By Peter Boyle
Linn Van Hek and Joe Dolce presented Difficult Women, readings and songs celebrating "women who have dared to stand up and speak", to completely sold out seasons at Melbourne's La Mamma and Budinski's theatres last year. Then, says writer/poet/performer Van Hek, they were flooded with more stories about "difficult women".
"People came to us with stories about friends and relatives, letters, poems and rare books written by women who made a difference", she told Green Left Weekly. She knew then that the project had to go on, and it has.
"We've now got many more women to work in", said Joe Dolce, who does the music. "For example, there is Louisa Lawson, the mother of Henry, who published Dawn for 17 years and was a visionary in the 1880s. Everyone knows Henry Lawson, but what about Louisa?"
Van Hek sees herself playing a role in reforging a "motivational chain" of women who have solved many problems in their lives but whose experiences have often been denied to other women. "We are going back to a tradition of word of mouth communication in the age of computers, and I now feel I have something good to do with Difficult Women."
A new series of Difficult Women opened on March 18 at Mietta's in Melbourne. It will also be performed in Sydney in May, as part of Writers in the Park at the Harold Park Hotel, and in Adelaide in April. Then Difficult Women goes overseas to Canada, the US and possibly New Zealand.
At Mietta's the focus will be on the Mexican artist and revolutionary Frida Kahlo. They've studied her writings and her work and feel they have a duty to save her messages from censorship, editing and manipulation.
Many of the books and films about Frida Kahlo have "sorrowed her up" by focusing on her pain from her physical handicap as a result of an accident when she was 18, says Dolce. She even called herself "the victim", but this was meant as a joke. "We want to show that she was also a funny and bawdy woman", says Van Hek.
They also want to pull her out of the shadow of the men in her life (she had a turbulent marriage with artist Diego Rivera and had an affair with Leon Trotsky). "Everyone has their own interpretations, but I think Frida Kahlo was more a Mexican nationalist than a communist. She shared the communist ideal of equality, but while the men were interested in government and machines, she was interested in people and in culture", says Van Hek.
"Everything about Frida in the performance is based on her own words, which we have tried not to manipulate." They've found the words to a song she wrote for the opening of her first exhibition, but they don't so Dolce has written something to fit.
There is still a segment of their performance where they feature other "difficult women", especially the women they began with, such as Katherine Mansfield, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Sylvia Plath, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Earhart and, as they put it, "all those truck-driving women out there who take back the night".