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Edmonton playwright explores healing from trauma in Three Ladies

Three Ladies
Written by Lady Vanessa Cardona; directed by Nasra Adem; ATB Financial Arts Barn, Studio Theatre; Thu., Nov. 14 – Sat., No. 16 (7:30 p.m.), Sun., Nov. 17 (2 p.m.)

Healing is at the centre of Edmonton playwright Lady Vanessa Cardona’s new play Three Ladies.

She first wrote a version of the play three years ago, “when I wanted to heal from a lot of trauma that I had experienced.”

Lady Vanessa doesn’t go into too much detail about that trauma, but it includes sexual violence and Colombia’s civil war, according to the play’s press release. Lady Vanessa was born in Colombia, left when she was nine and went to the U.S. seeking refugee status. She says she was about 12 when she moved to Canada.

Three Ladies gives her an outlet to examine her childhood traumas through art.

“I know that basically everyone I know has gone through some form of trauma of some sort,” she says. “Often trauma and triggers are formed in early childhood stages, and so for me it was inspiring to see and to observe how these triggers and these traumas have influenced my adult life and how sometimes they can influence it in a negative way, and what is it that I needed to do in order to get to a place of observation, rather than being completely immersed in the trauma and the trigger itself.”

The first version of the play was produced for a film festival two summers ago and someone who saw it encouraged Lady Vanessa to pursue funding to continue working on it. With funding secured, she pulled together a team of dancers.

“We just started workshopping and working through some things,” she says. “I wanted to recreate the play again, because the last time I had written the play, it came mainly from first starting to talk about my trauma, whereas now I wanted to talk about the healing process, and even though I am still in it, there is a lot of observation and a lot of aha moments that I wanted to include in the play.”

The process of re-working the play took about six and a half months.

Lady Vanessa says quite a few things about the play changed during that time and she was influenced both by the process itself and the people she was collaborating with, including director Nasra Adem, stage manager Chanece Curtis, sound designer KazMega, and the dancers: Yaneth Chavarro, Linda Contreras, Dominique Joseph, Vivian Triana and Maureen Wiebe-Karugia.

“I definitely have been bringing stuff to them and then they’ve given their input, and then I’ve come back into the lab again and done some more work,” she says. “So even though I’ve written the play myself and it is about my story, it has been a collaborative process.”

In addition to dance and sound, the play employs projection, hip-hop culture, traditions and spoken word poetry.

Lady Vanessa is also a poet and won the 2018 Canadian Individual Slam Championship. She says she uses slam poetry as a medium to get better at writing.

“I’ve always wanted to share stories from our point of view,” she says. “I believe that there are too many individuals sharing the stories of our people, not in the most authentic way.”

She is currently working on a new book of poetry, la sangre lllama.

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