Sinking my teeth into The Human Voice has been a process of undoing. The piece challenges established notions of victimhood, power dynamics, gender roles, and forgiveness. In trying to truly understand ‘Elle’, I have had to put aside some of my own preconceived ideas of right and wrong and imagine the world from her – and Poulenc’s – perspective.
On the surface, Elle can seem desperate, and there is something almost pathetic about her attempt to regain dignity through grace. But on a second, and third and 50th reading, she becomes more complex, her responses more nuanced. One day a certain line seems sarcastic, the next, sincere.
My portrayal of Elle is in constant flux, and I imagine will even shift between shows, depending on the energy of the orchestra, the emotional state I am in and, of course, the sympathy of the audience. The phone conversation that takes place over the course of the opera is so alive and real. I truly feel like I’m talking to an actual person on the other end of the line.
Because of that, I cannot imagine two performances ever being the same. This work forces us to ask the questions: who are the arbiters of pain? Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not in a relationship. Who can own trauma? That is, what type of character can actually perpetually abide a state of trauma? And, when the relationship is gone, and all that is left is bereavement, who are we in the face of that kind of nothingness? Are we anything or anyone at all?
I can safely say I have never been party to such an artistically creative process as I have in making this piece of theatre. It has been transformative and will, I imagine, have a lasting impact on my identity as an artist.
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