Around 2:00 in the morning on Monday, October 23rd 2017, I woke up to use the bathroom and
noticed a bit of blood. I was 38 weeks pregnant. I woke up my husband, Mike, and we went to the hospital. After hours of tolerating mild contractions in triage while “Planet Earth” played in the background, I felt (and heard) a loud “snap!” My water broke. The contractions grew with intensity until I became one of those women in the movies, pulling on my husband’s proverbial necktie and begging for drugs. After huffing nitrous oxide and feeling neither relieved nor ready to party, the nurses got me ready for an epidural, but by then it was too late. After 43 minutes of pushing, screaming, and wearing my knees like earrings (visuals!), Abigail Rose was born, weighing six pounds and thirteen ounces. She’s beautiful and wonderful and amazing and I got the natural birth I never wanted.
Oops, wrong birth story, sorry.
Kelliann Kary and I met in fall 2015 while we were in a play together. We clicked instantly after several weeks of rehearsals. She is funny, bold, and genuine. I don’t think there is a part of the day when she isn’t thinking about the next thing she wants to write, create, or produce. During our conversations, sometimes she gets quiet, looks up, and then bounces back with a new proposal, opportunity, or story. After rehearsals we would bounce ideas off each other of projects we wanted to work on, plays we wanted to write. One day over tacos she said that she wanted to continue to write (she had already written several plays by that point, including a one-woman show and two Fringe shows) and that she trusted me to perform her material. I was honored.
We continued to talk over beers and tacos for several months. While her mind brewed with ideas (which she maps out on a whiteboard in her bedroom), I went to auditions and took acting classes. I kept a stack of acting resumes and headshots in my car. I took videos of my monologues, played them back, and gave myself notes. “Stand up straight! Move a little at this part. What is the character trying to say here?” I would practice my monologues on the treadmill at the gym. I showed up to every audition in an A-line dress with the right amount of confidence and vulnerability. I chatted, smiled, and made small talk about the people I had worked with that the director also knew. I was proud of my work. “It’s OK if I don’t get it, this is a part of the process!” I continued going to auditions and giving it my all, even though a mass e-mail would show up in my inbox later, “Thank you for auditioning! Unfortunately…” It was fun, until it wasn’t. Over time, I grew discouraged and disengaged. I wasn’t having fun with “the process.” I saw every audition on my calendar as an obligation I was eager to cancel. So, I “quit.” I felt relieved. I looked at all the stress and pressure I brought upon myself and wondered if it could go toward something different.
It was around this time that two things happened: Smartmouth Comedy was in its early stages of
development and my husband and I were planning to start a family. My friend Catherine Hansen had the idea to create more opportunities for women in comedy. She reached out to Jenna Papke, owner of Phoenix Theater, who vehemently agreed. They connected with Kelliann and I and we all got together, decided to form a theatre company focusing on women in comedy, and named it “Smartmouth” (I got the idea from being told I had a “smart mouth” after sassing off to my mom as a child). We started with our “Director’s Cut” series. We attracted lots of new performers and were eager to get people on stage who hadn’t tried much improv or who hadn’t performed in a long time. We weren’t looking to cast ourselves or our friends. We made new opportunities for people and saw the rewards.
In winter 2017, I was secretly pregnant, and Kelliann and I started writing a show, “Who
Killed Ariel: A Princess Murder Mystery.” I loved our writing process. Every week, we’d get together, shove food in our mouths, and ponder what direction the story would take next. The writing process was 1/3 banter, 1/3 brainstorming, and 1/3 passing the laptop back and forth while the other person finished eating. When “Ariel” opened in the fall, it was a big hit. The success, the performances, the audience, everything exceeded my expectations. After seeing it for the second time at a Sunday matinee, Kelliann’s mother, Wendy, looked at me, then 38 weeks pregnant, and said “Oh boy, she’s got that look, that baby is coming soon. She’s got that look!” It was October 22.
Before Smartmouth, I felt discouraged, and even as Smartmouth started, I doubted my skills. My improv was rusty. I hadn’t done improv since I was 17 years old. With Smartmouth, I’ve performed, directed, written, and produced several shows. Smartmouth helped me realize that I never really quit. Maybe I wasn’t a capital-A “Actor,” so what? I did not need to rely on someone else to create something. If I had an idea, I could throw it out to the group and we could build it into something. Writing “Ariel” made me realize that writing is what I wanted to do anyway. It has always been my greatest strength. From the corny poems in grade school to the short YA novel I wrote at age 11 to the more morose stories I wrote in my teens, to my attempts at stand-up and sketch comedy. With writing, I can still contribute, even though I might not have time anymore for rehearsals or shows that start after 9pm. So that’s my Smartmouth birth story. I still have clippings and photos that I can show to Abby of the times that I was on stage, but I’m prouder that shows, like “Ariel,” can exist and thrive and entertain audiences even as I sit at home, spooning vegetable/chicken slop into Abby’s mouth. I might return to the stage with Smartmouth sometime soon. For now, I’ll put those headshots in a keepsake box, sit down with Kelliann for beer and tacos, and start writing the next production.