A Litmus Perspective

In a few months time I will be performing the role of Augusta Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe.  As I step into the rehearsal room, here are my first impressions on preparing the character of Augusta...

Let’s face it - Augusta Tabor isn’t blessed with charm. She’s your no-nonsense kind-a-gal who survives whatever the cost. Accused of being cold, nagging and controlling, she isn’t your ideal dinner party guest. But, if I had one seat left at my dinner table and I had to choose between Augusta and her nemesis, Baby Doe…Augusta would get the invite.

The Ballad of Baby Doe is an American opera based on the true story of the Leadville mining celebrities: Augusta Tabor- a pioneering wife, Horace Tabor - a hen-pecked husband with big ideas, Horace's mistress, Baby Doe - a femme fatale 

The opera picks up the story of this love triangle when Horace and Augusta Tabor have realised their lifelong dream of striking gold and becoming rich. It took them over 20 years to achieve this dream, during which they survived starvation, the wilderness and Horace's infidelity.  Their marriage seemed indestructible until Baby Doe walked into town...   

Perhaps my compassion towards Augusta Tabor stems from my soft spot for the misunderstood strong woman. Take for instance the films Elizabeth and Love Actually. In Elizabeth we watch the queen surrender an aspect of her sexuality in her rebranding as England’s own Virgin Mary: 'Observe Burley, I am married to England.' Then there’s the classic scene in Love Actually when Emma Thompson’s character, Karen, in learning that her husband is sending his PA gifts, sobs her heart out to Joni Mitchell, pulls herself together and attends her kid’s nativity play. Later, when confronting her husband with the affair chokingly whispers, 'Yes, but you've also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish, too!'

I particularly reference these two films because the tale of a pioneering woman and a wife caught in a love triangle has much in common with the force of nature that is Augusta Tabor.  Like Elizabeth, Augusta's female design is ahead of her time.  Like Karen, she faces the humiliation of being caught in a love triangle.  Like Elizabeth and Karen, she too struggles with societal expectations and its punishments.

As I start to test my ideas about Augusta Tabor, there are four big questions I need to answer in order to step into her shoes:

  • Is there a midlife crisis lurking at the foot of the Tabor Love Triangle?
  • Do Augusta and Baby Doe market aspects of their femininity to survive in a man’s world?
  • Is the Tabor marriage a marriage of ego?
  • What is Augusta's battle style? 

With such a lot of thinking to do, best head to my favourite coffee shop...

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