By Harry Anderson
She doesn’t walk. She moves like the fog. And her face . . . as mesmerizing and as changeable as the waters off Pt. Judith. Clare Vadeboncoeur – on or off the stage – is every inch a performer in the best of ways. In her words, “Creativity is the core of who I am.” To get at the core, to tap into its energy, and then give form to it – that is, to be an artist – is the story she tells to a listener at a picnic table in the gazebo at Johnston’s Memorial Park on a morning of the first day of a July heat wave.
“You know,” Clare begins, “I think I was born with an old soul. What I mean is from early on I had an understanding. Remember the Byrds song that goes I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now? Anyway, that’s what I mean.”
Being born smack in the middle of seven children – with a several years gap separating the older three and the younger three – she could discern an unsettling difference between the siblings coming before and after her. The latter, because of their innocence and playfulness, she preferred. From that came a lesson learned that would direct her life.
“When I turned 70, I felt 8 and asked my niece what it’s like to be 8. Her answer – ‘amazing!’ And there you have it.”
Clare believes that it is absolutely imperative to sustain propinquity with your inner voice, something that everyone has (although, she contends that more often than not adults, unlike children, are deaf to it).
“Yes, yes, yes! When you heed your inner voice, everyday amazement awaits you.” Excitement dilated her green/blue eyes. “And art celebrates this part of everyone’s life. I was so lucky to learn that as a child. I was only 7 that snowy day when I went with my cousin Sue to a children’s ballet class. Because of the bad weather attendance was slim and the teacher invited me to join the class. As I did the steps for the first time, it was like the pilot light of a stove coming on!”
By 10, Clare was becoming a pretty good dancer. Moreover, she took up yoga and learned of meditation, both of which she has practiced now for 60 years. But nirvana has been elusive. So much had to be overcome: her stultifying shyness, eight unhappy years at a French-speaking parochial grade school, flirtation with hippie-hood (she was gassed at the Vietnam War protest March on Washington in 1970), a 15-year marriage and motherhood, apostasy. Through it all, though, she did not tune out her inner voice.
Approaching middle age, she earned a degree from RIC in dance and boldly went off to a two-year intensive program at the The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York City, getting certified as a movement analyst. “That for me was a turning point. There I was – a country bumpkin from Bellingham in New York City! My world opened up!”
Landing a Rhode Island Foundation grant to pay tuition, Clare entered the three-year Trinity Rep Conservatory’s MFA program and appeared in The Sea Gull, Christmas Carol (as the Ghost of Christmas Future), Into the Woods (as Milky White, the cow).
“My work became theatrical, so I gave up dancing. I loved everything there at Trinity, especially working with Richard Jenkins and his wife, Sharon. Yet, . . .”.
All the while memories of her happiest days kept surfacing – those times when, in the parlor of her Bellingham home, she had entertained her younger siblings by miming stories.
“That’s it! There’s the thread that connects everything!”
Up to Paris, Maine, Clare scooted to Tony Montanaro’s Celebration Barn to learn the art of miming. Under this master’s tutelage she had found her niche; and since, for the last 31 years, she happily has been the artist in resident at the Montessori Children’s House on Lloyd Avenue on Providence’s East Side, teaching creative movement to kids whose ages run from 4 to 8. She also has founded a one-woman company named Good Heart Productions and does gigs wowing children with her genius performance that she calls “Story Alive” (a mix of dance, drama, mime). As she sums it up, “You put everything into story telling.”
Good Heart Productions comes directly from the translation of her surname – Vadeboncoeur. From the French into English it means “Go with a good heart”. Also, most appropriately, her first name means “bright, outgoing, extremely multi-talented”. Not surprisingly, Clare says, “My goal in life is and always has been to be humble and kind . . . to be a gentle force of kindness in the world.”
Realizing that she has been performing mainly for children, she has scheduled for the evenings of November 11 and 12 a one-woman show called “Out of My Mime: Stories With and Without
Words”. Characters Café at 82 Rolfe Square in Cranston is the venue.
“This show,” she says, “is a retrospective of all my work. It’s entirely original. In fact, the last piece is the first one I ever wrote. I’m doing this for all my friends and, in general, for all adults. It’ll be the first show I’ve done for adults.”
With her story told, Clare Vadeboncoeur goes with her good heart back to her car, moving like the fog.