When I submitted a short story to Listen To Your Mother, I had no idea what I was getting into. I saw the call for submissions through Arkansas Women Bloggers. One of my goals for 2015 is to push myself to write outside my comfort zone and get more involved with local writers. This seemed like a good opportunity to do both.
I was asked to audition. I knew this might happen. Still. A live audition. I hadn’t done that since…wait…never. Consumed with sports in high school, I didn’t do musicals or plays, even though I suspected they might be fun. Fortunately, I’d had the opportunity to read my work to an audience in grad school, so the thought wasn’t paralyzing.
I asked my husband if a 3 hour drive south for a 5 minute audition was worth it. “It is if it’s important to you,” he answered. I decided I wanted to give this Listen To Your Mother thing a shot. At my audition, I read my story with all the love and enthusiasm I’d felt while writing it.
In March I learned I’d been chosen to be part of the show! I was ecstatic, and admittedly, still clueless about what I was in for.
We met in late April for the first rehearsal, a sit down read-through of everyone’s stories. I was floored as each person shared their story. Some brought the group (and their authors) to tears. Others made us roar with laughter. When we finished, I knew I had chosen, and been chosen, to be part of something special.
Those stories stayed with me all weekend. At the second rehearsal, as I heard the stories again, I reflected on the power of story to draw people together where no connections existed before. I felt connected to the others in the room, people I’d only met once, through their words, the intensity of their stories, the depth of emotion and strength behind each one. I’ve been exploring life through story this year, and here was another example of how important our stories are to us, but how important it is to share them with others.
The day of Listen To Your Mother Little Rock, I woke up excited. I tweeted. I taught. I hardly ate. I dressed up. We drove three hours south. “Are you nervous?” my husband asked. I shook my head. “Not yet.”
The cast met in the theater and the producers arranged us on stage. We took pictures. We got momentarily trapped in an elevator when we got caught up taking cast selfies and forgot to exit on our floor. We ate snacks and tried not to be nervous about sharing deeply emotional stories to the crowd of 250 gathering in the auditorium below. Finally, it was show time!
I’m not sure there’s anything like walking on stage to applause. As each cast member shared their story, I listened, knowing what was to come, and still moved by each story. When it was my turn, I walked confidently to the mic, knowing this story was ready to share. I spoke of my mother’s love for her small town, of the many stories she’d lived, and how that story connected to mine. I walked back to my seat to applause.
My part over, I listened to the rest of the stories with a deep appreciation for what my fellow cast members had written. Even though every story was unique, from grief over the death of loved ones, to depression, to the struggles and triumphs of daily living, every story took its place in the broader story we were telling about motherhood.
I couldn’t help but think, though, that we were contributing to a bigger story: life and the human experience. Through our personal struggles, victories, relationships and fears, our stories brought 13 cast members, 4 directors and producers, and 250 strangers into a shared experience and a new understanding of life.
Life is fleeting.
Life is precious.
Life is a struggle.
Life is laugh out loud funny.
Life is eternal, if not here, then in the way our stories live on through others.
After the show, we had a champagne toast. We mingled with the audience. I felt overwhelmed and grateful for the many compliments I received.
“I loved your story. Thanks for sharing. You got it just right. That’s how that time (the 1950s and 60s) was.”
This is why actors act, I thought. For the way the audience reacts after the show.
After the show, while having drinks at an outside patio around the corner from the theater, someone rapped on the glass window from inside the restaurant. When I looked up, a lady inside held up the Listen To Your Mother program. She pointed to me and gave a thumbs up.
“Your story,” she mouthed through the window. “My favorite.”
I beamed. Stories were still connecting us. I went to bed with a smile on my face. I woke up with a smile the next morning. That was an amazing night, I thought.
But it wasn’t just the night and the performance. It was the coming together, making a cohesive whole out of 13 individuals, and feeling the power behind our words. Even now, those words come back to me.
I want to remember them always, even though I know eventually, they will fade. But the connection made through those words, that of story, will endure.