One of the great pleasures of being in the performing arts is that watching other performers is part of the job. It's especially a pleasure to see performers who are incredibly gifted and who know exactly how to read their audiences.
Last Saturday I went to see Rachel Ponsonby in her new show, Mon Opera, a one-woman clown opera in Brussels at La Samaritaine. Woohoo! Though it was a show in English, I wasn't the only one in the audience rolling on the floor with laughter.
Rachel plays the part of Virginia Davis, a stereotypically buttoned-down Englishwoman of a certain age, who has come to tell us about the life and work of Lady Penelope Flower, the famous (really?!) English opera singer. Virginia plays many parts in the show, changing seamlessly from one to the next. We were never confused about who was speaking or singing.
When I watch other performers, I pay attention to essentials, such as pacing, clarity of the scene and of articulation, physical movement, as well as to the story being told (in whatever artform). Rachel got all of these right--as I knew she would, since she has been a clown for almost two decades and had excellent training. Her timing especially was spot-on.
On top of all that, she plays at least five instruments and sings. One part of the show is the Hallelujah chorus, in which she sings all the parts (you'll see part of it in the clip). The audience roared. And did I mention the hulahoop of fire?
I also watch other performers for the arc of the show. If this had been one unrelenting laugh-fest, it would have been too much. Rachel brought the audience along on an emotional journey. There was plenty of tenderness, for example when Lady Flower finds herself dumped by her true love for Maria Callas. One of my favorite lines in the show: "Maria Callas! She can't even sing...in English."
As good storytellers--and other performers--know, it's important to bring the audience home at the end of the journey. We all arrived back safely with Miss Davis. As my friend Marie said afterwards, "C'etait super!"
What a satisfying evening. Aaah.