Diverse Edmonton play explores how people heal from trauma

Lady Vanessa Cardona’s new play could have been a one-woman show. In fact, it used to be one.

The play, Three Ladies, tells the story of how her life has been shaped by sexual violence and fleeing civil war in Colombia.

She wrote a version of it three years ago and performed the play solo at Edmonton’s Found Festival in 2017.

Earlier this year, she reworked it — this time with a diverse group of collaborators.

In the new play, six people play the protagonist.

Cardona, who plays herself and her inner child, is joined by five dancers. Together, they form her shadow, illustrating five Janus-faced personalities inside her head.

These shadow voices — both wounded and healed — taunt Lady, forcing her to grapple with conflicting emotions.

Through poetry, ceremony, hip hop and traditional Colombian dance, she works through trauma on stage. For her, this is what healing looks like.

“Instead of trying to cast away the pain, it is important to sit with it and observe it,” Cardona told Rod Kurtz in a recent interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

She said the play is intended as a tool for people — one example of how to heal.

Such stories of healing are rarely told aloud, said Cardona, who is also a decorated slam poet. 

“People are sharing vulnerable parts of themselves but they aren’t necessarily sharing the process of how they are coming to terms with it or how they are moving through some of the trauma that is happening,” she said.

What diversity adds

All but one person involved in the production is a person of colour.

Achieving that was no small task, Cardona said, because it required placing a lot of people in jobs they had never held before.

“We really just created a culture of support and care and hoped that people would courageously move towards their new roles,” said director and choreographer Nasra Adem, one of many people who took on new jobs for the play.

Though Adem has directed Edmonton’s Black Arts Matter festival for three years, directing a play was a new experience.

“I learned I actually had a lot of the skills already,” Adem said. 

Having a diverse cast helps communicate one of the play’s main messages, Adem said.

“Healing is inter-relational,” they said. 

“It has to happen among each other.”

Three Ladies runs November 14 –17 at the ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Avenue. Tickets cost $22 or pay-what-you-can at the door.

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