There’s a lot wrapped up in how we understand motherhood. It sometimes seems simple, sometimes complex. Its definition is sometimes biological, other times social. Depending on the person, the context and, often, the very moment in time we’re experiencing it, the meaning changes.
That’s the central idea behind Motherhood Out Loud, the new Trustus Theatre production at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Conceived by Susan R. Rose and Joan Stein, and written with the help of more than a dozen playwrights, the project is designed to be a collage of vignettes exploring motherhood in all of its facets and multitudes, from childbirth to grandparenthood, across a diverse array of identities, experiences and perspectives.
“The word ‘mom,’ I think we all have an idea of that in our head,” offers Martha Hearn Kelly, the production’s director, “but really moms take so many different forms in our lives and there’s all different kinds of moms.
“You don’t necessarily have to give birth to a child to be a mom. I think we have lots of people in our lives that feel like a mom that may not fit that idea in our head.”
Kelly will direct four actors as they tackle this eclectic array of stories and narratives, a real challenge even without the added layers of stereotype and cliché that so often surround the subject matter.
“That’s a big challenge for the director and for the actors,” Kelly confirms. “And I think my first step was casting people that I trusted to be able to take on that challenge and that don’t necessarily fit the types that we think about all the time for moms. And then as we’ve been working together, it’s about finding new ways to approach these characters and balancing that with them bringing themselves to their characters. Because all of the actors, even if they aren’t all parents to children themselves, they are all moms in their own way. They all fill mom roles in their lives and so they’re able to bring that part of themselves to the characters so they don’t feel like a type or a stereotype.”
On the other hand, there’s a poetic power to the fleeting nature of these little stories that Kelly, who recently became a mother herself, says works in concert with the themes explored.
“One of the things about theater and about motherhood that’s really beautiful is its brevity — it’s there and then it’s gone,” the director notes. “It’s like when you’re in this moment with your child or whoever this person is that you have this mother feeling towards, then this moment can be so beautiful and amazing and then it’s gone. And the next moment they are throwing spaghetti at you and puking in their bed.
“I think the play really captures that, not just in the content, but in the form. You might see this one character and be invested in them, and then two minutes later they’re gone and you’re not going to see them again.”
It’s the emotional connections with these characters that patrons make based on their own relationship with mothers and motherhood that ultimately drives the play — something that should be heightened by producing it in the Columbia Children’s Theatre. While it’s not at all a family-friendly play, as Kelly emphatically points out, it accentuates the perspective of mothers and children alike. She says that Trustus also hopes to entice new patrons and interact with different communities with the off-site production.
“You’re going to see your own mom up there, or your auntie up there. You’re definitely going to see your grandmother up there, whether it’s sweet or not sweet at all,” Kelly concludes. “It’s a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of tenderness to it too. It’s a great play to bring your friends to have a great time and connect with that core of what it is to be a mom.”
What: Motherhood Out Loud
Where: Columbia Children’s Theatre, 3400 Forest Dr. (inside Richland Mall)
When: Aug. 2-10
Cost: $25 ($20 seniors, military and students)
More: 803-254-9732, trustus.org