By Jairo Rodrigues
Making her mark in the world, Sonia Yarde is an exceptional woman in so many fields. From lying in her bedroom surrounded by her teddy bears and reading dozens of story books, too shy to ever wanting to step foot on a stage, she is now one of the more popular faces of drama in Guyana.
She is a schooled model, a skilled dancer and works in drama full time. She has completed Merundoi’s workshop programme and is knowledgeable in directing, production management, playwriting and stage management.
Sonia was born and raised in South Road, Bourda, in the heart of the city. She describes the area as being a busy, loud environment since she lived adjacent to a vulcanising shop. Apart from having friends right around the neighbourhood, childhood memories usually involved her siblings, one being her troublesome brother, now deceased, who was always playing practical jokes on her. Sonia shared experiences where he would put her in a barrel and roll her around, tell mediocre stories of ‘Sensible Bill’ and ‘Stupidy Bill’ and put her to do his laundry as a teenager.
Sonia describes her sister as quiet, more the type who would sit with you and do things. Her sister used to model and dance and Sonia would accompany her to practice. This later fuelled Sonia’s desire to begin her own career as a performer.
She also has another brother whom only she met briefly at the age of 17; he is seldom in the city since he spends most of his time in the South West interior (Rupununi Savannahs).
Sonia has endured much grief. She watched her father die when she was just nine years old; she has fading memories of him calling her ‘Baby’, shaking her on the bed and taking the family out for ice-cream and nuts at the weekend.
Her ‘troublesome’ brother whom she admired passed away in 2004. She was in a state of depression for many months after having been the ‘rock’ of the family up until his burial.
Sonia describes her mother as a strong, well-grounded, positive and enduring woman – a phenomenal woman having to go through the death of a husband, raise three children on her own afterwards and then experiencing the death of a son.
It was tough without a father for a while but they managed, she said they lived comfortably and all the basic needs were provided, “I cannot even recall any hard times, we stuck it through as a family and up to this day we are all closer than ever before.” She said that being the youngest sibling she would reap the benefits of their (her mother’s and older siblings) sacrifices.
She has an 18-year-old nephew who people often mistake to be her son.
After attending the St Margaret’s Primary School and writing the Common Entrance Examination, she gained a spot at Campbellville Secondary.
Unknown to many, Sonia excelled in athletics at school; she was often the champion at long and high jumping and distance running.
Throughout her academic life, she was always a wiz in elocution, impromptu speech and debating especially when it came on topics she familiarised herself with: HIV/AIDS, Domestic Violence, Religion and Childcare just to name a few.
She is a trained Peer Educator and once worked with the Ministry of Health. In collaboration with UNICEF she would often travel around the country visiting the various schools in the interior promoting health clubs and other programme. She said she had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with different children and different cultures around the country.
When Sonia was around the age of 18, she was invited to a workshop at the Theatre Guild. She soon after found herself to be an active member, often participating in all the training exercises except the crucial ones in drama where she would have to perform. After some months, the trainers, including Desiree Edghill, pushed her to do an audition and before long she had the lead role in Same Song, Different Tune, where she won the Best Actress award from the Theatre Guild.
She was nicknamed ‘The Sponge’ by Ron Robinson for her ability to get into character and learn her lines quickly.
But drama is not the only thing Sonia excels at, she was strutting the catwalk since she was 14. Trained at the Classic Essential Modelling Agency by Derrick Moore and Monica Trotz, she graduated at the top of her class despite being the shortest girl wearing six-inch heels. During her one year course she was taught proper posture and model posing, styling, makeup, photography and public etiquette.
At the age of 17 she took up dancing at the Crystallite Dance Company, after walking past the studio and seeing the dancers stretch and practice through the glass. She specialises in Latin and Hip Hop dancing and was even a dancer for the Sherriff Deputies Band.
But drama is the love of her life; the most fun and exciting part of her being. “Everything about drama is exhilarating, it can be tiring at times but that is a small price to pay,” she said.
Sonia is currently directing, playwriting and teaching, but next year she hopes to open the doors on producing. She is aware that eventually she (and others) will have to hand the gloves over to the next generation of dramatists, but notes that if they want to excel and continue the art – timekeeping, commitment, hard work, dedication and patience are required.
Inspiration for her comes from God, her guiding light. “He has given me so many talents, everything I touch I excel in – it doesn’t matter what it is and I am eternally grateful,” she said. Sonia is a member of the Harmony Light Full Gospel Church, where she teaches drama and dance. But her motivation comes from her loving family, the youths and the children she teaches drama to at Green Acres Primary School.
She considers the play The Colour of Race to be her most accomplished piece to date because it is simply hers, her first work and a true Guyanese play that deals with the effects of racism in society. The play won the Best Guyanese Play award in the Youth Group category at this year’s National Drama Festival; it was nominated for the Merundoi Awards Festival and Theatre Guild Awards in the same category.
Sonia herself won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as ‘Meri’ in Mosa Telford’s award-winning play Sauda and the Best Director Award for the directing the play Virtues.
She holds her Best Director Award close to her because it was highly unexpected. “That was a moment I don’t think can ever be relived. I was up against the best directors… like Ron Robinson and Sheron Cadogan-Taylor. It was an exhilarating moment,” she said.
Sharing her experiences of directing the play, Sonia said the exercise was tedious. While she usually works with teenagers and children, this was a different play which required hard, strenuous work and most of them knew nothing about stage. She had to teach them about everything within a two-month period and they were several barriers like dealing with time, resolving conflicts and bringing all of them together. As if that were not enough, her Grandmother died during that time.
Asked about winning the award for her original play The Colour of Race, she said, “It was a moment that finally came to life because we have lots of issues in Guyana that we highlight but racism is not one that is usually brought to light.”
Originally, that was not the play she began to write. She had several ideas to write about but Dr Paloma Mohamed encouraged her to write on race. “I focused hard on it because racism is not something that is openly discussed in Guyana. People say there isn’t a racial conflict but there still is. Most importantly, the play deals with the effects it can have on our children.”
Right now Sonia is doing the play Pizza Man in Linden and commemorating 20 years of ‘The Flame and the Ribbon’ – a World AIDS Day Production by Artistes in Direct Support. The event also features a candlelight vigil in remembrance of those who have died of AIDS related illnesses.
Sonia’s own life experiences are likely to be the driving story of a book she hopes to produce in the future. She wishes to venture out into the literary arts and write a novel based on taboo topics like sex, race and relationships just to name a few.
She hopes that one day Guyana can expand drama by exchange programmes and workshops to our sister countries in the Caribbean which can help promote our arts and market Guyana’s image across the region.
When Sonia is not on stage or teaching the arts, she plays Facebook App Games like Sorority Life and Family Feud and can also be found singing Karaoke.
Her favourite quote that sums up her feelings is: “Watch your thoughts, they become actions, your actions become your behaviour, your behaviour is a mirror of you.”