For more photos, click gallery, above.

Ann Imig's theater concept Listen To Your Mother lets moms tell their stories

Motherhood in the spotlight

Ann Imig had only been blogging for six months when she attended BlogHer, the national conference for women who write online, in the summer of 2009. While there, the self-proclaimed "Stay at Home Humorist" and mother of two young sons sat in on the keynote address, where invited writers read aloud from their own posts.

"I was moved and excited by the live readings on so many different levels," remembers Imig. She immediately noticed the "reverence in the room. Everyone cared so deeply about writing." Trained as a social worker, she also found herself "geeking out at the opportunity to bear witness to the powerful stories these women were sharing."

And it was there that Imig, who began her career as an actress, first realized she was "completely dying for the chance to read my writing on stage. Blogging was reconnecting me to an audience I didn't know I missed." She left the Chicago conference knowing she wanted to create something similar in Madison.

On the second Sunday in May 2010, after just eight weeks of planning, a dozen local female writers took the stage at the Barrymore Theatre for the first Listen to Your Mother show - now a national series of live readings performed in celebration of Mother's Day. During the show, which Imig affectionately refers to as her "third child," performers shared their musings on what the LTYM website describes as "the beauty, the beast, and the barely rested that is motherhood."

Imig hoped that by giving women in Madison a chance to share their stories in front of a live audience in a well-produced event, "a new way to celebrate Mother's Day - as a community" might emerge. "Motherhood," she feels, "needs recognition and celebration beyond the individual."

"The whole idea came together synergistically," says Imig. She had initially considered an open-mike format for the inaugural show. But she soon abandoned that, realizing, "I wanted something polished. I needed the audience to leave feeling energized and celebrated."

The feedback from the crowd of nearly 300 that Sunday was extremely positive. But the impact the experience had on the 12 women in the initial cast was extraordinary. Becky Sewell, one of the final readers that day, shared an essay detailing her first month as a single mom with a newborn. "Being a part of the show was so much more than I expected," she remembers. "Having the chance to tell my story in public, raw emotional material and all, was cathartic. It was the chance of a lifetime to have both my feelings and writing validated."

There was little question in Imig's mind that Listen to Your Mother should become an annual Madison Mother's Day tradition. What she wasn't expecting, though, was the response she received from other bloggers all over the country, fueled by her posting the 2010 production in its entirety online.

They all wanted to know how they could bring the "page to stage" concept to their communities the following year.

"If I'd have picked the city where we went next, it might have been Chicago or Milwaukee," says Imig. "I'm pragmatic." But in May of 2011, after a careful selection process, the LTYM show was produced in four new cities, including Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles. And this year, the stable of locally produced shows for which Imig serves as national director has grown even larger, with 10 productions planned across the country in cities as large as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York.

The day I met with Imig she had just finished casting for the Madison production. "I feel honored to get to listen to all the auditions," she says. "I see them as just as much a part of the LTYM experience as the actual show."

She stresses that she wasn't just looking for the "best stories" but for a "playlist of readings that will resonate with the audience."

As producer, Imig has a loose formula for shows that work and aims for a production where half the pieces "validate the common experience and the other half expand perspectives." This year's 13-reader event will take place at the Barrymore at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, and feature a performance by Madison-based country singer Whitney Mann. And as is true of Listen to Your Mother events nationally, 10% of proceeds will benefit a local nonprofit that serves families in need. This year's show will benefit the Urban League of Madison's Healthcare Administrative Training Program.

Twelve-year-old Hannah Nies has taken the concept of Listen to Your Mother quite literally. Last Mother's Day, the Waunakee seventh-grader sat in the front row of the Barrymore and watched her mom, Deb, overcome a lifelong fear of public speaking while cracking the audience up with a humorous essay on childrearing. The experience inspired Hannah to write a response, "kind of a roast," she says, that she will share next week on the LTYM stage.

"It will feel really good," says Hannah, who has experience in local youth theater, "to perform as myself, not a character."

And the senior Ms. Nies is thrilled her daughter will have the opportunity to experience the magic of the show. "Even more than getting to tell my story was the chance to share it with all the other cast members - amazing women I wouldn't otherwise know."

While this is the first time the show has featured a back-to-back mother/daughter duo, it doesn't really surprise Imig. "Mothers," she says, "affect us in very big ways we don't always realize."

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Help for home-schoolers

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter.

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.