Listen to Your Mother: The beauty of backstage

Listen to Your Mother is an annual event that in 2014 extended to 32 cities. The Listen to Your Mother shows have the same common goal: “giving motherhood a microphone” by giving a chance for anyone who is a mother, has a mother, or knows a mother to read an essay about motherhood in front of an audience. However, because each city has its own producers there are stylistic differences between each Listen to Your Mother show.

One difference is that most of the cities have the cast sit on stage for the entire performance, while Chicago and several other cities keep the rest of the cast off stage during the individual readings. As a Chicago cast member, I am happy that producers Melissa Wells and Tracey Becker made that decision.

Listen to Your Mother Chicago 2014
The first time the audience saw the entire Chicago cast of Listen to Your Mother together was curtain call.
Photo credit: Balee Images

I understand the appeal of having the cast on stage. It creates a visual solidarity, emphasizing that these stories are not just about one person even if each story is told by one person. It adds another layer to the show to not only see each person reading her or his essay but also to be able to watch the rest of the cast listening to each essay.

I’m sure many cast members from those shows say they love being on stage during each other’s readings. I’m sure some audience members in those cities say they loved watching the other cast members react to each other. I’m sure those shows are lovely, but it doesn’t mean that those who sit backstage are any less of a community or are reacting to each other any less.

Listen to Your Mother rehearsal
Photo credit: Balee Images

The Chicago Listen to Your Mother cast bonded quickly. At  our first rehearsal we had no idea what each person was going to say. It was exciting. Although we had gone around the circle and introduced ourselves it was hearing everyone’s stories that truly introduced us to each other. We laughed and cried harder that day than we would again.

flat kari wagner hoban
Photo credit: Balee Images

We were still rapt at our second rehearsal even though we already knew the secrets of the stories we told. We sat in a close semi-circle in front of the podium. Each reader could make eye contact with the other cast members as we watched. We nodded. We smiled. We passed tissues. We passed cupcakes. We passed Flat Kari, since she wasn’t able to be there.

Those reactions during those rehearsals were beautiful, but that’s not exactly what you would have seen had the cast sat on stage during the show.

If the cast were sitting on stage during our performance you would not see us listening to each other’s essays. You would see us listening to each other’s essays while trying to look the way we think we should look while listening to each other’s essays.

  • Trying not to slouch.
  • Trying not to cough.
  • Trying not to itch.
  • Trying not to squirm.
  • Worrying if the audience can see up our skirts.
  • Mentally preparing when we are next up while trying to looking like we aren’t mentally preparing.

That is all very different than what was going on backstage at the Chicago Listen to Your Mother show. Backstage we all listened to everyone’s stories but without the formality of doing so in front of the audience.

  • Some people sat. Others stood. Others switched back and forth.
  • We passed tissue packets.
  • One cast member tucked another cast member’s bra strap into her dress before she went on.
  • At least one cast member had her shoes off.
  • We gave high fives and hugs and smiles as people came off stage.
  • We gave knowing looks to each other when an essay was about to get to *that line* when we knew the audience would burst with laughter or tears.

Backstage we were supportive and vulnerable and real. It is too bad that the audience didn’t get to see that.

Except they did.

That cast community that nodded encouragingly as we went on stage and embraced us when we returned showed in everyone’s readings. I can’t claim to know what the other cast members were thinking, but for me, although I was on stage by myself I did not feel at all alone.

Listen to Your Mother Kim Z Dale
Although I was on stage by myself I did not feel at all alone.
Photo credit: Balee Images

I respect that each city makes its own choices about where the cast sits, how formal to dress, and other details. Listen to Your Mother looks differently depending on who is doing it just like motherhood does.

Wherever the cast sits, Listen to Your Mother is an amazing experience. I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of it.

If you have never seen a Listen to Your Mother show I encourage you to watch videos of stories from previous years on the LTYM Show YouTube channel. (Videos from the 2014 shows will be online this summer.) Then plan to go to see a Listen to Your Mother show next year or, even better, audition.

If there is not yet a Listen to Your Mother show in your city considering finding some organized people, perhaps even yourself, who would be willing to produce and contact Listen to Your Mother creator and National Director Ann Imig at (I’m particularly looking at you, every talented writer, director, producer, and mom I know in Pittsburgh.)

Listen to Your Mother scared me, thrilled me, and inspired me. This experience will be with me for a long time.

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