NextFest 2018: Where Do We Begin?

I kicked off my NextFest 2018 journey with Lady Vanessa Cardona and Joanna Simon’s Where Do We Begin?  with sound design by Roya Yazdanmehr.

The show is one part spoken word, one part physical theatre, and one part storytelling, exploring Lady Vanessa and Joanna’s experiences of displacement and journey of healing, Joanna being a Cree, Indigenous woman from the Samson Band and Lady Vanessa being a Colombian refugee woman now living on Treaty 6 land.

As Lady Vanessa welcomed the audience to the space, she noted the show was her and Joanna’s vision of what a land acknowledgement should be. The performance seemed to be a challenge to the way land acknowledgements in programs and at the beginning of performances are currently done, asking if it can be more than words on a page or two sentences said prior to a performance. The show asks if that acknowledgement can be used to create an understanding of the realities and implications of what has happened on the land and to its people.

The duo also noted that this performance at NextFest is a workshop performance, which shone through in the work in ways that revealed where it could go from here.

The show underlined that Indigenous peoples around the world have had their land, culture, and traditions systematically taken and their access to them refused and personalized the impacts of these actions to Joanna and Lady Vanessa, as well as how each is trying in her own way to heal. This presentation was raw and angry, drawing its power directly from the performers lived experiences.

Being a workshop performance, there is a lot to unpack, but particular moments resonated: Lady Vanessa’s retelling of her experience feeling like she is expected to be an expert on Columbian history and law; Joanna sharing experiences of how systemic, institutionalized racism affected her childhood; Roya Yazdanmehr’s evocative live sound design. The many ways this show could grow and evolve are apparent in the many directions packed into the 45-minute performance. For me, the performance also showed an opportunity to push what was being presented one step further, into a vision of the type of future the creators want to see – something that Joanna touched on when she spoke about the better life she wanted to create for her own children. I left the show feeling the desire to not only understand where we’ve begun but also where we should go from here.

Remaining performances of Where do we Begin? are June 3, 9 and 10 at the Roxy on Gateway (8529 Gateway Blvd.). Tickets are $12 per show, $20 for a day pass or $40 for a festival pass through the Theatre Network box office.

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