Mum’s the word at SkirtsAfire, the “herArts Festival”

Coralie Cairns, Mary Hulbert, Chantelle Han in The Mommy Monologues. Photo by BB Collective Photography.

Coralie Cairns, Mary Hulbert, Chantelle Han in The Mommy Monologues. Photo by BB Collective Photography.

By Liz Nicholls,

Everybody you know has one, alive or pushing up daisies, possibly on the phone asking why you don’t call or wear yellow more often. I refer of course to moms. 

And the sheer cosmic strangeness of that, individually and collectively, can’t help but find its way into The Mommy Monologues. The production gets its world premiere at the upcoming fifth annual SkirtsAfire, the “herArts festival” devoted to showcasing and inspiring the work of women in every art form.

When SkirtsAfire artistic director Annette Loiselle acquired the play-shaping services of dramaturg Tracy Carroll and director Glenda Stirling last spring, to work with 10 women theatre artists on their 15-minute submissions about motherhood, Carroll predicted the monologues would shake down into two basic categories:  “Mother is SO wonderful, or motherhood is SO hard day to day.”

“It didn’t turn out that way. At all,” laughs Carroll. She was amazed by the range. “There was every kind of perspective! So many voices! Characters who want children and can’t have them, characters who didn’t want kids….” There was comedy; there was tragedy; there was everything in between: regret, lack of regret, trying to make decisions, revisiting decisions. The age of the characters range from 20s to 60s. 

Chantelle Han in The Mommy Monologues. Photo by: BB Collective Photography.

Chantelle Han in The Mommy Monologues. Photo by: BB Collective Photography.

In one monologue a woman is talking to her dead mother. There was regret, lack of regret. In one of the monologues a woman is talking to her dead mother. Singer-songwriter Andrea House’s contribution was a song, I’m Just Your Mom. “It’s made us cry,” says Carroll, who says that Stirling has experimented with where in the show to place the song. 

Stirling herself has written a piece, at Loiselle’s request. At first she wasn’t sure why the invitation came since “I don’t have kids, or want them. And I have no tragic regrets about not having them…. But I figured I could write about my mother.” In the end, the character Stirling explores is “a step-mom. When she gets asked to leave the house, she makes a video for her step-daughter….. ‘Here’s my house. Here’s your room in it’….”

As poets know, brevity ups the challenge. Stirling talks about “a portrait in miniature,” a phrase she acquired from the late great dramaturg Iris Turcotte. “You have to be so judicious, a snap-shot of people at a pivotal moment.”

Her piece turned out to be a video. “The way we use the space for each monologue is radically different,” Stirling says of the work of weaving 10 pieces about motherhood into a single production with a cast of three “Sometimes we’re in a family home, sometimes a hospital room, sometimes who knows where….”

And here’s a question with widely varying answers: who is the character talking to? Sometimes the other actors are listening or watching silently. Sometimes not. “We’re working on the transitions,” says Stirling.

The funniest of the pieces, Stirling and Carroll figure, is probably Conni Massing’s Pants on Fire. Carroll, who directed Massing’s rom-com-cum screwball The Invention of Romance at Workshop West in 2014, describes the arc of Pants on Fire as “a woman starting with a little lie that snowballs.”

Like much of Massing’s work, Carroll says, “humour overlaps with deeper layers. You get laughter, and you dig down into something more personal.”

“The experience of The Mommy Monologues will be different for everyone who sees the show,” Carroll says. “At least one or two of them will speak directly to you!” 


The Mommy Monologues

SkirtsAfire herArts Festival

Written by: Beth Graham, Andrea House, Katherine Koller, Annette Loiselle, Conni Massing, Nicole Moeller, Mieko Ouchi, Dana Rayment, Glenda Stirling, Michele Vance Hehir, Cat Walsh

Directed by: Glenda Stirling

Starring: Coralie Cairns, Mary Hulbert, Chantelle Han

Where: Cabaret Theatre, Alberta Avenue Community League, 9210 118 Ave.

Running: March 2 to 12

Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757,

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