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Words for Women – A Review

While the themes may be complex, the message is simple: “I am woman, and I go by no other name”

The F-word has come under scrutiny recently. More so because of the number of Hollywood celebrities who have (for better or worse ,misguided or not) embraced the word, and others who blatantly shunned it. It’s feminism, for those who have been paying attention. Why the need for it? Do we even feel that it is necessary to keep up the process of educating ourselves with regards to women’s rights? To many, the answer would be an emphatic Yes, we absolutely need it. However, there is indeed a discrepancy in the number of people who say that we need daily affirmations of women’s rights, and the many who disagree.

To me it is simple. Women are still subjugated and treated as the weaker “other”. Patriarchy is still alive, and thriving, even in a modern world. Women are harassed, raped and killed in disproportionate numbers, because of their gender.

Therefore, feminism is necessary.

A student production which tackles these very issues held its latest incarnation after a return from the 2013 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

A brief summary about the production: the Edu-Drama programme at the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape deals with the topic of empowerment, feminism, and conveying the stories of black women. The word “black” has been contentious for many; however, the idea behind only portraying the stories of black women in this programme is due to the unequal number of stories in the media regarding black women, and the high number of crimes against these women.

This platform was started as a way to tell these stories from a personal point of view, in an artistic way, which could be viewed as activism through performance. Words for Women is the latest in a series of Edu-Dramas, and was recently performed at the Fresh from Fest festival at the UCT Hidding Campus in Cape Town.

 Words 4 Women

Cast: Andisiwe Mpu, Ayabonga Pasiya, Bianca van Rooi, Kolosa Qomoyi, Oneza Nofemela, Sixolile Kula, Ziyanda Daniels

Director: Wahseema Roberts & AJ Castle

Producer: Mary Hames

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Ziyanda Daniels in Words 4 Women

My first impression of the space in the theatre was how ironically significant it was, and how it lent itself to the subject matter. With no wings, the stage was bare, save for three chairs. This encroaching space, with a high ceiling, seemed to dominate its subjects, an all-female cast. However, this space was to become one of empowerment and freedom, in which the voice was found and encouraged.

The cast was already in place when we entered the theatre, each dressed in black with a different coloured scarf. I found this striking, as it seemed to convey the fact that these women are all the same, or rather from the same source, yet unique in their own. With the voice being central to this production, a stand-out line mentioned how they are “rewriting histories” which was being done by writing, and voicing their presents.

The overall appearance and feel of the play was fast-paced and seamless. The audience was hardly given a moment to catch their breath, and this was essential in keeping the mind from wandering, but also it became an assault on the senses. Having seen the other Edu-Drama productions in the past, there were fewer moments of discomfort. This was not necessarily bad, as even in the serious moments, it was never cringe worthy, such as the indictment of men in Reclaiming the P…Word, the original Edu-Drama.

Words for Women used sound and motion to create a primordial soup setting in which monologues, dancing, singing and drama emerged out of nowhere to form segments that were all melded together as one. This play was, in a sense, a 50 minute affirmation to women.

The ameliorative element was stark as the cast became conduits for many women, and a mirror for the rest of us. With these stories, society is forced to sit up and pay attention. When we are confronted, we can no longer turn away and pretend we did not hear. Two moments stood out here. One was when the male voice was represented, in which the idea of men as the strong sex gets subverted. “Maxi pads for men” was a mock live commercial send-up which got the most laughs out of the audience. Making fun of men as the ones who now get their period and have to face the tricky consequences of having to borrow a pad from a friend, showed exactly how these women were in control of the subject matter and the stage. It also afforded some of the lighter moments for such heavy subject matter.

The other reflective moment was the idea of hatred amongst women, and notions of beauty. The mirror was held up to other women, who discriminated against women. A physical capability was the issue for this segment in which Andisiwe Mpu used her physical movements and speech to convey her feelings about being visually impaired. How we see ourselves is held up to scrutiny here as the light in the darkness was explored. The notion of being black, darkness and beauty is also critiqued as a tool that keeps women apart, instead of uniting. These black women, who should be united, were making fun of one of their own. Mpu fought back against the judgment, using the body to retell her story.

There were stand-out performances by all, however my favourite moments were the tribute to female heroes, such as Miriam Makeba, to the tune of a struggle toyi-toyi song. Ayabonga Pasiya belted out this song with a voice so strong, that it reverberated through the theatre.

Oneza Nofemela also stood out with her size (very small) out of synch with her talent (very big) and how that defied the idea of someone physically small being weak.   My favourite segment was the one in which Nofemela was a patient at a psychologist and speaking about her issues. The rest of the cast played the voices in her head, which were conflicting, as she was conflicted. The voices which are meant to be empowering, now became a challenge. But in the end, with the insistence of the psychologist’s refrain of “But how does that make you FEEL?” she broke free with the powerful “They don’t make me feel”.

This production taught me, once again, the importance of telling our own stories – because if you don’t do it, no one else will. To claim the voice and to go by no other name than the one you give yourself is what I took from this piece. I hope that all women, black and otherwise, will realise the values in a production such as this and treasure what is theirs.

 <p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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The cast of Words 4 Women

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