A first round of seven weeks of rehearsals of the play 99 women ended a few days ago. For many women, it was their first acting experience, a moment of discovery, trouble and jubilation.

Guided by their coaches, the rehearsals begin with warm-up exercises. They help the body relax, and release the voice that was stressed by the daily pressure. The actresses call each other, breathe, vocalize, and walk. The rehearsal studio looks like a gym or an insane asylum. Fun.

As the body relaxes, the physical presence becomes more consistent and subtle. It acquires an intensity that we had almost forgotten. Indeed! Connected to the world through multiple interfaces, we often obliterate the reality of the body. We are here and there, floating in time and space. The theater reminds us this piece of evidence: our body is just here and it speaks. Because on stage, it is not possible to be elsewhere; every move becomes significant; the body talks and the public intuitively guess what it means. Miracle! We come on stage and something is happening. This is the first discovery.

Then comes the exploration of emotions. After a few “neutral” readings of the text, it is time to project more colorful tones. At first, the inflections reflect effortless mindsets – excitement, sadness or shyness – Progressively, the actresses prospect beyond the words and create more unexpected characters, sometimes funny, sometimes moving – they become stupid, rebellious or full of joy. A surprise: these new-found expressions may sound a little strange to them but they are as well undoubtedly personal.

This is the second discovery. The injunction to “be oneself”, that is so commonly accepted in society, often narrows the feelings that one is allowed to express. Paradoxically, to assert our personality, we limit ourselves to a well-known palette of emotions, aligned with the image we want to project. While embodying a theater character, we break this self-limitation and open perhaps secret passages where we can breathe a different air.

Theater leads us to the essence of the being: a unique presence animated by a world of colors and emotions. A simple and festive finding that the public is invited to share on October 9, 10 and 11 at the Children’s Art Theatre of China Welfare Shanghai.

Genevieve Flaven.

group colorié

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