Shelby Marie Edwards still switches between “is” and “was” when talking about her mother.
After all, it’s not yet two years since Holly Edwards passed away in early January 2017. And in many ways, she remains present, not just in her daughter’s heart and mind, but in Charlottesville.
Shelby, a theater artist and performance artist now based in Chicago, will perform her original one-person storytelling show, Holly’s Ivy, on Thursday night at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to help both herself and the community work through the lingering grief.
Holly was a nurse known for her compassion and care, for her advocacy on behalf of low-income citizens and residents of public housing, for the work she accomplished on the city’s Dialogue on Race steering committee and on the board of the JSAAHC, for her service as vice mayor…the list goes on.
“Mom did a lot for the community, and the community did a lot for her, too,” says Shelby.
Holly’s Ivy carries Holly’s name, but it is a show about Shelby, focused on formative moments and rites of passage the 23-year-old has experienced. She tells stories, she moves, she dances, she sings. She explores how her family has shaped who she is.
“Grief is one of those things that everybody goes through,” says Shelby. “Everybody loses something or someone at some point. And yet, we’re expected to deal with it so privately. And that’s something that, ever since mom passed away, has been baffling [to me]. Grieving never ends,” she says.
Shelby began writing the show in December 2016 during a solo performance class when she was an undergraduate in Virginia Commonwealth University’s theater program. The following month, Holly died and the show “kind of sat in the corner” as Shelby grieved the loss of her mother and finished college. She spent the summer in Charlottesville, and during that time, she needed “some type of outlet,” so she finished writing Holly’s Ivy.
“The first half of the show is really like a fossilized version of who I was, and the second half is my journey afterwards,” she says. She used the “ritual poetic drama” methodology to write the show, an approach to storytelling theater that focuses on a journey toward transformational change both for performer and audience.
Holly’s Ivy runs about 45 minutes long, and while it’s often difficult to perform, Shelby feels it’s necessary. “There’s a moment in the show, towards the end, where I just feel it, every single time,” she says. “Words, performance—they give me power and help me feel like I can talk about it, and therefore heal. I really do believe [in] the power of the tongue.”
Shelby says she’s nervous to perform the show in Charlottesville, perhaps because her ties to her audience—and her audience’s ties to her—are tight.
“Everyone knows the backstory. Everyone knows how important she is, or was,” says Shelby. “I think a lot of people [in Charlottesville] haven’t actually grieved mom.”
This will be Shelby’s first time performing Holly’s Ivy in Charlottesville, and it will likely be the last. “I think it’s amazing that we want to honor her as much as we do, but I think it’s also important that we start the moving-on process. She wouldn’t want us stuck in this forever,” she says. She’s ready for the next step in her journey. “I hate ultimatums, but I think this will be the last time I do this show” anywhere, she says. “This time, it’s for Charlottesville, it’s for me. It’s for catharsis. It’s for healing.”