From Jedi knights and gold-rush explorers to doomed puppets and romantic clowns, over the past 15 years Phoenix Theatre’s annual Spotlight on Alumni has presented a range of shows as diverse and accomplished as the graduates themselves. But this month, Phoenix is entering a world as strange and terrifying as any yet imagined: motherhood.
Just ask Department of Theatre alumna Nicolle Nattrass, whose solo show, Mamahood: Bursting Into Light, courageously chronicles the journey of becoming a mother at age 40 . . . complete with a rock ‘n roll soundtrack.
“I don’t like to be bound by restrictions like ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’,” Nattrass explains. “I really believe life is full of both, so I’ve always written to connect with the audience, using comedy to talk about more serious things.”
This is the first time Mamahood — running October 9 to 20 at the Phoenix — will be fully mounted in Victoria, following a staged reading in 2014. “I’m so glad I get to come back to my alma mater to perform this,” says Nattrass, who graduated in 1991. “UVic has been a big part of my journey as an artist and I’m constantly collaborating with other Phoenix alum, including this show’s director, TJ Dawe.”
Life into art
With nine plays and a busy life as an actress, director, dramaturge, certified addiction counselor and parent, Nattrass is a great example of how Fine Arts alumni can transform life experiences into art. Indeed, with Mamahood, she’s using her own story to reach out to other moms (and dads and grandparents) and deconstruct some prevailing motherhood myths.
“Parenting is really an individual experience: the only one who can define how you’re going to be as a mother is you,” she says. “We’re told it should look like a Pamper’s commercial — all the right outfits, everything is good — but that excludes a lot of moms. It’s okay to not have an ideal experience every day of the week . . . or at all. Whether you’re a co-parent, step-parent or foster parent, it’s all about accepting your own story.”
Like so many alumni, Nattrass birthed Mamahood through her fusion of teaching and creative practice. “I was asked to teach a course on ‘Mama Memoirs’ at Camosun College and I realized I hadn’t written down my own story yet,” she says. “There’s this romantic idea that we only write at perfect times — four hours with a latte at your favourite coffee shop — but the reality of motherhood is getting up at 4:30 in the morning when you’re exhausted from breast feeding and trying to get inspired.”
The realities of the birth experience
Nattrass also doesn’t hesitate to talk about postpartum realities in her play, which sets it apart from straight-up comedies like the Mom’s The Word series. “The postpartum experience can be anything from anxiety, fear and sleep deprivation to issues surrounding the pregnancy or birth itself.”
With that in mind, she makes a point of connecting with local birth educators and support networks wherever Mamahood tours — in Victoria, she’s working with Mothering Touch Centre — and builds that into the theatrical experience. “I always do a talkback session at the end of each show, so people can not only ask me questions but also connect with resources in their community.”
Not just for moms
Not that Mamahood is only for mothers. “The biggest surprise to me are the men’s reactions,” says Nattrass of her audiences that frequently include partners, grandparents, teenagers, doctors, midwives, nurses, doulas and dudelas. “The director isn’t a dad, and a lot of men who come to the show aren’t dads, but they’ve all been so supportive.” Nor is the play only for laughs. “I’ve had people come out who are dealing with issues other than parenting — like anxiety and depression — and they can really relate to the show, because it’s funny but it’s also talking about serious issues.”
The public is also invited to a free preshow lecture with UVic English professor Sheila Rabillard on “Motherhood Out Loud”, discussing the changing face of motherhood in theatre (7pm Friday, October 12).
Ultimately, Mamahood is a comedic story about her own journey . . . so far. “The core message is that motherhood is a rock ‘n roll ride,” she laughs. “My son is nine now and the ride is definitely not over! My whole journey really has been about bursting into light.”
Mamahood: Bursting into Light runs October 10 – 20, 2018 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Tickets are $16 – $26 at 250-721-8000 or phoenixtheatres.ca. Note: there is also an October 9 preview, offering $8 tickets only after 5pm on the day-of the show.