We had the privilege of chatting to Lynelle Kenned about being a womxn in the performing arts industry.
Kenned is a South African opera singer, musical theatre performer, actress, TV presenter and MC. She has been seen in productions such as ORPHEUS IN AFRICA (Mattie Allen), SHOW BOAT (Julie) and WEST SIDE STORY (Maria), for which she won a Naledi and Fleur du Cap Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical.
Photographer: Anna Pepper
Stylist: Tracy-Lee Rosslind
MUA: Keagan Cafun
Hairstylist: Kelvin Takudzwa
ONE What have you learnt about yourself and your craft during lockdown?
The self-awareness and self-knowledge I attained through this lockdown has been invaluable. Initially, there was disillusionment at the lack of governmental support for artists and the arts that left me in heartbreaking disbelief.
I realised the dangers of overidentification with a career, having your sense of self be dependent on that which you're able to do.
I enrolled in a course for Death Companioning and empowered myself by learning about death, dying, mortality, trauma and spirituality against the backdrop of the pandemic, and discovered it as the greatest tool against the crushing anxiety and fear.
I released myself of the pressure of needing to be productive, as excessive busyness can also be a trauma response to avoid that which needs to be felt and grieved.
Having said that, my craft has remained sacred to me:
For the first five weeks, I formed part of an unofficial artist residency called The Partly Cloudy Pirate Circus, where I was able to record vocals for some of my repertoire (aria, lieder, oratorio) and produce accompanying music videos. The content can be accessed through the Partly Cloudy Pirate Circus social media pages.
Towards the end of May, I did a live stream recital with Stefan Lombard titled "Still the Soul Soars" where we donated some of the proceeds to the Theatre Benevolent Fund.
I guest performed with André Schwartz for his pre-recorded concert and have a few other gigs coming up.
In between that, I'm using the time to settle into a new apartment with my partner, homemaking, delving into shadow work and plant medicine, and enrolling in courses for counselling, bereavement counselling and mental health first aid.
I'm in training to be doing death doula work along with my performance career.r
TWO What are you most looking forward to when theatres reopen?
I'm looking forward to physically being part of a community again, both on and offstage. To have the thrill of being in the audience and experiencing the magic, and of creating something sacred with beloved friends and colleagues to share with the world.
THREE What womxn in and outside the theatre world inspire you?
There are so many womxn that I am inspired by - Ilse Klink, Rehane Abrahams, Dr Marlene le Roux, Buhle Ngaba, Nicole Fortuin, Golda Schultz to name a few.
They embody the qualities that I aspire to; authenticity, strength, tenacity, vulnerability, inclusivity, their work ethic and for creating and taking up space unapologetically.
FOUR You share a lot about yourself on social media, how do you deal with people’s reactions, positive and negative?
Transparency about my life journey has been important to me, to emphasize the power all of us have to heal and to expand. My outspokenness certainly draws opinions, some positive, some not. And that's OK.
How somebody reacts to my content depends on where they're at with themselves. I don't take it personally, and stay committed to my own purpose.
Setting boundaries is my greatest practice of self-love.
FIVE What is the best piece of advice that you have been given to get you where you are today?
Self-realization is the greatest expression of your creativity. Your entire life is your art.
This has informed all of my decisions - my quality of life, who I invite into my space, how I spend my time and which projects I take on. I simply walk away from anything and anybody who does not feel in alignment with what I need for growing into my highest self.
SIX What musical soundtrack always makes you happy whenever you hear it?
The Sound of Music.
I loved it as a child and appreciate it even more now for what it represents.
SEVEN When did you discover your love for theatre?
I was 16 when our choir went to see Show Boat at Artscape. I fell in love with the combination of music and storytelling there and then. It was such a grand production to my young self that it defied belief that something like that could really be happening in front of my very eyes.
9 years later things would come full circle when I made my debut as Julie in a revival of that same production.
EIGHT What is your dream role?
I've never been one to look ahead and aspire to what I think would fit me, because I'm constantly reinventing myself and my approach to art. But every role I've played has been a dream role in that it came to challenge me at the right time in my life.
When I landed the role of Maria in West Side Story, I had never seen the movie musical before.
I upskill as I go along, and my career forms itself intuitively.
If I connect to a specific song, I'll add it to my recital repertoire regardless if I'm suited to the casting.
I would like to play Sarah in Ragtime even just to do Your Daddy's Son.
I discovered that my voice feels comfortable with repertoire that is covered by performers such as Audra McDonald.
NINE Even though women have gotten as far as they have in all industries, there are still inequalities. In the performing arts industry, what challenges have you personally had to overcome? What advice can you give young women entering the industry today in order to avoid them facing the same challenges you have had?
The inequalities I've experienced as a womxn are secondary to my experience of the industry as a whole, which is largely still an industry operating as an extension of the patriarchy/distorted masculine.
This can manifest as a mismanagement of resources, exploitation of employees, pay inequality, racism, classism, imbalance of power in the workplace, lack of transparency and accountability, gaslighting anyone who dares to speak up.
The principles of equality, collaboration, transparency, inclusiveness, justice, balance, support and community are needed to finally transform our industry into one that meets the physical and emotional needs of every one of its employees.
The devastation of the pandemic on the industry also holds the potential to reform it.
TEN What is your favourite quote?
On the first page of my diary, I copied the following quote by Anaïs Nin (edited):
"Last night I wept. I wept because the process by which I have become a woman was painful. I wept because I was no longer a child with a child's blind faith. I wept because my eyes were opened to reality. I wept because I could not believe anymore and I love to believe. I can still love passionately without believing. That means I love humanly. I wept because from now on I will weep less. I wept because I have lost my pain and I am not yet accustomed to its absence."
But Rumi sums it up best:
"If light is in your heart, you will find your way home."
ELEVEN What accomplishments have you achieved that you never thought were possible when you started out in the industry, and how did you make them a reality?
Freelancing since 2012, becoming financially independent has been a journey and a half. But the 'achievement' I'm most proud of is simply that I'm able to build a beautiful life being exactly who I am and doing what I love.
Interview by: Michaela Tobias (Plug In Theatre Intern)