Right from the start, the evolution of this project has been inspired by phrases like “I have no idea if this will work” or “I’ve always wanted to try” or “what will happen next?”Creating theatrical events from the stories of our mothers was no exception.
Marilyn’s original intention, when she asked her friends to write the story of their mothers’ lives, was to create a book. But as more and more fabulous stories rolled in, and since the friends she contacted were all actors, thoughts kept drifting to how this material could manifest as a show. Sitting in meetings, reading our stories to one another, feeling the thrill of empathy, we knew we were experiencing what great theater was all about, but couldn’t agree on how could we shape so much material into one show. Reading the stories one after the other was out. We knew we wanted to tell the complete arc of each woman’s life; we knew we didn’t want to focus on the daughter/ mother relationship at all. We didn’t want to create another “woman’s play” or something that never got out of a church basement. We needed something new, a new form. Jenn Griffin, one of the Daughters, provided the answer.
Jenn suggested a form of collaging used in poetry slams where a “group poem” is created from poems submitted. But she’d never heard of it being used with full stories, each over a thousand words long. How would they all go together? Would an audience even be able to keep track? Only one way to find out: we put out a call to our group “Who wants in?” and 20 women raised their hands. Okay. So this would not be a cautious experiment. We really had no idea if this would work with even one or two stories being told – so why not 20? 20 stories told by 20 actors? All on stage at the same time? Telling their stories at the same time? With nothing to lose we jumped in – Nothing succeeds like excess. In for a penny, in for a pound. Hung for a sheep as a lamb.
Jenn is an accomplished playwright and Marilyn an experienced editor and together they pieced together a script using actual lines from each of the stories submitted. On Mother’s Day 2006 we performed our first show at the tiny Beaumont Studio in Vancouver. There were 20 women on stage and 45 people in the audience. Slides of our mothers flashed overhead and Marilyn staged it like a big conversation in a rec room with each woman reading her “lines” when they appeared. The audience, after an initial panic hearing so many names and dates recited from everywhere, surrendered into the stories and realized soon enough that they could keep up, growing to love each mother described by her daughter. Some said it was like floating down a river, and was over far too soon.
In 2007 we produced a show at the Revue Theatre on Granville Island. 20 women, many different from the previous year, signed up; a new script was created. Proceeds went to the Minerva Foundation; sponsorship was provided by Wear Else women’s clothing stores and private donors. The 220 seat theatre sold out 5 weeks before the event. Handing out homemade treats and tea to the audience to make them feel “mothered” added another level of theatricality. Again the audience laughed and cried, then leapt to their feet at the end. We realized we may be on to something. But what?
It was impractical to think of touring a show of 20 actors; even if an audience was interested and could afford to pay our union rates, the show would have to “get off its feet” somehow. As a reading it was fun and inexpensive to stage but a real show would require the input of many more people and lots more money.
In October 2007 we restaged this show at Unity of Vancouver in honour of Women’s History Month and to help raise funds for a new furnace. 280 people attended and $5,000 was raised.
For Mother’s Day 2008 we rounded up 20 actors, half from the 2007 show, half brand new. There were 2 stories from the 1800’s (yes, two of our actresses were in their 80’s), a mother and daughter (one telling the story of the other) and more stories from around the world. Like all the shows it was a hit with teens and seniors, prompting recollections on family, different cultures and the history of women. We were again at Unity of Vancouver and performed 2 shows; one in the afternoon, one in the evening. Over 600 people attended. In 2008 we also created the website, Mothership Stories Society, our first workshop, and had a cross-Canada campaign soliciting mother stories from the general public.
In 2009 we were commissioned by the Vancouver Storytelling Festival to present a smaller version of our show. Unsure whether “the magic” would still exist if we had a smaller cast, we chanced it again and created a Story of 10. People were enthralled again. Western Gold Theatre (a Vancouver theater devoted to programming for audiences and performers over age 50) commissioned us to create a show with 6 “senior” actors to tour their venues and this gave us a wonderful opportunity to investigate and deepen the stories we were telling. But 6 seemed a bit too small to really tell the story of All Mothers. It was back to the drawing board.
Our Mother’s Day show was back on Granville Island in the bigger theatre and our mother and daughter were back as well to be part of the 20. Along with familiar stories we told 4 new ones including an adoption story with one daughter telling the story of both her mothers.
In 2010 we received a Canada Council for the Arts development grant to create the fuller stage show we envisioned. After our Mother’s Day show at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (another specially created Story of 10) we recruited 9 actors to work with director Joanna Garfinkel for a week to see what might be discovered with our stories. It was a magical week and the invited audience loved what we presented but the short rehearsal time left us hungry for more.
In May 2011 we start My Mother’s Story: North Shore, a co-production with Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. We will collect mother stories from citizens of North Vancouver, choose 9 that reflect that demographic makeup and history of the community, and create a script from these stories as we’ve done in the past. In this show we will experiment again, pushing the boundaries of verbatim theatre, by hiring actors to play the people who wrote the original stories. Rather than a reading as we’ve done in the past, this show will be rehearsed and structured in a full theatrical presentation and it will be shown in November 2011 as part of Presentation House’s season.
We will also be doing a Mother’s Day Show.
We are also working with people in other cities across Canada to gather stories and create shows telling the stories of their towns.
It’s starting to roll.
Featuring: Patti Allan, Trish Allen, Eileen Barrett, Glynis Davies, Dolores Drake, Beverley Elliott, Frances Flanagan, Andee Frizzell, Wendy Gorling, Jenn Griffin, Bonnie Hay, Nimet Kanji, Khaira Ledeyo, Micki Maunsell, Angela Moore, Marilyn Norry, Kim Seary, Susanna Uchatius, Ann Warn Pegg, Colleen Winton
Featuring: Patti Allan, Trish Allen, Jennifer Juniper Angeli, Julia Arkos, Eileen Barrett, Glynis Davies, Beverley Elliott, Frances Flanagan, Marcy Goldberg, Wendy Gorling, Jenn Griffin, Bonnie Hay, Khaira Ledeyo, Angela Moore, Marilyn Norry, Bev Sauve, Kim Seary, Colleen Winton
Featuring: Jennifer Juniper Angeli, Julia Arkos, Eileen Barrett, Judith Berlin, Lisa Bunting, Joy Coghill, Laura Di Cicco, Dolores Drake, Marion Eisman, Beverley Elliott, Heather Feeney, Frances Flanagan, Natalie Gibson, Marcy Goldberg, Sharon Heath, Nimet Kanji, Ruth McIntosh, Mary Monks, Candace O’Connor and Louise Phillips.
Mother’s Day Featuring: Jennifer Juniper Angeli, Bertha Clark, Zena Daruwalla, Laura Di Cicco, Tanja Dixon-Warren, Dolores Drake, Marion Eisman, Beverley Elliott, Frances Flanagan, Marcy Goldberg, Jenn Griffin, Marci T. House, Leanne Jijian Hume, Khaira Ledeyo, Mary Monks, Angela Moore, Louise Phillips, Kim Seary, Valerie Sing-Turner, Susanna Uchatius.
Vancouver Storytelling Festival. Featuring: Jennifer Juniper Angeli, Beverley Elliott, Marion Eisman, Frances Flanagan, Jenn Griffin, Khaira, Ledeyo, Angela Moore, Marilyn Norry, Kim Seary, Colleen Winton.
Western Gold. Featuring: Dolores Drake, Marion Eisman, Frances Flanagan, Jenn Griffin, Marilyn Norry, Kim Seary.
Mother’s Day, Sunday May 8, 2010, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, Vancouver. Featuring: Jenn Griffin, Marilyn Norry, Khaira Ledeyo, Angela Moore, Dolores Drake, Marion Eisman, Kim Seary, Jennifer Angeli, Frances Flanagan
Development Workshop, Dorothy Somerset Studio, UBC, Directed by Joanna Garfinkel, Featuring: Julia Arkos, Judith Berlin, Lisa Bunting, Jenn Griffin, Marion Eisman, Cecile Roslin, Louise Phillips, Frances Flanagan, Dolores Drake