Business Body Language Invades the Theatre

Business Body Language in the theatre? Yes, the theatre is business. More accurately, the body language discussed in today’s blog is reinforcing the brand of the two theatrical characters – Evita (Eva Peron) and Lady Day (Billie Holiday).



Within two weeks I saw Evita and Lady Day at the Emerson Café. I enjoyed both productions immensely and was struck by the importance of body language in delivering the messages. Both lead actors were not just portraying individuals, but replicating the performances and appearances of these intense and well known women. Yolanda London and Alyssa Chiarello played Billie Holiday and Eva Peron respectively.

Let’s talk about the business body language of the two performances.

The most striking similarity is that both actors were always consistently in character – not just costumes and voice, but all the gestures and facial movements that make up business body language.  This is difficult when playing such well known contemporary individuals. Many in the audience could have seen either Billie Holiday or Eva Peron in person and formed their own body language memory. Additionally, virtually all of us have seen photographs and film of both and came into the theatre with our own perception of “who” they were and how they should act.

Individually they were very different – the theatrics of controversial Eva Peron, wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron who was adored by the descamisados (shirtless ones) and the exotic and addicted Billie Holiday near the end of her life in 1959.  They both had a signature style and a signature persona – each dramatic in its own way.

Eva Peron’s character evolves/changes many times during the performance, but her essence of bigger than life is evident from that first appearance when she describes where she wants to be. We only see Billie Holiday as a snapshot – one evening’s performance, but her character changes as the drug dependence flares and subsides. Yet, there is the essence of Billie Holiday in her every moment on stage.

billie-1 evita-1

The face, the arms and the hands were the body language components that defined both Eva Peron and Billie Holiday. They were both body language masters in sending strong messages to large numbers of people. There was little movement back and forth and their messages were not dependent on a sense of forward motion. Billie Holiday’s stage was a small, intimate club setting which did not allow lots of moving around. Eva Peron was most often “on display” behind a podium, standing on a balcony with her husband, or speaking.

Of the three powerful body language components, which do you think was most effective for Eva Peron and for Billie Holiday?

Facial gestures

Arm movements

Hand movements

Here are some things to consider:

  • Facial gestures
    • Could you receive the message without seeing the facial movements?
    • Did the facial gestures make the message more intimate?
    • Were the facial gestures typical, just exaggerated for the theatre?
  • Arm gestures
    • Both of these women were masters of the arm gesture. Do you typically look at arms?
    • Both used the slow raise of the arms from at the sides to fully extended. Did you get the message that they were in control of the situation?
    • Did the arm gestures bring you closer to the message?
  • Hand gestures
    • Were the hand gestures seamlessly coordinated with the arm gestures?
    • Did the hand gestures emphasize the message of control?
    • Were the hand gestures inclusive (drawing you in) or exclusive (pushing you away)?

I don’t expect you to adopt the full persona of these powerful women. White sequined gown or tight fitting cocktail dress tends to be over the top for the office.

But what can you learn from these beautiful, powerful, and complex women’s business body language?

Leave your comments and we can start a conversation.

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