Published: Saturday, April 26, 2008
It’s the mother of all stories.
When Marilyn Norry e-mailed 60 of her actor friends, asking them to write a story about who their mother is, in 2,000 words or less, facts only, she encountered a puzzling reaction.
“It was like ‘Oh my god, I’m doing a bad thing in telling this story,'” Norry explained from her New Westminster home. “Who would have known it is so taboo.”
Norry is the producer of My Mother’s Story, a show that brings together 20 women who share and listen to each other’s stories about these women who had a life before giving birth to them. Two live shows will be performed in Vancouver on Mother’s Day, May 11.
But getting people to pen who their mother honestly is, keeping in mind the story is not about themselves, siblings or fathers, proved daunting for many.
The idea of then performing the written product hit a nervous chord with Norry’s actor friends
“People automatically think ‘Not me’ or ‘Oh, … well, other people can talk about their mother,'” Norry recalled. “Or, ‘I can’t talk about her because she’s alive,’ ‘I can’t talk about her because she’s dead.'”
Not airing one’s perceived dirty laundry and keeping family stories private were the common reasons for such reactions.
Norry came up with My Mother’s Story in 2004 while attending a wedding where a woman she met gave an honest, rich and eloquent story about her mother in five minutes.
“I had never heard a life told so succinctly,” recalled Norry, who then apprehensively shared her mother’s story. “She thought it was fascinating.”
While collecting the stories and talking to her participating friends about the whole process of writing their mother’s story, Norry realized many ended up seeing their mother in a different light.
Some had unknown baggage they were carrying lifted, some were able to piece together certain aspects of their mothers to their own past and others were able to learn and even feel closer to their mothers than before.
“As teenagers, when we are hating our parents, we kind of put them in a box, … and that’s how we remember them,” Norry said.
“Some people reduce that story down to how they died. That’s what they end up remembering of their mother.”
Norry said her mother wasn’t initially crazy about her story being told to a public audience.
“My mother said something like ‘I don’t want to be a famous person, I don’t want a spotlight on me,'” Norry recalled. “A lot of women don’t want the spotlight on them.”
In 2006, Norry gathered 20 female actors who shared their story, and the show was sold out. Another show in 2007 was a hit, selling out as well. Norry is hoping to get stories from men about their mothers. Last October, a man came up to her after watching a performance and was interested in doing something about men and their fathers.
“He wanted to write about what his dad did to (him),” Norry explained. “But the story is what happened to (his dad).
“I had to tell him you’re not part of story, except for ‘When he had a kid, you.'”
A men’s group was formed and the men, aged 40 to 60, wept as each took turns talking about their fathers. Retired drama and English as a second language teacher Judith Berlin will share who her mother is for the first time at the upcoming Mother’s Day show. The process of writing out who her mother was and approaching family members for information allowed her to appreciate, reflect and learn more about this woman who passed away years ago, creating a lot of new tears.
“She had a wild ride of a life,” Berlin said. “Not illegal or immoral, but exciting, adventurous. I got to go along for the ride, and it was pretty damn good.”
It was watching a My Mother’s Story performance last year that moved Berlin to write about hers. She hopes the audience will leave the show thinking about who their mothers are as people instead of the people who gave birth to them.
“(I hope they) take away with them an appreciation of their mother’s journey,” Berlin explained. “Their hopes, their dreams, their limitations, adventures, ideals, no matter who they are and what they became in society’s eyes.”
This year, the My Mother’s Story website was launched, inviting regular people to take the challenge and write a 2,000-word story about their moms.
In October, Norry will release the book, My Mother’s Story: The Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary Women, a collection of original stories Norry has compiled. The release coincides with Women’s History Month. All proceeds are earmarked for charity.
My Mother’s Story will be performed at UNITY, 5840 Oak St. in Vancouver at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on May 11. Tickets are $30 and available at www.gigtickets.ca or by calling 1-866-705-5437, extension 4051.
A free discussion forum discussing the healing power of telling truthful stories, First Nations and oral histories, ownership of stories family secrets and the impact of repressing stories on society will be held at Vancouver’s downtown public library on May 13 at 7 p.m. in the Alma Van Dusen and Peter Kaye room.
More information can be found at www.mymothersstory.org