From Casa Azul to the Stage: Vanessa Severo’s Transformative Performance in ‘Frida…A Self Portrait’

The one-woman show runs at Indiana Repertory Theatre through April 7.
IRT Frida performance

Created in partnership with Indiana Repertory Theatre.

IRT Frida performanceOne of Mexico’s iconic artists, known for still-life paintings and portraits of herself, is the subject of a one-woman show now playing at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Frida…A Self Portrait is the creation of Vanessa Severo, a Brazilian-American actor, dancer, and playwright.

Severo said she was inspired to research Kahlo’s life and write the show after a conversation with a friend who said, “Vanessa, I see a Frida Kahlo in you.”

The first draft was completed in 2013, and Severo started performing it on a Kansas City, Mo. stage in 2014. That version was 45 minutes long. “People loved the story, but I was interested in working on it more,” she said. So, after applying for and receiving a Fox Fellowship grant, Severo took her research to the next level.

“I went to Mexico City and her house, Casa Azul,” Severo said. “I immersed myself in it.” That included paying attention to what could be considered a small detail, like how outside apartment clotheslines go from one window to another.

IRT Frida performance, Frida "flying"Once the revision was complete, Severo hoped to perform it at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. They agreed to run it in the Spring of 2019.

The show is now 75 minutes long, and Severo is on stage the whole time without an intermission. She becomes different people, covering six major tragedies of Kahlo’s life, including Kahlo’s polio at age 6, a bus accident at age 19, and Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, cheating on her with her sister. Severo, who is also a Latina artist with a disability, shares some of her personal story in the show as well.

A one-woman show can be demanding and requires specific training. Severo uses and is certified in the Suzuki method under the direction of Ellen Lauren.

“It’s a highly intense physical training to get your heart rate going really fast and puts you in difficult positions,” she said.  “But then you have to slow your heart rate, slow your breathing, and have a look of calm on your face.”

IRT Frida performance, Frida singing near clothesline

Her preparation also involves keeping her knees, legs, and quads strong and doing hot yoga.

Severo, who has been a performer for 24 years, attended Missouri State University and The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.

When performing in the show, Severo said she feels like she is having a conversation with the audience.  “What motivates me is that I truly feel that people leave that theatre a different person than when they walked in.”

Frida…a Self Portrait runs through April 7 at the IRT’s Upperstage Theatre. Performance times and tickets are available here.

Diane Moore is a freelance writer and contributor to Indy Maven. She enjoys writing about visionaries who have made amazing contributions to the community. You can follow her on Instagram @whatdianeloves.

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