Nfld. & Labrador

'New faces, new ideas, new voices': Remnants brings diverse cast to LSPU Hall

The new play is premiering with one of the most diverse casts seen in St. John’s in recent memory.

Women lead the way in play premiering this weekend

Remnants — starring, from left, Karen Monie, Nora Barker, Vanessa Cardoso, and Nabila Qureshi — runs from Thursday to Sunday at the LSPU Hall. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

You won't see the same old faces on stage at the LSPU Hall this weekend.

Remnants, a new play directed by Ruth Lawrence, is premiering with one of the most diverse casts seen in St. John's in recent memory.

Written by Jenna Turk, the production is based loosely on a 1911 fire at a New York garment factory that claimed the lives of over 100 workers, most of whom were young immigrant women.

The cast of Remnants performs a scene from the play on Thursday. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

It stars Karen Monie, Nabila Qureshi, Nora Barker, and Vanessa Cardoso,  all performing in some of their biggest roles to date.

The play follows the women over the course of one long day working at a garment factory, which ends with the building going up in flames.

Audiences, says Lawrence, can expect to see a production that breaks new ground in the city.

"They're gonna see something brand new," said Lawrence.

"Not just that it's a premiere of a new show but they're going to see new faces, new ideas, new voices and maybe a story that's new to them."

Cardoso has performed in many plays in her home country of Brazil, but Remnants marks her first starring role in an English-language play. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

For Vanessa Cardosa, who moved to St. John's from Brazil four years ago, it's her first starring role in an English-language play.

"The language, I think, is my first challenge, but I have a lot of support from the whole team, and I feel very lucky to be with the incredible women and talented people," she said.

Cardosa has already made a name for herself in St. John's performing as a clown and as a living statue.

She plays Danijela in Remnants, a supervisor at the garment factory and a strong-willed woman who's always bossing around the other girls and trying to get them to work.

Qureshi plays Esther, an activist who is trying to rally the women in the factory to fight for better working conditions. This is her biggest role to date. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Nabila Qureshi, originally from India, came to St. John's from the Middle East jusyt over 10 years ago. It's her biggest role thus far, and one that hits close to home.

From her occasional visitis to India, she is aware that many people in her home country had no other choice than to work in factories like the one featured in Remnants.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, a 2013 collapse at a garment factory took the lives of more than 1,100 people, making the issue of factory safety — which Remnants explores — still timely.

"As much as it's easy to say, "Well, why can't you quit and find something else?' oftentimes these folks don't have that option at all and that's all that they know," said Qureshi.

"I could connect in that sense because I was able to take the information that I have from my lived experience and bring it to the stage and try and make sure that that is personified in Esther's character."

Monie says she has learned a lot about performing during rehearsals, and has developed a real connection with her fellow cast members. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Karen Monie hails from Cameroon but now calls St. John's home, and said the play has been a great chance to work with other strong women to present a story that's all too relevant today. 

The cast has been working for months to prepare for opening night. 

"It's something that we've put in a lot of work and a lot of time and it sort of built like this family," said Monie.

"I think it means a lot [more] to us than we realize, and I think having the support that's around us … has helped us grow as actors, as artists."
Barker, a recent graduate of Memorial University, is an aspiring actor who says she's just starting to dip her toes into the local arts community. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

And for Nora Barker, all the way from Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., it's another step in her journey to become a professional actress.

"I​t's a wonderful production team. We've been so lucky to work with the people that we've been working with and it's been a great learning experience" she said. 

Director Ruth Lawrence says the production breaks new ground. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Factory work in unstable conditions remains an issue throughout the world today, added Lawrence, and the play helped her see the cost of fast fashion in a new light.

It may not be happening in our backyard anymore, she said, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. 

"All we accomplished was that we'd sent that work overseas so we couldn't see it anymore," she said. 

"I love fashion, I love clothing, anybody who knows me knows that, and [the play] really made me rethink a lot of my choices [of] how I buy clothes [and] what I buy."

'A story that needs to be told'

The stars of the play stress that audiences will see something different when they step into the theatre over the coming days.

"They're going to see a story that needs to be told, a story that needs to be felt and a story that needs to be inspirational enough for some kind of action to take place," said Qureshi.

"We should recognize that there is more than just a face but there is also a human connection and a story behind those faces as well."

Tickets to Remnants are still available at the LSPU Hall box office.

The play will run once a day until it closes Sunday.

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About the Author

Andrew Sampson is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.