Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: (Montreal) Changing Room

Beyond the stage and into the back
by Rebecca Ugolini

From the moment audience members enter Espace Libre’s performance space for a showing of the Nous Sommes Içi collective’s celebrated piece Changing Room, they know they aren’t in for just another night at the theatre. 
Hostesses are carrying trays of a blue-coloured, sweet-sour shot called Androgyne back and forth from the theatre’s well-stocked bar. Tables and chairs are arranged around the stage mimic a show club set-up, and a red-velvet-curtained stage complete with elaborate runway stands awaiting its performers. As soon as the lights dim and the disco ball starts spinning, Délice (Anne-Marie Coté) a big-haired, foul-mouthed, instantly-lovable drag queen hostess appears on stage and welcomes the audience to a night of cabaret numbers, laughs, and heart-to-hearts. 

Audience participation adds both humour and poignancy to the show’s mandate

Changing Room labels itself as an ‘interactive docu-theatre piece,’ and the title, for the most part, rings true. Audience members are treated to a series of performances by Délice, La Goglue (Simon Dépot), Praline (Martin Perreault), Rosy and Jewel (Frédérique Bradet) and a guest appearance by Jean-François Simard, as well as to a live-feed video from the theatre’s dressing room, where the performers discuss everything from their first drag experience to dealing with being gay in small-town Québec, and from dealing with the prejudice of the ordinary passer-by to the reactions of family, friends, and lovers to their careers as drag queens. 
Although it occasionally felt like the audience was left watching the screen with no performers physically on-stage for too long, it’s also difficult to keep in mind that the video feed is, after all, live, and that the separation from the changing room drives home the piece’s message of the social alienation that drag performers sometimes feel. For the most part, though, video and stage performances are well-balanced, and the multi-media concept feels smoothly-executed and polished. 
Audience participation adds both humour and poignancy to the show’s mandate to share the moments of elation and of sadness that seem to underlie drag-show performance, and while most of the participation isn’t for the shy, Délice is quick to size up which audience members want to participate in the show, and which ones prefer to remain spectators. 
It’s difficult to write about the performers and audience interaction without spoiling the many surprises Changing Room has in store, but rest assured that whether or not you get on stage, Changing Room’s successful blend of multi-media performance art and its energetic and versatile cast will make you feel like you’ve truly been a part of the show. Although it runs a little on the long side with a 30 minute intermission, Changing Room is worth seeing if you have a good understanding of French, are open-minded and want to get a no-holds-barred insight into a career and art form few will ever experience. 

Changing Room is at Espace Libre to September 8

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