If you told the story of your mother, what would it look like? Would you be proud, or embarrassed? Maybe you don’t know anything about your mother’s life. Maybe if you did, you would be surprised at the hardships she endured, and the crazy experiences she had.
Presentation House Theatre and Mothership Stories Society took a unique approach at encouraging women to learn their history and forcing them to essentially reflect on how they have become the individual they are today. They asked the women of North Vancouver (City and District) to write the stories of their mothers. Sixty women submitted their stories, some with kids, some without. Eight of these women were chosen to take part in the production of My Mother’s Story: Esther Chase, Sandra Crawford, Janice George, Meghna Haldar, Suzanne Humphreys, Wendy Noel, Suzanne Ristic, and Beate Sigriddaughter.
The stories that unfold in Marilyn Norry’s and Jenn Griffin’s production are about how these women have lived, while also showing how “good” they were at mothering. With the women coming from all parts of the world, the play highlights different cultural attitudes and customs, but ultimately pieces together the story of women’s lives of the 20th century.
My Mother’s Story is heartwarming and heartbreaking, with teary moments broken up by comedic lines and bursts of laughter. It’s scripted but raw; the real stories are portrayed by local actresses in a manner so genuine that you believe the stories to be their own. (Note: Some of them are their own)
The play has very little props, as the main focus is the women and their words. A projection of images of the mothers on a block center stage aides visually while stories are told. Creativity is shown in random choreographed songs and lyrical movements.
After watching the play and wiping away my tears, I was fortunate to get to chat with Wendy Noel and Suzanne Ristic about their experience participating in the play.
What drew you to take part in it?
WENDY: I wanted to be able to tell my mother’s story and because I live in North Van and was from here, it was a very good fit.
SUZANNE: This show has been in my psyche for a long time, over a year I think. I had seen the readings twice and was profoundly moved by them. Of course while I’m watching, I am thinking if I could write my own Mother’s story, and then last year the announcement from Presentation House that they were seeking the stories of women on the North Shore was a great motivator. Added to that was the possibility of an acting job.
Did you find her story hard to write about?
WENDY: I wrote my own mother’s story in 2-3 hours, as I was fresh from doing a genogram for my counselor training; her life was very alive for me at that moment.
SUZANNE: I sat down to write it and didn’t find it as difficult as expected. The parameters that Marilyn and Jenn have set up free one from opinion. We were instructed to stick to the facts and nothing but the facts and keep the focus on mom and fact-by-fact as life emerges. I feel that my issues with my mom are behind me so I didn’t experience an emotional catharsis. I have heard other women describe a profound emotional connection to their mom while writing, but not the case for me.
How did you feel before the opening night?
WENDY: Well, I actually found that reading the story in June (for a staged reading) gave me a good idea of how my mother’s story would be received, so I felt excited for the previews and opening. There are times when I hear shock in the audience (or what I perceive as shock) when I tell the part about my mother’s LSd experience, and that is a bit disconcerting; I quickly get past it though.
If your children told your story, how would that look? Would it be different than you perceive it to be?
WENDY: I am pretty transparent in my life, since studying counseling and doing private practice. I am really finding the adage to be true: ”In truth there is freedom”. So, I would be okay with my sons telling my story, though it might feel uncomfortable in the passages where they laid bare their wounds around me as a mother.
There is something very cathartic about telling one’s story, or seeing one’s story told. I am guessing that we would become closer for it, even if there might be some sticky moments along the way.
SUZANNE: I can imagine my kids would have a few things to say about me if they wrote my story, but I am not one iota as interesting as my mom.
Did you have family attending the opening night?
WENDY: My brother Kevin and sister Allison came to see the show on opening night, and that was gratifying. I was a little concerned that they might feel upset or offended or exposed, but they loved the show, and enjoyed Mom’s story being told. My sister took exception to my telling of her sitting in the ‘hot seat’ at the dinner table, as she felt I made her look like a moron. I defended that excerpt saying, “well, as a girl, I did think you were a moron for continuing to sit there.” She knows I don’t see her that way now, in fact, we are very close.
SUZANNE: My husband attended the opening and my niece was there too. She is my sister’s daughter and it was very special to have her in the audience. She was very emotional about it at the end of the show though I must ask her what specifically affected her. Note to self.
Were there any complications you came across during production?
WENDY: Well, you are not getting the complete mother’s story from any of the mothers. You are getting a series of snapshots chosen by Marilyn and Jenn. There were some negotiations along the way around what material was being used and the sense it was making.
I had to pass my rewrites through Marilyn and Jenn, the dramaturg, Johanna, and the director; that was a bit of work. It was the same for all the writers, and actors, who might want to have changed a line, or have something else from their writer’s story highlighted.
SUZANNE: The only difficulty I had during rehearsal was the physical demands of the show. It has been very hard on my old arthritic body. Getting up from a seated position on the floor is hard enough let alone some of the jumping we have to do. If you pay attention you’ll see me using the suitcase for leverage.
Did you learn anything from this experience?
SUZANNE: It was great to have another perspective on my story i.e. Jenn and Marilyn’s. I had never ever, in all these years, considered that some of my mom’s behavior might have been a result of the war. My sister who lived through the war never ever considered the war as an impact on my mom. Certainly the loss of her first love was always evident and that had a huge impact on my mom and Dad’s marriage, among other things.
The play opened on October 18th and closed on Sunday October 28th, the anniversary of when Molly Jacobs and their family had the accident at M creek.
If you missed the play you can still experience the stories of these wonderful women by purchasing the book. Each book is $20 all of which goes to Mothership Stories Society to continue their work getting women and men around the world to tell the stories of their mothers’ lives.