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Creative Womxn: Genna Gardini & Amy Louise Wilson and the poetry of angry girls

In this email exchange, writer and lecturer Genna Gardini and film, theatre and television actor Amy Louise Wilson speak about the relationship between words, performance and womxnhood.

10and5 Creative Womxn x Genna Gardini and Amy Louise Wilson

Subject: Email 1

Dear Amy,

So, I suppose this is our Creative Womxn conversation. I’m Genna Gardini, a writer in a wheelchair who has written some poems and some plays. I’ll leave it to you to introduce yourself, but suffice to say you are an actor I admire very much. We’ve known each other and worked together for many years, sometimes on plays that I wrote (WinterSweet, Scrape), more recently performing as agro avatars in Gary Hartley’s dance piece SIMilar. Also, we are friends. So I guess that’s the set-up. When Between 10and5 proposed this exchange between us, the first thing that came to mind was using text to talk about text. Obviously, this has strong overtones of those insufferable Natalie Portman/Jonathan Safran Foer emails, especially since there will be a photo shoot (although both of us will be featured in it). But I guess words written by and about womxn feel like the basis of our interactions and work.

10and5 Creative Womxn x Genna Gardini (1)

The first piece of writing I was thinking about is from Reza de Wet’s Missing.

MEISIE: I’m not allowed to talk about it! I’m not even allowed to think about it! Thinking is doing!

We were both taught at different times by Reza as Drama undergrads at the University currently known as Rhodes. I remember meeting you when we started Honours at UCT: we were asked to bring in 10 objects that held personal significance to us and Reza’s Plays One was included in yours. This was a few weeks after she had passed away and I was thinking a lot about her work and what it means to write for live performance. When I was in second year, Reza did this exercise with us where each student had to walk in front of her and then she would explain where our power centres lay in our bodies. I was quite painfully shy for a Drama student and did this with extreme hesitancy. Reza watched me and then announced that I had not one but two centres, one in my groin and the other in my throat. She said that I needed to find words for all the things that I was keeping silent. I was quite scandalized at the time but now I think that this was the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. For me, she really encapsulated the relationship between words and performance. Someone like Buhle Ngaba, who I met through you, does this, too. Words and voices are a powerful means of expression but, most importantly, they’re also something we need to be listening to and learning from. What are your thoughts about the relationship between writing, performance and being a womxn?

Subject: Angry Girls, You and Me

Of course Reza de Wet is what (who) brought us together. I love that line from Missing. I think it’s one of her best plays. You ask for my thoughts on the writing-performance link to womanhood*. I’ve been thinking about these lines from your poem Angry Girl:

My anger moves as if ash / down your institutional passage, / staining each surface, / fingering the walls. / It doesn’t ask permission to travel / because fire never does. / All my anger requires / is some sort of friction, / a tension solved by air.

Something I love about your writing is how it is both literary and extremely clear. It has many entry points. You sort of invent your own lexicon. For me it is important for an actor to have a significant understanding of the way the text is working. My work, then, is to both hold and obliterate this secret knowledge – the paradoxical act that must take place in performance, which is both being and not-being.

10and5 Creative Womxn x Amy Louise Wilson (1)

When I perform your work on stage, some of this secret knowing is what I think about the two of us: I think we are both Angry Girls. Which is why I perform. Which is why you write. Which is why we are friends. Which is why we like the work of other Angry Girls (Adrienne Rich; Kate Tempest). I still have your illustration of me stuck up next to my fridge, with Plath’s ‘Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air’ written above it.

Let this anger not be mistaken for images of Emotional or Hysterical women (though I am these, too!). We are moving targets on the way to the Spar, and thus we arm ourselves – with pepper spray; with words (‘I hum P.J Harvey under my breath: ‘these, these, these are the words / the words that maketh murder.’)

I like acting for film and television, but there is nothing quite like slowly inhaling with the audience as the play begins; there is nothing like the power of being in your body on stage; nothing like the privilege of speaking the poetry of other Angry Girls.

Imagine me soaking at your shoulder/ like it is a desert and my apology the hose. / I am not some rubber attached to a tap. I am not even the tap. / I am the whole fucking hydration system.’ – How I Hate You, Genna Gardini

PS *I know, I know – womxn, but I find that X unbearable/unliterary and the Y in womYn plaintive. We need more options! 

Amy Louise Wilson is a film, theatre and television actor living in Cape Town. She recently performed in the award-winning play ‘The Year of the Bicycle’ at the Market Theatre. She plays leading roles in two films which premiere this year – the latest Warner Brothers’ comedy ‘A Cinderella Story’ and a new Netflix drama, ‘Jadotville’. 

Genna Gardini is a writer and lecturer based in Cape Town. Her collection Matric Rage was published by uHlanga and received a Commendation for the Ingrid Jonker Prize. She is currently an ICA Fellow, working on a project about experiences of other womxn and queer South Africans with Multiple Sclerosis.

10and5 Creative Womxn x Genna Gardini (2)
10and5 Creative Womxn x Genna Gardini and Amy Louise Wilson
10and5 Creative Womxn x Amy Louise Wilson (2)

Photographs of Genna and Amy by Retha Ferguson.

Find more #CreativeWomxn features and interviews here.

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