What: Mamahood: Bursting into Light
Where: Phoenix Theatre, 3800 Finnerty Rd., University of Victoria
When: Oct. 10 through Oct. 20
Tickets: $26 ($16 students, $21 seniors) through the Phoenix box office, by phone at 250-721-8000 or finearts.uvic.ca
New parents can find humour in plenty of things, even the moments that are far from funny. It’s a coping mechanism, but an important one for those who are new to the role. Because one of the only ways to survive the child-rearing years is through laughter.
Lantzville playwright and actor Nicolle Nattrass discovered this when she gave birth at 40. She wrote Mamahood: Bursting into Light, which opens at the University of Victoria’s Phoenix Theatre on Oct. 10, after her unexpected pregnancy brought unexpected results nine years ago.
“I saw motherhood either portrayed as a Pampers commercial or totally psychotic,” Nattrass said. “The reality is so different. I didn’t expect it to be the way that it was.”
Nattrass said her son slept through the night just six times over a two-year period. As a result, she developed overwhelming anxiety following childbirth, which is discussed in the play. Her post-partum experience had both lows and highs, however — the likes of which provide the foundation for Mamahood: Bursting into Light. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll ride, but also an emotional rollercoaster,” she said of the solo show.
“There’s a lot of funny in it, because that’s how I write. I tend to believe that if you get the audience laughing, they are much more comfortable. And that’s really important to me, that an audience can sit back and be open. [That way] you can talk about serious things as well.”
Nattrass will perform 11 shows during her run at the Phoenix Theatre. The venue was a second home for Nattrass while she pursed her degree in acting from UVic in 1991, and the Jessie Award nominee is happy to be coming back for the first full production of the play. She’s coming with company, too. In addition to those involved with the production, which includes acclaimed director TJ Dawe, Nattrass is bringing a rotating cast of health-care professionals for a series of post-show information sessions. A different expert will appear each night of the play, which is being presented as part of the Phoenix Theatre’s Spotlight on Alumni series.
She hopes the sessions can put some perspective on Mamahood: Bursting into Light. “The reason why I do this show is to connect women in the audience with local resources.”
Nattrass, who is also a certified addiction counsellor, is showcasing guests from agencies and organizations that cater to new and expectant parents, from naturopaths and post-partum doulas to clinical counsellors and psychotherapists. What she is attempting is tricky — to erase the stigmas that come with new parenthood while getting audiences to laugh along with her — but Nattrass believes she can make a difference through theatre. Sheila Rabillard, an associate professor in the UVic English department, will also tackle the changing role of motherhood in the theatre world with a free pre-show lecture on Oct. 12.
“It’s OK to talk about being a mom, and to talk about the hard times, and the pressure of being the perfect mom,” Nattrass said. “A lot of people think this is just for parents, but it’s actually for anyone who cares about a mom or a woman. You don’t have to want to have kids to see this show, or have kids to see this show. People are starting to step up and care about women. And this is a woman’s story.”
The play starts on a linear timeline, beginning when Nattrass finds out she is pregnant — unexpectedly — and ends when her son is two-and-a-half. “I started writing the play when he was two, writing down ideas during the madness of being a new mom. One of the ways that I work is to write down notes to myself on index cards, and I keep them in an old recipe box. That’s how I sort my thoughts. When I was a new mom and beginning that journey, these ideas would come to me.”
She realizes now that by writing about her journey, she could help some expectant mothers just beginning theirs. “I didn’t know at the time when I wrote it that this is what I was doing. I wrote it because I needed to tell my story. I wrote the piece alone, but what has come out of it, the important thing, is that moms know they are not alone.
“It’s the biggest emotional and physical transformation that a woman can experience in her lifetime and nobody warns you about the reality of it.”