25th Trillium Award

Hooked on Hooked: Nicky Guadagni Takes Carolyn Smart's Poetry on the Road

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Hooked, by Carolyn Smart

By Erin Knight

Some books have a spark that just keeps on lighting fires. In the case of Carolyn Smart's Hooked (Brick Books 2009), a poetry collection that includes seven monologues by famous and infamous women, those fires spread from the author's writing desk north of Kingston to a farmhouse in Napanee, to homes throughout Toronto and now to Edinburgh and Seattle.

Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles and Elizabeth Smart were all consumed by their own powerful, addictive and destructive obsessions. In Hooked, Smart inhabits the mind of each woman, with an authenticity fuelled by empathy and curiosity. But the stories of these women, as voiced by Smart, didn't end there. In fact, the volume's been turned up and they're reaching an increasingly large audience. One of Smart's early readers, the Gemini-winning actor Nicky Guadagni, was so taken by the monologues in Hooked that she knew at once she could bring them to life.

The method she chose was wholly unique: with the help of Layne Coleman (former Artistic Director of Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille) Guadagni performed a day-long interpretation of Hooked at a Napanee farmhouse, complete with a seven-course dinner menu inspired by each of the women's histories. It was the very first experience of what became known as Hooked in House, which Guadagni would bring to people's homes for the following three years.

This summer, more people had an opportunity to hear the voices of these women than ever before. Guadagni took Hooked on the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it was enthusiastically received and highly recommended with a four-star review. This week she premieres Hooked the Play at the Seattle Fringe Festival, where she'll perform until September 22nd.

While many books (though seldom books of poetry) are adapted for theatre or film, Smart's Hooked is performed without adaptation — only the added energy of Guadagni's performance. She's become a champion not only of the conflicted lives of these complicated, troubled women but of Carolyn Smart, who is wholly deserving of this wide recognition. Smart has been a force for Kingston's writing community for over 20 years. She is the founder of the prestigious Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which she established to honour the memory of her great friend and mentor. And she continues to nurture young creative talent as Director of Creative Writing at Queen's University. Grace O'Connell, author of the best-selling novel Magnified World (Random House Canada), counts herself fortunate to have studied under Smart. "Carolyn draws the best possible work out of the writers she mentors, encouraging bravery, experimentation and freshness above all," says O'Connell. "The cliché dies at the door of her workshop rooms, and the seeds of encouragement she's provided to hundreds of young writers have been reaped in the form of dozens of books from publishing houses across the country. The energy she invests in her writers is astounding — I often meet fellow writers who have studied with her, and our gratitude and fondness for Carolyn forms an instant bond."

In a world where so many women are silenced, it's inspiring to know that the voices in Carolyn Smart's Hooked are being heard again and again. As Nicky Guadagni writes of her motivation for committing herself to Hooked: "I want Carolyn Smart to reap rewards for her great talent. I want audiences to leave the theatre as if they?ve had one of the greatest history lessons of their lives. I want to leave a legacy for other actresses to take on this demanding and astonishing script."

For more about Carolyn Smart's Hooked, please visit the Brick Books website. For details about Hooked: The Play please visit Nicky Guadagni's website.

Watch Nicky Guadagni perform "Luckiest Girl in the World" (Unity Mitford) here.

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