From art to life and back to art again

Dimitra Barla

A journey to writing a play about how art is turned into life


Life imitates art more than art imitates life’ Oscar Wilde pointed out, with his distinctive wit. This is -oh- so true about the play The cloakroom attendant – A study on human nature, the monologue I have been developing and which will be presented for two evenings on June 2nd and 3rd at the Canal Café Theatre in Little Venice.

My inspiration derives from the artworks of a museum where I was employed as front of house assistant. Having moderate knowledge of art, I was initially stunned by the beauty in the galleries, until I gradually developed a personal relationship with the artefacts; during the quiet hours before opening and after closing to the public, the figures on the paintings transcended their inanimate form. It was then as if they were turned into my contemporaries and they would share their stories with me. In return, I could share my thoughts with them and they would stoically understand.

This supernatural experience often came in contrast with the daily routine of customer service, where I patiently responded to every request a visitor might have, no matter how simple or extraordinary. The bridge between the two worlds were my favourite visitors, people who, to my eyes, would frequent the museum to absorb some of the magic I felt. Therefore art, life and my hire-wire act to balance a living while pursuing my artistic path lead me into writing this play.

Finally, how does life turn back into art? It seems to me that artists live simultaneously in two different worlds, the cognitive one and the one in their heart and mind. Through their work, they let us in the maze of the latter. The threshold where the two worlds meet is a place of wonders, and it is up to us to keep the door open to the colours and light of art.

Poetry can be found in the humblest of things, and even more in these which people scorn.

The cloakroom attendant of a national museum invites the audience on a journey to the secrets of her profession, which is no other than the study of human nature. By opening the gates of the sacred temple which is the museum, artefacts come to life and visitors take mythical dimensions. Condemned lovers, a wise singer and a young painter help the cloakroom attendant in her pursuit of happiness in a world filled with the beauty of art and the ugliness of war.

The cloakroom attendant is a witty and poetic one-woman show, written and performed by Dimitra Barla. The world of the woman behind the cloakroom counter is a mixture of reality, imagination and aspirations.

The plot is three-folded comprising of stories from the attendant’s daily routine in the cloakroom, fictional stories inspired by artefacts and insights into two regular visitors to the museum, a successful singer of the 1960s and a young painter. The play will have its debut performance on June 2nd and 3rd in London at the Canal Café Theatre (

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