Not having to ‘fill another woman's shoes’ transformed my interpretation of a very familiar role.
This season I performed the role of Queen of Night for Welsh National Opera's production of The Magic Flute. It was the second time I appeared in that production (and I've lost track of how many other productions I've done of this particular opera…), but this time it was different. It felt like I made this role my own in a way I hadn't previously, and I largely attribute that transformation to one thing: I got to wear my own shoes. Of course, I must give credit to the marvellously empowering direction of Benjamin Davis, and the inevitable effect of my own increased maturity and experience (ahem). Still, there was something particularly freeing about the shoes. Not just because they were more comfortable than the costume shoes (they were) and enabled me to move more naturally, but also, as I only realised after the production was finished and the shoes were returned to me for everyday use, because of the symbolism. I wasn't being asked to fill another woman's shoes: these are my shoes. This is my role.
You see, in this production, I was originally the understudy, and then offered the role in my own right when the production was revived in 2008, and again this season. So the imprint of being a replacement for someone else remained, along with the costumes, sets, choreography, and shoes. And one day in rehearsal, our lovely director Ben said: 'Laure, why are you walking like that? Are those shoes uncomfortable? Can we get her some different shoes? …What about the ones you usually wear?'
And so I got to be in my own shoes. And I felt more able to sing this role the way I wanted to. And I wondered why I hadn't done this sooner. Perhaps I was still ‘filling someone else's shoes’...and I didn't feel I had the right to complain, or change anything? Ouch.
All this because of some shoes? Well, symbols and metaphors are powerful. And this was the Magic Flute, by they way. Symbolism abounds. Yes, it’s a metaphor, but an important one. One that I will carry with me into my future work and that I recommend to all, whatever your profession or position: be in your own shoes, and comfortable in your own role. Don’t try to be someone else: their shoes won’t fit quite so well.