All abuzz over Michelle Matlock, the lady-loving ladybug of ‘Ovo’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
Michelle Matlock is the female romantic interest in the Cirque du Soleil show Ovo — a role that, Hairspray aside, rarely befalls bigger girls. And girls of color? And openly gay? Well, she’s basically the only one. Like, ever.
“I think it’s pretty special,” she says from a break in performing under the grand chapiteau in Frisco. “Not only for me being a big girl but a black girl. You don’t see us being a love interest much — even though I’m a bug.”
Yeah, did we leave that part out?
Matlock plays the giddy, delightful ladybug, wooed by a handsome housefly to the dismay of the other members of her garden of tight-knit insects. About 10 different acrobatic acts perform in the show, but Matlock is one of the story anchors, a clown who has her own share of tumbles, pratfalls and jumps.
Clowning might seem a far cry from Matlock’s classic training at the National Shakespeare Academy in New York, but she doesn’t see it that way.
“My base is theater, but over the last five, six years, clowning has dominated my career,” she says. “It’s actually a culmination of everything I learned [at the conservatory]. I used almost everything I’d ever experienced to help create the role. I had intensive clowning [there], and we had ballet and modern dance — a well-rounded program. I just never thought that seven weeks would actually be the kind of work I’d be doing the rest of my career.”
Not the entirety of her career, though. Matlock is also the creator of a one-woman play called The Mammy Project, about stereotypes of black woman, especially ones of size. The idea came about when Matlock was asked to audition to be the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The play begins with the first woman to create Aunt Jemima, back during the 1893 World’s Fair, and goes up through Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind and Matlock’s own experiences. It’s one reason Matlock is so pleased that she could create the Ladybug as a romantic figure.
And create the role she did. She auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2004 after several years’ experience clowning in other circuses, but while the audition went well, they didn’t have a part for her at the time. “But we have some shows in the works,” they told her.
More than four years later, in November 2008, she became part of the team that created Ovo. She’s been touring with the show ever since and just signed to stay with it through 2011.
That schedule has taken its toll on her relationship with her girlfriend, who has remained in New York (she also works in theater).
“It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning, maintaining a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten over that. It has been nice for us. And now that I’m signed through 2011, she might come and join me on tour. She is a stage manager and very organized. She might work for Cirque. And then it’ll be another challenge: Working together.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.