Pamela Gien

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Pamela Gien. (1957-) Actress.


Early years in South Africa

Born in Emmarentia in 1957 and raised in Johannesburg, Pamela began her training at Rhodes University, in the mid 1970s, then completed a BA Honours in English and Dramatic Art cum laude at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1978. She was the recipient of the Olive Schreiner Award, which she used to undertake further study at the Jacques Lecoq School of Theatre, Mime and Movement in Paris in 1979, before returning to becoming a member of the PACT company.

Career in the USA

In 1983 she emigrated to the United States to continue her career there. She became a principal member of the American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Cambridge for 5 seasons, appearing in works such as David Mamet’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Life's a Dream, Sweet Table at the Richelieu, The Miser and The King Stag, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Titus Andronicus, Piano, The Night of the Iguana and many other productions.

Her TV and film appearances include, in South Africa, The Earthmover, series lead in Die Sandlopertjie, The Importance of Being Earnest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Miser; a recurring role in New York on ABC’s One Life To Live, and numerous guest starring roles including Tales From the Crypt, Reasonable Doubts, Hunter, Secret Lives, Into Thin Air, Men Seeking Women, The Last Supper, and The Syringa Tree.[29]

Career as a playwright/author

She made her name as playwright-performer with the multi-award winning one-woman play The Syringa Tree, which won the 2001 OBIE Award for Best Play and was nominated for a John Gassner Playwriting Award, and won her the Outer Circle Critics Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, and a Drama League Honour. For this achievement, she was chosen as one of the 100 Most Creative Artists, published in their 2001 It List by Entertainment Weekly.

She later adapted the play as a novel also titled The Syringa Tree (published by Random House,2007), a work longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award for Fiction in 2008 and was a finalist for the 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

While at Rhodes University she performed in Katherine Mansfield and the Writing Game (1975), Hay Fever[, (1977), The Cherry Orchard (as “Ania”) and Bliss.

Among the plays she appeared in during her period with PACT (1980-1983) were:

Oh What a Lovely War! (1980), Rookery Nook (1980), After the Fall (1981), The Crucible (1981), Royal Hunt of the Sun (1981), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981), The State Theatre Overflow Show (1981-1982), Savages (1982), Monday After the Miracle (1982), The Rivals (1983), Everyman, Henry IV Part I, Electra, The Maids and The House of Bernarda Alba.

Her TV and film appearances in South Africa include roles in The Earthmover, Die Strandlopertjie, The Importance of Being Earnest, A Midsummer Night's Dream (nomination as best actress), and The Miser.

In 2005 she was invited to return to South Africa to perform her award-winning piece The Syringa Tree, at the Baxter Theatre

She starred in the PACT production of The State Theatre Overflow Show together with James White, Michael McCabe and Peter Terry with direction by Nigel Vermaas at the Arena Bistro in 1981. She starred in the PACT production of William Gibson’s Monday After the Miracle together with Sandra Duncan with direction by François Swart at the Pretoria State Theatre and the Alexander in 1982. She starred in PACT’s production of Sheridan’s The Rivals together with John Hussey, Wilson Dunster, James White, Pauline Bailey and John Lesley directed by Michael Atkinson at the State Theatre in March 1983.

Summary of international career

Awards, etc

In South Africa

Besides numerous nominations, inter alia for a Fleur du Cape Award for her play The Syringa Tree, she has received three awards for theatre and TV over the years, among them:

The Yvonne Bryceland Award for Best Supporting Actress for Bliss, Rhodes University (197*).

The Olive Schreiner Overseas Award for the Best Student at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1978.

The DALRO Award for Best Actress for "Helen Keller" in Monday after the Miracle (1983)


She received the Drama-League Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, 1991 and was chosen as one of Entertainment Weekly’s IT List 50 Most Creative Artists, 2001

Her many awards abroad include a number for The Syringa Tree, among them Obie Award 2001 Best Play; Drama League Honour; Drama Desk Award, Elliot Norton Award and the Outer Circle Critics Award for Outstanding Solo. The novel was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize 2007 and listed for the IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award 2008.


CV submitted by Pamela Gien, 8 February, 2024.

SACD 1978/79; 1980/81; 1981/82.

Tucker, 1997.

Martin, Bob 2008. Highlights & Footlights : A Tribute to South African Stage and Screen, by photographer Bob Martin. Cape Town: Double Storey Books.

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