In a yoga class recently, the teacher walked around the room filled mostly with moms, encouraging us to discard our self-consciousness and really belt out those ohms. “Our voices are not valued in this society,” she said. “You still need to value your voice.”
But there is a rising wave of new voices storming the country. The voices are those of our mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers gathering to share their experiences of motherhood on stage.
“Before babies, we make registries and have parties, but once the baby arrives, there’s little there to support a new mother,” says Lindsay Kavet, founder, producer and director of the spoken-word production “Expressing Motherhood.” Before motherhood, Kavet wanted to direct and be an actress, so she worked in the entertainment industry. When she became a stay-at-home mom at 29, she couldn’t find anything she could relate to in film or other entertainment. In 2008, she teamed up with friend Jessica Cribbs to create something.
Kavet gathered essay submissions through email. Her mom flew in to bake cookies. Her family punched tickets and served wine and together they created a community-building event dedicated to sharing intimate experiences of motherhood. Born in L.A., the show went off-off Broadway with sold-out performances the following year, and now appears in six cities.
Being a mother, having a mother, adoption, infertility and abuse are among the topics shared on stage by brave readers.
“It takes a lot of courage to share painful childhood experiences and failures as a parent,” says Suzanne Weerts, who will perform in the May 3 “Expressing Motherhood” show in Santa Monica. Yet she also says it’s cathartic, and she is drawn to the community of writers who strive to connect to their audiences through revealing moments that are sometimes painful. She loves her experiences performing so much that she plans to direct a performance of “Listen To Your Mother,” another stage production dedicated to exploring motherhood, in Burbank on May 1.
“Many performers get hooked and get into the circuit of performing/producing/directing other shows like a community,” Weerts says. “You become part of a cast and get to know other people who love to write and tell stories. It’s very powerful.”
Suzanne Skarbak, who will perform for the first time in Weerts’s production, says she has always loved acting but never pursued it beyond high school. When she read about “Listen To Your Mother” on Facebook, she decided to submit an essay. She hoped it would help to reignite her motivation to write. Skarbak will read about losing her mother to breast cancer. “I’ve always shared my journey with others because I find it makes other people open up and helps us to connect,” she says.
Ann Imig founded “Listen To Your Mother” in Wisconsin in 2010 for just that reason. Imig was surprised at how moved she was by a “Voices of the Year” storytelling performance at a BlogHer convention in Chicago. BlogHer brings together bloggers from all over the world to collaborate on ideas for their craft, and the best of these read onstage during “Voices of the Year.” “It was so simple, so captivating,” Imig says. The voices from that stage inspired her to give a voice to motherhood.
She moved quickly. Mother’s Day was fast approaching and Imig decided that would be the perfect time to launch her show. She put it all together in seven weeks. “There were no sets,” she says, “no scripts. We weren’t professional actors.” The show brings together people who wouldn’t normally collaborate, but despite the fact that their lives appear vastly different, a feeling of solidarity is created. “There’s a lot of nodding along, and they feel much less alone,” Imig says.
“Listen To Your Mother” has now appeared in 41 cities. Each show has a local director, and each director benefits from a mentorship program offered by the growing company. “They don’t know what they’re getting into,” Imig says. “It’s a lot! You’re publicizing and creating two events, the auditions and the show.” All “Listen To Your Mother” shows are video archived online, and a print anthology of stories is available through Putnam Books.
While Kavet still directs every “Expressing Motherhood” show and coordinates the details with the help of her family, she has started to bring in local producers in areas where the show will play. Both productions donate 10 percent of their proceeds to family-based charities.
Kim Tracy Prince, a writer who has performed in both shows, says the biggest difference between the two is production. “Listen To Your Mother” offers more rehearsal time, and the cast members sit behind the reader on stage during the entire show. “Expressing Motherhood” includes more staging and sometimes features skits with musical performances by groups such as duo Mommy Tonk. “Expressing Motherhood” feels more like theater and takes a middle-aged mom who’s usually doing laundry and makes her feel glamorous,” says Prince.
First-time performer Amelia Dalgaard, who will be part of the May 3 “Expressing Motherhood” show in Santa Monica, expects her time on stage to be a challenge. A behind-the-scenes type, Dalgaard writes about cars and how our relationship with them as mothers is more complex than just getting from point A to point B. She says she’s nervous about being in front of so many people, but, “every time I challenge myself, something good happens.”
Other mom writers are drawn to the experience for the simple human connection. Lan Tran experienced literary success before motherhood through three one-woman off-Broadway shows and the appearance of her non-fiction essays in several anthologies. But when Tran’s mother died in 2010, she shut down creatively. She got married, became pregnant with her first child and started writing from a different perspective. Yet, she found herself unable to relate to other moms. Tran is appearing as a first-time storyteller May 3. “I really look forward to hearing other women’s stories,” Tran says, adding she really hopes to connect to those other writer moms, too.
Education is another motivation for some of the performers. First-timer Shea Andreone, former actress, playwright and mom of two, will perform in Santa Monica and share about the difficulty she had becoming a mother – and her ultimate success. “I had hyperemisis gravadarom and several miscarriages,” she says.
Former English teacher Julie Gardner read her essay at a “Listen To Your Mother” show at the urging of a friend, who was a show producer. She wrote about the house fire that turned her family from an outgoing bunch into a group of people who only wanted to stay close to home – and each other. “I guess I was hoping for catharsis,” says Gardner, who was surprised by the amount of support and love she received from friends and the blogging community when she added her voice to the show. Gardner also realized her dream this April with the publication of her first novel, “Letters for Scarlett.”
Imig and Kavet say the hardest part of putting together these shows is having to choose between so many talented writers, some of whom are their friends. “You can be in love with a piece but it might not make it in the show,” says Imig, adding that creating the story list is like creating a mix tape.
The result is her gift to mothers everywhere. “Doesn’t motherhood deserve more than a pancake breakfast once a year?” she asks.
Where To Hear Their Stories
- Listen To Your Mother, 7 p.m. May 1, The Colony Theater, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank; http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2522443. $25.
- Expressing Motherhood, 8 p.m. May 3, The Moss Theatre, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2486690. $25.
Rina Baraz Nehdar is a frequent contributor to L.A. Parent Magazine who writes in between raising her three boys in the suburbs of Los Angeles.