Fringe play uses humour to temper traumatic events

12 Minute Madness on stage at Firehall Arts Centre

Raïna von Waldenburg doesn’t believe in keeping skeletons in the closet.

Her method of catharsis instead involves broadcasting deeply personal tales of trauma in front of anyone and everyone, with a dose of dark humour as the cherry on top.

Such is the case in her latest play, 12 Minute Madness, which debuts at the Vancouver Fringe Festival on Sept. 9.

The plot is almost entirely biographical and chronicles von Waldenburg’s headspace as she processed repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.

“The power of shame creates a lot of pain in society, a lot of pain in especially the survivors of any kind of trauma that’s been put onto them by somebody else,” von Waldenburg said. “Specifically with sexual crimes — incest, sexual abuse — what shame does is it puts a lid on everything and then secrecy becomes the M.O. This secrecy and this shame protects the wrong people.” 

The play’s origins date back nearly 30 years, when von Waldenburg found herself in therapy for reasons initially unclear to her. Those sessions led to the necessary clarity that unlocked memories of being sexually abused by her grandfather when she was a child. The play’s name is based on the emotions that came to the fore as von Waldenburg pieced together those events.

Von Waldenburg’s first attempt at documenting the process came in 1999 via a sprawling, three-hour production called Das Kaspar. The current production was scaled back to a 30-minute production with a dozen cast members representing von Waldenburg’s thinking as she processed, and came to grips, with her new reality.

In re-mounting the production, von Waldenburg wanted to accomplish two things: empower survivors of abuse and approach the topic with humour. By doing so, she owns the trauma rather than allowing it to consume her.

“The main thing for me about my approach to this horrible taboo is humour,” she said.

The humour rolls out in spades and veers into territory that’s perhaps not suited for all ages. The lead character’s name is Marlena von Twattenburger, while other cast members — affectionately known as “the twat club” — go by the monikers of Linda Kunt and Little Nazi. Somehow a harp finds its way into the play to weave the various characters together.

“It’s a true story with 12 twats and a harp,” von Waldenburg said. “I love that we can take the word the ‘twat’ and own it, to take all these bad words or taboos and just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to dance, take a big twat and roll it out on stage.’”

That’s not to say diving headlong into the madness wasn’t without its challenges.

“I’ve seriously wanted to leave rehearsal a lot and I’ve wanted to quit the play — I wanted to close the whole thing down,” von Waldenburg said. “But I got over the hump because of the 12 women in this cast who have put their entire bodies and souls into this piece. They feel it is important and they need this play to happen so that they too can heal.”

12 Minute Madness makes its theatrical debut Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Firehall Arts Centre. Subsequent shows will roll out through until Sept. 17. For show times and prices, go to 12minutemadness.com.

For a schedule of Fringe Festival plays, go to vancouverfringe.com.

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@JohnKurucz

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