai (paper theatre) to tell seven wickedly wonderful stories.

How did Croissants come about?
With the success of The Epicene Butcher, I thought there was probably juice in that format for another round. It’s basically just the opportunity to play with so many different people – writers and illustrator. It was time to make another show – I was done with the Butcher.

Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo perform in a dress rehearsal for ‘We Didn’t Come To Hell For The Croissants: & Deadly New Stories For Consenting Adults’ at the St Andrew Studio 2, Grahamstown, 1 July 2015, before the 2015 National Arts Festival. POPArt productions in association with Jemma Kahn features immoral stories in an anticipated sequel to The Epicene Butcher. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.
Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo perform in a dress rehearsal for ‘We Didn’t Come To Hell For The Croissants: & Deadly New Stories For Consenting Adults’ at the St Andrew Studio 2, Grahamstown, 1 July 2015, before the 2015 National Arts Festival. POPArt productions in association with Jemma Kahn features immoral stories in an anticipated sequel to The Epicene Butcher. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

All Butchered out?
Ja, although I do love that show very much.

What’s the greatest challenge facing young theatremakers such as yourself in South Africa?
It’s money. To make something really good, you need to pay people properly and you need time to make it really beautiful.

What do you love and what do you hate most about your job?
I studied fine art and drama, and so the illustrating is very pleasurable for me because it’s kind of controlled, and very solitary; you get a feeling of adeptness when you sit and draw and solve problems and make nice things. And, in the performance, you get a very different kind of satisfaction, but it still is this thing of doing something that you know how to do. This process [the play] has been so divine because I’ve had such wonderful people, a real team: a photographer to do the poster, graphic designers and producers – POPArt Productions.

Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or an introvert?
Extrovert. But I think no one is at their best with lots of people – I really like just talking to one person at a time. So The Long Table I find absolutely horrifying.

What do you dislike most about yourself?
Fuck, I don’t know. What do you dislike most about yourself?

Um, my OCD, probably.
I’ve also got that. It’s good and bad, right? I like keeping my space very clean, but I get very up-tight – like, in the show, Roberto [Pombo] operates the box sometimes – and he touches the stories – and even on stage I’m going, “Don’t touch my things, don’t touch my things!” But a friend of mine, John [Trengrove], who directed Epicene Butcher, said to me that eventually you realise that you’re not going to fix your flaws – just leave them, you know, and it’s fine.

What’s your favourite story in Croissants, and is it the same as your favourite sin?
It’s such a kitschy thing to say but I do like all the stories. All the stories are quite new to me, because I hope to do the show a lot and then they’ll keep cracking open.

Where’s the best place to buy croissants?
I don’t really like croissants that much.

I suppose that’s not why you went to hell, is it?
No. Good pastries, well… When I was in Venice earlier this year –

For the Biennale, darling?
Yes, at the Biennale, darling, there was this amazing little patisserie across the canal from where I was staying – you could get either a dark chocolate and pear croissant or a ricotta and orange croissant. They were very delicious.

Does anyone confuse you with Jemima?
Jemima Khan? Yes, I met a friend’s grandmother who still thinks I am Jemima Khan. But I don’t look like Jemima Khan. And still if you Google – because, you know, I Google myself four or five times day – it still says, “Did you mean Jemima Khan?” So, I want to get famous enough where it says, no, this is Jemma Kahn. People misspell the surname all the time, and I just think that’s fucking sloppy.

After the story you wrote about a girl kicked out of the house because she’s gay, I wondered, are you a lesbian?
No, I’m not, but very queer-friendly.

That’s so Grahamstown.
Fuck off! Ha-ha!

Describe the NAF in five swearwords.
This is a trap – I’m going to bite the hand that feeds me. I earn my living for a large chunk of the year here – which is amazing, and terrifying.

Are you having sex with Roberto?
Yes.

Do you want to slap me yet? Because I’d quite like you to.
Sure thing, but can Rob watch?

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