Yesterday was my final day of class here in France. My final exams are next week. I had a pretty busy week this week. I had a phonetics exam, I had papers due, I got papers back (scoring the highest written expression exam all semester for me). I had my final theatre project, which was an extract from Samuel Beckett’s En Attendant Godot. I’m super proud of this project and I’d like to thank my partner, Aini. I think this was one of the best theatre plays I’ve done all year. You can check it out on Youtube here:
Last night was the IRFFLE cabaret where students in the IRFFLE program put together a variety show to celebrate the last day of class. At WVU, I participate in the cabaret every fall and in the Spring Spectacle in the spring. But, when I do a song/theatre piece/puppet show in French at WVU, it’s in front of a bunch of American students, with only a handful of native French speakers. But the cabaret in France? Yes, it’s for foreign students, but all of our professors are native French speakers. And they will be the ones grading our exams next week. And they brought their spouses. And some foreign students are married to French nationals. So, there were a lot of French people in the student union.
And Kellene O’Hara signed up to do a monologue.
A monologue that I hadn’t prepared very much because I was focusing on making it through that last week of class. I was studying and writing and working. Not memorizing lines.
I realized how nervous I was when I sat down and then realized I sat down right behind the professors. I was in France. I was trying to do a monologue in their language, written by a French humorist named Florence Foresti. Why did I think this was a good idea? Could I leave now? No one would notice if I ran out the back door.
Abort mission. Abort. Now!
I was half-considering running away when I realized that this was stage fright. Which is pretty funny if you know me. I have performed in front of many audiences doing a wide variety of things. In high school, I was a member of the show choir. I was a member of the drama club. I’d done countless monologues. I’d been to Regionals (a competition for drama clubs in your region). I’d been to States (the next stage of the competition, after winning Regionals, for drama clubs in your state). Last summer, I was in a Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. I will gladly talk to anyone that will listen to me. I volunteer first to give presentations because I genuinely like to give presentations. I’ve never been afraid to get up on stage…
Until last night. Last night was the largest French audience I have ever been in front of…EVER. This was my first public display of French. Either I would speak French or dolphin squeaking sounds would come out of my mouth and I would be banned from living in France and then I would have to go back to the USA and live in shame for the rest of my days because I made a complete and utter fool of myself.
I can’t do this.
I asked when I was going on. Right after the second break, a man told me. The first break passed, then the second break. I headed backstage to collect my thoughts where another international student was playing music during the break. We danced to American and British pop music. It calmed me down. Then I asked if they had a clip-on microphone because I needed to use my hands in the play. They didn’t. I panicked slightly. I hadn’t practiced only having one free hand. I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to hold a microphone. The room was too big, too crowded for me to project my voice over all of them. I needed to use the microphone.
Then, they called my name. Kelly, Kellena, Kell… I didn’t care. It was close enough. I knew what they meant. It was me.
I walked on the stage and realized something immediately: it was stupid to have this right after the break. Everyone was still talking, everyone was eating food. No one was paying attention to the people of the stage, but it had been like this for the other acts too. I had a difficult job. I had to engage the audience, get them excited, but also get them to shut up.
Unfortunately, they continued to talk throughout the entire performance. I was quite frustrated because… I was nervous, I was speaking another language…and they wouldn’t give me the respect to be quiet!
I have never performed in front of an audience like that before…ever. When I did drama and other performances, everyone wanted to be there (or at least knew to be quiet during a performance). At one point, you could even hear the professors trying to quiet the audience by going… SHHHHH! It didn’t work. I wasn’t sure what to do. I just keep going.
I did learn one very important thing from this experience. I would NEVER work as a comedian. Crowds, like this one, can be hostile. I don’t like that feeling at all. I was trying my best. Furthermore, the other performances were all songs/dances from peoples’ native countries (except for a mandatory performance from a French class and another French monologue by a friend of mine). Out of the entire evening, only three acts were French? At a French cabaret? It was quite bizarre.
You can watch the video here (taped by Kacy – thank you!):
As you can see from the video, it was a tough crowd. But I did it. I gave a performance in front of a hostile crowd of French people and foreign students in France.
And I had a lot of fun doing it. My nerves went away as soon as I got on the stage. I was more frustrated at having to deal with the audience, but it was good to feel the warmth of the stage lights. It was good to act.
Other highlights of the night included having all of the professors get up on stage and do a dance from a girl’s native country. I am keeping this video as blackmail, in the event that my final scores do not go well (just kidding, of course).
And watching Cédrick dance. Cédrick was my professor for oral comprehension. As you can see, he is quite a character. A girl did a hip hop dance and then Cédrick was called up to do the dance with her. I am definitely keeping this one as blackmail.
Another highlight? The event was alcohol-free, but my professors brought several bottles of wine. It was very funny because, as the night went on, they would open another bottle, then another…I guess they needed it to get through the evening.
But it was good to see that my professors are humans though. I liked watching them dance and enjoy themselves. They seem happier when they were at the cabaret than when they are correcting our horrible grammar.
And, so, that’s how my classes ended. Now, on to finals!