Trading My Guises for Gifts in Tableau ~ 169

Old and new friends and acquaintances reunite, familiar music resounds, as Sarah Small and her brilliant cast and crew come together once more for another, more private tableau vivant. Set in the Bathhouse Studios in the East Village, this version has both a more intimate audience, set, and feel. The same challenges arise as each of the models hold their static poses, sing, and watch in our peripheral vision to catch the tempo, the changes in harmony by the stringed instruments, and the moments when Sarah Small might float in to signal our poses to come alive and interact.


Original Photo Copyright Cecilia De Bucourt
Original Photo Copyright Cecilia De Bucourt

Earlier in the day, after a few hours of rehearsal for the tableau, interviews, hair, and makeup, Sarah also floated about the set, this time in a Tim Burton-like white dress and half upswept hair. We took our places afresh, this time for a new video concept involving Sarah as an obsession rivaling social media’s love of Justin Bieber, as we literally fall lifeless at her feet. Upon the long-awaited final entrance of a baby in the final shoot, lifted up to the heavens, we all breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of a little rest and dinner before the performance.

Reminding me of my days of high school marching band, I felt a bit lightheaded but excited after our, “do it again, just one more time” (all lies!) kind of day. What could have possibly energized me so much after a truly exhausting day with little time to stop to eat or rest? With such a different venue from our DUMBO Arts Festival performance, a seemingly small change provided me the first and most profoundly personal inspiration from this tableau vivant.

Rather than enter through the crowd, the house opened to a space full of “sleeping” models, each of us frozen in static poses for twenty-five minutes until a Bulgarian wool-clad Kamala Sankaram powerfully sang “Caro nome” from Rigoletto to bring us to life. Amusingly, Kamala actually made the dynamic a bit louder than usual on her first phrase in case any of the models actually had fallen asleep, but having to hold a perfectly static pose for twenty-five minutes makes sleep fairly challenging. Although I have spent some time considering the prospect of life modeling (posing nude for artistic endeavors, usually classes) in the future, I never quite grasped the difficulty in maintaining even a seemingly comfortable but perfectly still position for twenty minutes or more.

Somewhere between odd but unresolvable back pain and moments of Zen where I actually almost dozed off despite the discomfort, my thoughts began to compare the sensation with the reality of living my life in a static pose of inactivity. Like many Americans, I struggle with the temptation to hide from the cold or the challenges of life in the comfort of my warm apartment, in front of the anesthetizing influence of the television, computer, or other media. Only after I stand up and attempt to participate in living do I perceive the alternating pain and sleepy haze into which my paralyzed state has thrown me.  Doubtless this observation provided the motivation to move slowly away from the television, one muscle at a time, and back to living my glorious life.

Although I’ve re-discovered a much fuller existence these past six days or so, since my first day of braving the hazy shade of winter relentlessly blanketing the city, I have yet to act on another gigantic impetus to change, once more inspired by my performance at Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant. Somewhere between each palpably quickened heartbeat before singing “C’est l’amour vainqueur” from The Tales of Hoffmann, a familiarly impish spirit of adventure washed over me as I decided to wait longer than I could seemingly bear in the silence before beginning my first note in the nude. Similarly, at the end of an ever-present and confidently sung aria with no clothes nor poorly-acted pretense, I enjoyed my final high note in suspended time, without fear or reservation, before coming back down to end the piece and tableau.

Afterwards, as we descended past the grateful audience down the frigid staircase to return to our fully-layered lives, I chuckled with an unusually cogent confidence upon the realization of a truly impressive feat. “Why,” I thought, “would I ever feel afraid or self-conscious at auditions when I know I can do something this amazing so expertly?” Those of you who have read my writing more than once or know me personally understand that while I must regularly promote myself as a performer, such self-assurance does not greet me readily when I rise each morning. For this I have to work so hard, such that I failed to attempt a single audition last month, even after agreeing with colleagues to apply for at least five monthly.

Yet somehow, performing with a roomful of dedicated and similarly vulnerable humans, without a single pretense or guise of fabric to call my own, the Tableau Vivant gives me the strength and faith to perform honestly and without apology, as the very best version of myself. In my life, I believe I have never received a greater gift; however, the offering each performer and creator lays out at the feet of their audience materializes into a much more profound treasure of creation. About this community at large, the performers within, and the message Sarah Small’s Tableau speaks to humanity, I have far more to say over the next few days. My thanks to those of you who have decided to join us.

9 thoughts on “Trading My Guises for Gifts in Tableau ~ 169

  1. Another lovely post. What you say about performing without fear or reservation puts your finger on why these events can be so meaningful. You mentioned life modelling, though – have you never considered organizing an event that combines singing and otherperformance with nude modelling? Artists would throng to it..

    1. Thanks, Julian. I haven’t, although I doubt it isn’t happening somewhere in this city already! I’m definitely more of a performer than a writer, but who knows? I learned to stop saying never a long time ago.

  2. Well, something to consider … there’s definitely an audience for events which combine high culture and nudity. In the meantime, I’m amazed you haven’t been snapped up to play Salome or Lulu 🙂

  3. Hi Abigail,
    my name is Thorston, actor and classically trained singer (though not really working in the latter capacity), living in the UK.
    I came across the video of Tableaux Vivant and ,consequently, your blog a few weeks ago. Watching the video made me really feel I wanted to be there to partake. I can’t really say what it is about, but I found it profoundly moving and beautiful!!
    I am no starnger to nudity on stage myself. Last year I took my own adaptation of Dostoyevsly’s ‘Notes From Underground’ up to the Edinburgh Festival. My character is naked throughout the entire centre scene of the play, actually serving as a dramatic tool adding another layer to the character. One can express so much through nudity, from total vulnerability to utmost power and invincibility. I for one am all for breaking through all these non-sensical taboos our civilization has build around the subject for the last 2,000 years or so!
    You mentioned the pain you felt in your body while keeping absolutely still for 20 minutes. I used to do life modelling (still do occasionally) and I know exactly what you mean. There is no such thing as a comfortable pose. After 5 minutes any pose will start producing aches in your body. You suddenly become aware of muscles you never knew existed. All you can do is start with something that feels fairly comfortable and hope for the best. Even while keeping outwardly still, you can shift balances internally to a certain extend. One warning: if you seriously think of doing life nmodelling, beware of poses that put a strain on your lower back, especially long standing poses. 10 years ago I permanently damaged a disc in the small of my back doing a standing pose over the course of a whole week!
    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think the tableau was amazing and I found your comments about it and the process of its creation very interesting and illuminating.
    I am glad Sarah Small posted the video online so people from all over the world can share in the experience (although nothing can replace experiencing it live, of course).
    Wishing you lots of energy and success in your future projects!


    1. Thanks, Thor – wonderful to hear from you. Since you’re in the UK, you might take a look at He is a friend of Sarah’s who actually referred me through his mailing list and came to this last performance at the Bathhouse. His installations are markedly different than hers, but grand in scope, quite interesting, and worldwide. Best of luck on all your endeavors!

      1. Thanks for your reply, Abigail. I have seen some of Spencer Tunick’s work and I like it. As a matter of fact, I wanted to partake last time he did a shoot in London which is the closest to where I live, but in the end I couldn’t make it. I followed the link and signed up – did the same at Sarah Small’s website in case she ever does a tableau over here.
        All the best!

  4. Ms Wright,

    First time poster here. I came across your blog recently, but I admit I merely put it in my favorites…probably saving it for a wintry day in the future. Well, the wintry days came and I read some of your posts…particularly your most recent one…and I felt both inspired and chastened (but in the best way). I’m not a believer in accidents, I believe I was meant to read your work when I was feeling unproductive, snowed-in, and doubtful. I’m realizing that I’m feeling a torpor that is here not only when the snow falls but when the sun shines, a paralysis of the soul. Thank you for the insights on how you shed yours. I’ll be a regular reader now…when the sun shines and the snow blows. Thank you for the great work…you’re as good a writer as you are a singer, and that’s really saying something.

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