As the season winds down for PYGmalion Theatre Company, they're closing out the 2013-14 run with a set of provocative monologues. --- Motherhood Out Loud is a series of introspective performances, looking into the lives of women as they go through experiences ranging from child birth, exploring sexuality, the beginnings of empty nest syndrome and taking care of those around them. The play will close out PYG's fantastic season when it kicks off this Thursday, running from May 1-17. Today we chat with director Shellie Waters as well as actors Barbara Gandy and Betsy West about the play and their thoughts headed into opening night. (All pictures courtesy of PYG.)
Shellie Waters, Betsy West, Barbara Gandy & Michael Canham
Gavin: Hey everyone! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Betsy: My name is Betsy West and I’ve been on almost every stage in Salt Lake City over the last several decades. More to the point of this play, I married into a family of five amazing kids. I went from being single to being a grandmother. The kids have been busy and I’m now a step-grandmother to 17! The newest addition was just born on April 8th.
Barbara: Well, I've been living in SLC longer than my home town of Denver, so does that make me a Utahn? I've been doing theatre here for, gee, over 30 years. I've been very involved with Pygmalion since 2002.
Shellie: I have been involved in the SLC Theater community for over 25 years and have worked at a number of local theaters. My primary focus has been in directing but I have been known to act on occasion.
Michael: First of all, thank you for giving us all a chance to talk about our show! I’m just a simple 42 year old man who at the ripe age of 5 decided that it would be a fun future to be an actor. I’m still waiting to be one.
Gavin: What have you all been up to over the past year in local theatre?
Barbara: I had the great fun of directing The 12 Dates of Christmas for PYG, and performing at Rose Exposed, doing a few play readings for various companies.
Michael: I haven’t done theater for two years when I was in PYGmalion's production of In The Next Room. But, I’ve played “a person in the seats” seeing the shows across the valley.
Shellie: I am on the Board of Trustees for PYGmalion Theater so I have been involved there but haven't done a lot as my day job keeps me very busy. I have to be selective in what I get involved in.
Betsy: This past November I played Dr. Gertie Ladenberger in Silver Summit Theatre’s production of 33 Variations at The Leonardo. Most recently, I played Mrs. Webb in The Grand Theatre’s production of Our Town.
Gavin: Shellie, when did you first learn about Motherhood Out Loud, and what did you think of it when you first read it?
Shellie: PYGmalion was reading scripts for consideration in their season and Motherhood Out Loud was one that we looked at. I was very moved by many of the scenes and laughed out loud at others. It is an interesting piece because it is written by so many different playwrights. As a result each vignette has a different feel to it and the topics will appeal to different people on so many different levels. This actually was why I was so excited to get involved with it. Motherhood takes many different forms in our world today but at it's very foundation it is the most important role there is. Whether you are a woman having a child for the first time, a great grandmother reminiscing about the past, a step mother fighting for a place in the new family, a gay father navigating the obstacles of stereotypes or a mother hashing out the frustrations encountered with a child going off to college or war you will find something to relate to in this production.
Gavin: What made you decide to come on board to direct it for PYGmalion?
Shellie: I thought the play was poignant, funny, and wildly irreverent. I wanted to direct it because I could fit it in to my work schedule and I think it has the potential to touch people on so many different levels and does it in a way that gives us permission to laugh out loud, weep openly and ponder some thought provoking questions. We all grow when diversity of thought is presented in everyday experiences.
Gavin: How was it for you balancing out the monologues and making sure everything in this production got it's due without being overshadowed by something else?
Shellie: Well, I took a slightly different approach with the show than what it called for. Each of the scenes is typically assigned to a specific actor and I decided to assign the roles based on what I knew of the actors own life experiences. Of course I couldn't match them exactly but found ways to capture an inherent connectivity with many of them. It has been exciting to see their work develop over the course of rehearsals.
Gavin: For the cast, what were your first thoughts on the production after reading through it?
Michael: I have to say, I thought that it was very well written and evenly supportive and informative of all areas of motherhood. A great reminder of the great women who give us life.
Betsy: The first read-through with the cast was the first time I’d been through the entire script. I think Shellie did some mighty fine casting. Just hearing/reading it, I knew we had something really good, bigger than the sum of its parts. The writing is just so honest that all it needs is actors honoring the words. It’s just as simple and difficult as that.
Barbara: That it fit PYG's mission statement like a surgical glove. It couldn't be a better choice.
Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting your parts?
Barbara: The audition was really fun. Shellie had us read from the script, but then she had us do a pencil exercise in which we had to think of 10 uses for a pencil in 30 seconds. Quick on our feet, I think she was looking for. I'm really enjoying the challenge of the different roles to play – they range in age, economic situation, cultural background and attitude.
Michael: Well, my audition has an interesting story. While I was auditioning for Shellie, my body was giving me signs of the stroke that I was going to have later that night while I was sleeping. So needless to say, I think that this life changing event kinda overshadowed my audition. But still, I was cast in the show. I’ve had my struggles as anyone who has gone through this knows. But I’ve accepted the challenge and here I am on stage.
Gavin: How was it for each of you figuring out your roles in these monologues and developing the characters?
Betsy: My monologue is about being a step-mother, but it’s very different from my real-life experience, in which I felt immediately accepted and welcomed. The step-mom in this monologue, not so much. I’ve had to go back to those times in my life when I haven’t felt accepted. It’s not a fun place to be, but it’s all part of the human experience.
Barbara: Well, they are not all monologues. There are scenes as well, some them rapid fire! So, we not only engage the audience directly, something I very much enjoy, we interact and play off of each other. One of the challenges is finding the right arc and right note so that the point of the scene – the arrow to piece the heart of the audience – is just right.
Gavin: Considering the content, how have these speeches and skits affected you as actors?
Barbara: There is much humor in the pieces. That being said, some hit close to home, I tell ya. That can be emotionally raw for us, but we strive to share that emotion with the audience and each other.
Michael: As I mentioned, its a reminder of the great women who have given us life. Half of the worlds population will never know the magnitude of a mothers love first hand. The stories these women and men tell are just a whisper of how it feels.
Betsy: I’m not a mother myself, but I sure had one. She was larger than life! I’ve been reflecting a lot on our relationship (it was very much love/hate) and it has brought up many memories and emotions - heartwarming and gut wrenching and funny and full of wonder. As an adult, I can look back with a different perspective on who she was as a person and as my mother. As an actor you use every tool in your belt to make these characters (not caricatures) real. You have to draw on your own experiences. Thanks, mom!
Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?
Michael: I’m nervous actually. That's all I can say. I’m quite nervous. Not for the show... but for me.
Betsy: I’m really looking forward to doing this in front of an audience. I don’t know how aware audiences are that live theater is a two-way street. I hope that we can give an audience some laughs, heart tugs, and food for thought. The more response we get from an audience, the more we know we’re doing our job well. I think everyone will connect with at least one of the monologues or characters on a profound level. What’s more universal than a mother?!
Barbara: That I'm really enjoying the rehearsal period and am excited to put it front of the audience. I think there is something there for each and every person -- as a parent, as a daughter or son.
Shellie: Opening night is always so bittersweet for the Director and this show will be no different. I have grown attached to the cast and the show is like my "Baby" so in as much as I need to separate from the production and share it with the audience there is a part of me that wishes I could hang on to it a while longer. As we ramp up for our opening on May 1, mothers need to grab their children and children need to grab their mothers and spend an evening with PYGmalion. You'll be glad you did!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Barbara: I'm doing a reading of Superior Donuts at Weller Book Works, directed by Lane Richins, on May 19 at 7:30pm. As to next season... we'll see.
Shellie: I have been asked to direct a show in the fall and I am currently considering that opportunity. More to come.
Betsy: I don’t have any shows lined up for the future, but maybe I’ll send you a postcard from South Africa in September!
Michael: Nothing! I’m going back into retirement! And going back to play “the person in the seats.”
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Shellie: Motherhood Out Loud has a performance on Mother's Day and we have a special gift prepared for the audience so get your tickets now for the May 11 matinee performance!
Betsy: Oh yes! My husband, Larry West, says he’s retired, but... he’s directing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Pinnacle Acting Company in June. You don’t want to miss this one!
Michael: Keep your eyes open for PYGmalion's yearly fundraiser!
Barbara: PYG is having a free reading of L.L. West's new play, Remington & Weasel on May 12 at The Rose at 7:30 pm. PYG will be holding its second annual When Pygs Fly open mic (and other great entertainment) Fundraiser in September. Come feed the PYG so we can make bacon!
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