Sydney-based actor Justin Amankwah was a big winner at the 2018 Sydney Theatre Awards, taking out the prizes for Best Newcomer and Best Male Actor in a Leading Role in an Independent Production for his portrayal of Avery in Outhouse Theatre Company’s The Flick. It’s an impressive achievement for any actor, let alone a 22-year-old making his first appearance on the professional stage (Sydney Morning Herald critic John Shand described Amankwah’s performance as “the most impressive professional stage debut I recall”.)
So, how does Amankwah feel, having received such glowing endorsements of his acting work so early on in his career?
“I think many actors would agree that you never perform for an award, so when it’s given to you, it’s a shock and you learn that your effort is appreciated,” he tells Theatre People.
“In terms of it being so early in my career, it’s a little scary but I can’t complain. It further instils in me that this very risky path that I’ve chosen is achievable and I’ve just got to stay connected to my passion and not lose the art by developing an ego.”
Amankwah is a newcomer to acting, but he describes it as having always been a passion.
“I didn’t have a clue how to go about getting involved,” he explains. “I had a lot of help from my high school drama teacher, Vana Argyris. She really believed in me and that led to me believing in myself. When high school ended, there was nothing I wanted to pursue besides acting, so I decided to go and study. In my third year at acting school, I landed The Flick with Outhouse Theatre Company, and that show has continually opened doors since.”
Currently, Amankwah is appearing in Alice in Slasherland, a horror comedy by Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen. It’s the tale of a teenager who must save his town from the demons he has accidentally unleashed. The show is playing at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre in a production by Last One Standing Theatre Company and Red Line Productions.
“Without giving away too much, the show is actually a love story in disguise,” Amankwah says. “It’s quite unconventional with its approach and I’m certain that’s what gives it it’s appeal. It’s very stimulating visually but it’s really about what’s happening beneath all of that.
“On the surface it’s this crude, horror comedy packed full of gore. But that only supports the beautiful love story that the play really is.”
Amankwah appears in the role of Edgar, a trash-talking teddy bear possessed by a demon.
“Edgar is this adorable little teddy with a rowdy personality,” he says. “A proud demon with a big heart that always stands for the right cause.”
Not only does Amankwah voice the character, but he’s also the bear’s puppeteer.
“Puppeteering is completely new to me and it’s been a tough process bringing Edgar to life,” he says. “But the first challenge I faced with this role was inhabiting his unruly behaviour and selling that naturally, while adhering to the genre of the play.”
Amankwah says how much he’s enjoyed the experience of working with the cast of Alice in Slasherland and its award-winning director, Rachel Kerry.
“I’ve had such a great time getting to know this extremely talented group of people,” he says. “We have a good laugh any chance we get and have developed a strong sense of solidarity that I believe will really benefit the show.
“Rachel has led me to making some really awesome discoveries about myself. I’ve acquired knowledge that has further equipped me for future endeavours and I’m so keen for Sydney to finally get a chance to appreciate all the hard work she’s put into this production.”
So, who should head along to see Alice in Slasherland at the Old Fitz?
“I think all people of a mature age should come to the show,” Amankwah says. “It’s got so much to give and there’s really something in it for everyone … It’s another chance to deepen your frame of reference with a wildly entertaining production.”
ALICE IN SLASHERLAND – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 11 May 2019
Performance times: Tuesday – Saturday: 7:30pm; Saturday matinees: 2pm; Sunday: 5pm)
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre (129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo)
Ticket prices: $30 – $55
* Ticket prices adjustable pending demand