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The Story of "Motherhood"

Date: Oct 04, 2011


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Motherhood Out Loud sounds simple enough: It's a series of vignettes about the highs and lows of being a mom. But the show involves four actors, 14 playwrights, and close to 50 characters. How do you transform those elements into a coherent show?

That was the challenge for director Lisa Peterson. "What drew me to it was the idea of trying to help figure out how to make one thing out of so many pieces," she says

About five years ago, conceivers/producers Susan Rose and Joan Stein came to Peterson with their idea, and they spent three years trying to find a structure for the show, which is currently at 59E59 in a Primary Stages production. They had a comedian write material to go between each scene, and they tried an interactive component where audience members answered questions on cards that were read back during the performance.

But Peterson says those ideas "didn't have enough of a spine. In order to really involve the listener, it became clear that it needed a forward momentum, like a story that was pulling the whole thing together."

Ultimately, playwright Michele Lowe created "fugues"---short, fast scenes between the vignettes. "Rather than a 5-minute piece for one character, it's a 30-second piece for 3 or 4 characters," Peterson explains.

The other turning point came when the team decided to structure the evening like a mother's life. The show begins with women becoming mothers, and it ends with women being "mothered" by their grown children. "Once we found those two things, that gave us the structure," Peterson says. "Now it's in five chapters that each have to do with the age of the child and the aging of the parent. When you figure out something like that it seems so obvious, but it wasn't obvious in the beginning."
Another challenge was juggling the voices of the writers, including Beth Henley, Theresa Rebeck, and novelist Luanne Rice. The playwrights were involved in the creative process, but they had to compromise more than usual. "Often we'll have to go to a writer and say, 'This section here is fantastic, but we need you to change it because it's too much like a passage in this other play that's happening in a different position,'" Peterson explains. "We're always nipping, tucking, changing in response to what someone's bringing in. These writers are to some extent having to fit their own writing into the needs of the greater whole."

To transition between the major chapters in the show, the production uses line-drawn animations by Emily Hubley, who did work for the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. For Peterson, they're a crucial part of the show's identity. "I don't know if it's going to seem familiar or look like other things or if it's going to look unusual," she says. "I always hope for unusual."


Linda Buchwald is a writer based in New York City. You can find her on Twitter at @PataphysicalSci