Once upon a time, a nine-year-old girl stepped on stage for a Christmas show wanting to sing her favorite song, ‘Once Upon a December’ from the movie Anastasia. The performance ended with loud applause from the audience and uncontrolled sobbing from the performer.
Today, 15 years later, that little girl, Balqis Duvall, has grown up to be an actress and singer of international acclaim, who most recently won audiences in Kuwait with her portrayal of dark and oddly endearing Mrs. Lovett in the play Sweeney Todd.
“That first time when I stepped on stage, I knew something amazing had happened. From the moment I started singing, I knew that the connection a performer makes with their audience is powerful enough to move souls,” said Balqis while talking about her first brush with the world of performing arts.
Realizing what you want to do with your life is one thing, but going about doing it is a whole different ball game altogether. “I think a lot has become possible for me because of my mother’s constant support. She has always been my biggest fan and greatest support and sometimes in life what you need most is for someone to stand behind you while you figure it all out.”
A graduate from LIPA, Paul McCartney’s performing arts school, Balqis says her favorite part about studying there was the fact that it put her in contact with not just actors, but also musicians, stage designers and dancers. Giving her an opportunity to get a complete idea of what it takes to produce a successful story.
Right after graduating from LIPA, Balqis was signed for playing a Syrian Refugee in a play called the ‘Warehouse of Dreams’. “I think that was an intense experience, both as a performer and as a person. I had shaved my head for the role and the play did extremely well, received rave reviews but it also made me realize that at 21, I was not ready for that life. ,” said Balqis when talking about why she decided to move back to Kuwait. Returning to Kuwait has helped Balqis not just find herself but also reconnect with her family.
When asked what her biggest challenge and greatest take-away from acting is, Balqis answers, almost as if on que, “With acting you don’t just learn how to perform, you learn the formula to the human soul. Because in order to be somebody else, you have to know who you are and that’s the scary part. For me to have the privilege to play all these different roles is like living a 100 lives in one. It’s like being a vampire.”
In Sweeney Todd, a play written by Stephen Sondheim and produced for Kuwait by Hamad Al Jenaie along with One World Actors Centre of Kuwait, Balqis played Mrs. Lovett, the pie-making mastermind intensely in love with Sweeney Todd. The character brought to the fore not just Balqis’s acting prowess but also her singing range, which is soul capturing to say the least.
“I think being a musician is more difficult than being an actor. In acting you are portraying someone else, you have a reference point, while in music, you have to bare your soul. But that moment in creating music when you hit the right note, is so emotionally rewarding, that it takes making music a couple of notches higher than acting in my world,” quips Balqis on why she likes music more than she likes acting.
At 24, Balqis’s work has taken her from London and Los Angeles and back, making Kuwait a rather unusual stop. “To be honest, I don’t see myself living solely in Kuwait. Having said that, the culture scene in Kuwait is going through an evolution of its own. There are so many more avenues for artistic expression here today, then there were when I was growing up. I think my ideal life would be spending winters in Kuwait, when the art community is most active and summers exploring the acting scene elsewhere in the world.”
From music to acting and art to fashion, Balqis’s aim is to always keep herself creatively inclined. “Adulthood is an ambush of crazy people in big suits trying to be something that they are not actually sure of. My only aim in life is to stand in my own skin and be comfortable in the breath that I was given.”
There are few in the world who believe in dreams, magic and connection as much as Balqis does, and it is this unicorn-ness that makes her truly special.