Sunday, September 08, 2013

Once A Diva, Always A Diva

I am leaving for Africa in 11 days.  Time has accelerated and I feel like I'm getting sucked into a vortex heading into another dimension.  That's probably not too far off the mark.  This experience is going to be life changing and I'm going to be a totally different person when I come down off that mountain, almost like a re-birth.

With my two awesome girlies after the show on my b-day!
Last week I was a Diva.  I participated in an amazing production held here in Tauranga called Tarnished Frocks and Divas.  A show that inspires women over the age of 40 to continue to challenge themselves, create new goals and to be a positive influence.  

I first saw the show two years ago when I was working as Front of House.  It was the first time I'd heard of it and I was so inspired, I knew I wanted to be part of the next show (it's only on every two years).  I auditioned for an acting role but I really wanted to be a model and wear the incredible garments.

I was offered the choice - and I chose to be a model.  Given everything else I have on my plate this year, I thought that modeling would be enough.  For the next 6 months we met once a week learning how to walk.  Seriously, it's not as easy as you might think.

I knew that this experience would help me rediscover 'Tracy Pepper'.  Since coming to New Zealand I have become a shrinking violet.  I lost my confidence and my purpose when I stopped public speaking.  No one seemed to want me to share my story so I stopped asking.  I didn't realize that by not telling my story, I was losing my connection with myself and with others.  I started to develop a stutter and a fear of public gatherings.  I felt judged and insecure.  I felt deeply rejected and started becoming afraid and intimidated by people.  I didn't realize that it was because I was utterly disconnected from the essence of WHO I AM.  I was lost.

Yet I didn't have the desire to return to Canada.  I knew I belonged here. I just needed to find the right sort of people.  What I experienced was a Kiwi phenomenon called Tall Poppy Syndrome, where anyone who is unique or stands out from the rest are brought down to "normal".  There's that word again.  I will NEVER be normal.  Tall Poppy Syndrome is a passive aggressive form of bullying where the aggressor simply ignores you or makes subtle negative remarks in order to make you feel bad about yourself for wanting to shine.  They often are deeply insecure and feel threatened by you because you have something they don't have.  The more aggressive "bullies" will actually try to steal your ideas and make them their own in hopes to be more like you.  The end result is that you feel irrelevant and confused by what's happening and feel more alone than ever.

Coming from Canada where I felt encouraged, supported and celebrated for being a self motivated and unique individual, to suddenly being rejected for my gifts and talents was really hard on my ego.  I even had an accountant "friend" who worked for the Port of Tauranga.  She told me I inspired her and that she wanted to be more like me.  I would share my business ideas, using her as a sounding board.  She was always a great listener.  She never once told me that she was thinking of starting up a business too.  Then one day I saw her handing out brochures at a women's expo.  I thought she was working for someone else.  She had started her own business using my 5 year plan with her own "spin" on it.  Seriously?   I was dumbfounded and I was deeply hurt.  It changed the way I shared with others.  I became a shell of who I was, lacking faith and trust in others.  But it turned me inward, looking for that faith and trust within myself and in God.  I learned not to share so much.  So everything happens for a reason.  A journey of discovery... and learning who to trust.

I don't think Kiwis even realize what they're doing when they dim another persons light.  

The good news is that it's beginning to change.  People are becoming more aware of TPS (Tall Poppy Syndrome) and embarrassed to hear that it happens in this beautiful country.  

Being a Diva helped me find myself again.  It also connected me to some amazing women who were on their own fabulous journey of discovery.  I found a sisterhood of inspiring and open souled women.  Where have they been hiding all this time?  

Each week we walked together to music, in silence, wearing high heels and dressed in our Sunday best.  We were slowly becoming Divas.  Gradually we got to know each other on a first name basis but we didn't know what each other did or much about any ones personal lives until months later.  But we were a team and you could tell - we never let the team down.  Each one of us turned up for practice every week without fail.

Team 2 - Modeling Italy

There were three teams of Models.  The Past Divas - from previous shows, Team 1 and Team 2.  I was in Team 2.

The story line of this years show happened to be called "A Fabulous Journey of Discovery".  The stars; Jackie Clarke - a New Zealand actor, singer, entertainer & comedian and Annie Crummer actor, singer/songwriter;  two amazingly talented women who took this show to new heights.   Jackie played a time traveling "fairy godmother" who was out searching for the next True Diva.  Annie played a cleaning lady at Tauranga airport who was absolutely bewildered when Jackie pronounced her the next Diva.  They bounced off one another, improvising and having a whale of a time out there.  They were downright hilarious.  But they sang like angels, making your hairs stand on end and shivers run down your spine.  

Together they traveled the world along with their flight crew - the Yellow Birds - to understand just what made a woman a Diva through their essence, truth, j'oir du vive and impeccable sense of style. 

Writer/Director Vanessa Byrnes was inspired to write this script based on the primal movement up the chakra system, starting at the base and rising up through the crown.  She was wonderful to work with as her vision slowly became a reality for all of us in the show.  Vanessa asked us to say YES and to trust the process, even if we couldn't see where it was taking us.  I loved that. 

In hair and make-up
The question we have been asking is, "In an ever changing world where we all look very different, what is unique, what is essentially fabulous, and what links us all?"  We've gone on the hunt for qualities and virtues that connect us all.  As you watch this show, you will journey through the embodiments of selected, special gifts in different countries, given by women from the Great Pantheon of Divas.

A sense of adventure is a must for any trip, and for this fantastic journey of discovery our talented team of designers, performers, models, musicians and technicians have been pushing further into retro, revamped and reworked as we showcase and interpret the Diva style through fashion, art, music, dance and accessories.
Italy make-up

A little different each show
 The show began with an open designer section where fashion designers had an opportunity to create a garment out of men's pre-loved suits and transform them into a creative and contemporary outfit. 

The first stop on Jackie and Annie's journey - Africa.   The Primal Earth Diva - the virtue of TRUTH, representing Mooladhara - the base chakra which represents survival.  The scene begins with drums, African chanting and tribal dance.  What a powerful start to the show.   You can practically feel the Mooladhara awaken!

Next stop, Italy.  The passionate diva- the virtue of SENSUALITY.  Swadhisthana Chakra in the pelvis and ruled by our reproductive  system. This could only be inspired by Sophia Loren.  This was our debut as Team 2 Models.  It was a haunting catwalk as we floated along in dimly lit blue light with a very slight secretive smile.  Our face masked in white make-up and our hair covered in a white net.  Apparently this was the most powerful modeling scenes of the night.  I wore a long white satin gown made from vintage fabric and a gorgeous long sleeved netted overlay with silver leaves hand sewn around the collar.  I felt like a princess in that dress.  My character was "the virgin bride".

Our haunting Italy walk down the catwalk

Then onto Japan and the Stylish Diva who knows her own style - the virtue of PEACE.  Manipura Chakra, the solar plexus representing our "gut instinct" and willpower.  Our Diva choice - Yoko Ono.

(In between the modeling, there is lots of dancing, singing, and comedic work to entertain the audience.  I'm just writing this from my own backstage experience.)

Meanwhile backstage we are scrambling to get ready for our next walk - having our hair and make-up changed.  I had to get it all done in 12 minutes so I could be out and ready to get on stage in character as Miss American Graffiti!  I was Roller Girl - and totally in my element.

The next stop on the journey was USA - the Sexy Diva with the virtues of FAITH & TRUST.  This is Anahata - the Heart Chakra. And the only Diva for the job is of course - Marilyn Monroe.  This was such a fun act - our costumes were very animated and creative.  We were true characters and had to use our shining effervescent personalities on the catwalk to bring our outfits to life.   It wasn't too far of a stretch for me - I just reconnected with myself 25 years ago when I would roller skate around the neighbourhood.   All those years of gum chewing and bubble blowing paid off.  The crowd loved it!

Loving every minute of it!

Then there was England and the Warrior Diva - the virtue of STRENGTH.  The Chakra here is Vishuddhi - at the throat which transcends both ourselves and others.   Our Warrior was Bodicea.   This was the Junior Designer Award who were asked to take the theme "Underwear for Outerwear" and transform petticoats into a unique modern women's outfit for the diva of today.

Next, India.. the Compassionate Diva - the virtue of CHARITY.   Reaching up towards the Ajna Chakra in the centre area of our mind, where intuition lies.  I loved this act as it reflected on one of my idols, Mother Theresa who was so NOT a diva but at the same time was, in her own right, what you could consider diva-like because she had a mind of her own and didn't care what anyone thought - she remained true to her calling.

And then finally we journey right back to New Zealand where the Authentic, Grounded Diva hails - the virtue of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.  Of course this is Sahasrara/Crown Chakra which represents a fully liberated soul.  This was our final (and my favourite) appearance on the catwalk as we pranced with confidence and pride to Kimbra's song - Good Intent.  I wore a tablecloth which was revamped into a handpainted poncho, my skirt was a shirt and the sleeves made into leg warmers.  I just loved it.  I called this outfit the "East Cape Cowgirl".

So if you didn't get to see the show, this was a short synopsis of what you missed.  But you missed so much more.  The technical aspect of the show was outstanding.  The reviews said that it was good enough for Broadway (off Broadway perhaps) and we rival Wellington's Wearable Arts.  

I have to give Kudos to Robyne Dowdall and Debra Laraman who designed all of our fabulous costumes.  They are not only talented, but they are just stunningly beautiful women both inside and out.   Another Kudos goes out to Jo Page - who has been involved with this show from its inception as a model and who worked with us "novice models" to help us walk with grace, poise and confidence.

Our Associate Director, Marilyn Collins-Smith (who was also the fierce sword fighting Bodicea) did a brilliant job creating the vision.  She had a lot to do, organizing 100 women who all threw in their own opinion about how things should go.  She handled us beautifully.

The Producer - Denny Spee who has been involved with TF&D from the beginning.  She's a true DIVA.  What a woman!

And I can't forget our Stage Manager, Bronwyn-Anne Lightbody (Bronny for short).  She's fierce like a lion but has the heart of a kitten.  She's efficient, forthright, effective and has a surprising sense of humour.  Just don't chew gum around her.  ;)

And to all the other performers in the show - too many to mention individually.  The dancers - you were especially amazing!  The Yellow Birds who held the show and worked alongside Jackie and Annie to wow and captivate the audience.  The whole production team!  AMAZEBALLS - all of you.

The hair and make-up team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the dungeon... and all the backstage crew.  If if wasn't for these people, nothing would have run smoothly... in fact nothing would run at all.

And Jackie Clarke and Annie Crummer who I never properly met but who told me I was gorgeous every time I walked past them and who shared the stage with all of us in a very "non-divalike" manner.  You made this experience amazing.  You are great role models and we were so blessed to work alongside you both.

Regardless of the outstanding reviews, the show was a success because it transformed ordinary women into extraordinary divas.  I don't think any of us will ever be quite the same - in the very best way.  

The perfectionist Diva - re-shaping her lips.
Personally, this experience helped me find my playful and creative side in a year that has been perhaps one of the biggest years of my entire life.  It has given me the confidence I needed to go on this trip to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro.  It may sound silly - because I'm not going to Africa to be a Diva.  Being a Diva has awakened something deep inside of me... a part of myself I lost a connection to.  Now I feel complete. My chakras have been balanced and awakened.  I am radiating energy out of
Sahasrara as a fully liberated soul!
To be afraid of dying is to be afraid of living - it's kinda the same thing.   ~Tracy Pepper
But for now, this Diva is trading in her heels for hiking boots.  The Fabulous Journey of Discovery continues... 

Once a Diva, always a Diva


linda said...

you were memorable, and the crowd certainly did love you! Thank you for writing this all down, so good to be transported back again and to feel the goosebumps of the Italy walk. It was outstanding - you were all outstanding.

Tracy Pepper said...

Thanks for the comment Linda! The Divas are just itching to see the DVD when it comes out so we can see what you all saw! The audience made us great! We bounced off your energy. x

Amanda said...

Oh my goodness Tracy - amazing Tracy. I was reading a magazine on flight the other day and there you were, and now reading your blog ... I always knew you were someone pretty special - and now you are a pretty special diva on her way to climbing Kilamanjaro! Hamba gahle Tracy ... go well.
My heart sings ... and sings :-)

Tracy Pepper said...

Hi Amanda! I'm trying to place you! Thank you for your heartfelt words.