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Listen to Your Mother 2015 Love Fest

Rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

I’m still coming down off a contact high after watching 13 ladies bear their truths before a live audience Saturday in the second annual Listen to Your Mother North Jersey show.

Listen to Your Mother is a staged reading event where people share experiences about motherhood in all its forms. It started out as the brainchild of blogger Ann Imig with one show in Madison, Wisconsin and has now become a national movement– performed in 39 cities across the U.S. this year.

I was honored to be chosen to read in the first North Jersey show last year, and it was an exhilarating experience.

Rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

I wanted to stay involved, so was thrilled when last year’s co-director/producers Deborah Goldstein and Sandy Rustin asked me to help direct and produce the 2015 show.

As a former TV news producer, flexing those muscles again was extremely satisfying. Working with Deborah and Sandy was one of the most joyful professional experiences of my life. They’re both uber talented and lovely human beings. Those gifted gals taught me so much, while always making me feel an equal part of the team, despite my rookie status.

The audition process was fascinating and humbling. We had almost 70 people read their stories and had the daunting task of choosing just 13 for the show.

Rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

The audition room

Aligning with the LTYM edict, we tried to find pieces with a unique voice, but a universal message about motherhood. If you’ve seen the show, you know it’s an emotional journey, so it was also important we have balance, with thought-provoking stories that would make an audience laugh and cry.

13 women earned the coveted spots with their original, beautiful words. While several are career writers and/or bloggers, some have only dabbled in writing while keeping day jobs, or just had an important story to tell.

The age range ran from 30’s to 50’s, with topics ranging from foster care, parenting special needs children, divorce, racism, and gender stereotypes to cooking in the kitchen with mom and sending kids to summer camp. Each story had relatable elements, even if the experience described was completely new.

Auditions for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

We used very sophisticated methods to make the show order

After a successful 2014 show, tickets went quickly for the scheduled 5pm show. When the show sold out, we got ballsy and added a second show at 2pm. Although we didn’t sell out the second show, we had a terrific audience and the cast got to read twice. I remember last year being so sad when it was over, I wished I could start all over again and this year’s cast got that chance.

Rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

The first read-throughs were raw and emotional

We only rehearsed twice before show day but these ladies were ready. There were a few butterflies but those tough broads laughed in the face of stage fright.

Rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

Technical rehearsal on show day

The audience seemed to enthusiastically enjoy the show, and it’s been 24 hours of love online and in person from those who saw it. A few people told me the show was now officially part of their annual Mother’s Day weekend routine.

Taking a bow at Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

Taking a bow after the first show. Proud and relieved!

There were many hugs and promises to see each other soon as we all parted to celebrate with family and friends after the second show. An email chain with all cast and producers continued throughout the day with Mother’s Day wishes and an outpouring of love and respect. I ran into one cast mate in town tonight and we ran into each other’s arms like old Army buddies separated by years, when really it had only been a day.

We are bonded forever by this meaningful experience.

I remain in awe of people willing to make themselves vulnerable by sharing deeply personal stories and exploring their feelings on a stage in front of 450 people. It takes a certain kind of courage and trust, and we producers were so grateful to each reader for their bravery and willingness to open their hearts.

North Jersey cast of Listen to Your Mother 2015 on carpoolcandy.com

Love these ladies!

As Sandy told the cast in the few exciting moments before they took the stage Saturday, you never know who in the audience needs to hear your story, needs to laugh or cry. Words are powerful, especially when expressed with authenticity. That’s what makes LTYM work.

Maybe you have a story to tell about having a mother or being one. Write it down!  LTYM NJ 2016 is not that far away…..

You can read more amazing stories in the new anthology: Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now..


Facing fears on the “Listen to Your Mother” 2014 stage

LTYM-NJ- poster on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

Conventional wisdom suggests you should always push yourself to do new things, even things that scare the crap out of you. Last Saturday, I faced a big fear and was rewarded in spades.

A few months ago, some local writers in town encouraged me to audition for a show called Listen to Your Mother,” a staged reading event about motherhood, performed before a live audience.

I scoffed at the idea. Why would I want to make myself vulnerable in front of hundreds of people?

Not to mention the fear of rejection. What if I mustered up the courage to try out and didn’t get chosen to read? As a freelance writer, I’m rebuffed on a regular basis. It’s part of the business. I’m lucky if I get an email back saying “no thanks.”

The co-producers of the show—two lovely and talented women used to dealing with writer drama– basically gave me no choice but to audition.

If I had had to write a motherhood piece from scratch, I’d have had a terrific excuse to procrastinate and miss the deadline. But I happened to have a polished piece– about the joys of shopping with my mother as a teenager– lying around.

LTYM NJ at SOPAC on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

The piece, called “Finding Freedom in a Fitting Room,” had already lost the Real Simple magazine annual essay contest, and been rejected by Self and Brain, Child magazines. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I face a lot of rejection.)

The day of my audition, my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing. I entered the cold room and instantly had to pee, even though I had gone 10 minutes before. As I started to read, blood was pulsing so strongly and loudly through my body, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I managed to get out the first sentence but by the time I got to the second paragraph, I had run out of air and my voice was shaking.

I was scared and embarrassed, but I kept going. What else was there to do?

Towards the end of the first page I was startled when the producers running the audition began to giggle at my words. I had practiced reading the story to my kids (ages 8, 10, and 14) several times but they were always bored and stone-faced. This laugh was an unexpected and heartening surprise. It gave me the courage to keep reading. There were a few more laughs and a sigh or two at the emotional parts. I was on a roll.

I left the audition feeling relieved. I didn’t faint or pee in my pants.

(It sounds crazy but I’m still scarred by that time in 3rd grade when I was winning a spelling bee and didn’t want to give up the spotlight or let on that I was nervous so I danced around until pee came streaming down my leg, soaking my tights and pooling into my black patent-leather Mary Janes.)

A few days later I got the email announcing the cast of this year’s “Listen To Your Mother” North Jersey show and I was in. About 85 people tried out, and only 15 were selected to read. I was excited and honored.

LTYM-NJ on carpoolcandy.com

The amazing cast of LTYM NJ (Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography)

And then the fear set in.

A sense of dread mounted in my chest for the next 10 weeks until the show. I woke up in the wee hours of many mornings with my head spinning about whether I was prepared, and cataloging all the potentially horrible things that could happen to me onstage as 450 people looked on in horror and pity.

Rationally, I knew it was ridiculous. I was reading, not memorizing lines. I liked my story. I’d been onstage before in high school and college plays, and I’m an outgoing person.

None of that allayed my anxiety as the calendar inched closer to show time. After discussing my fears with too many friends, I discovered you could take a beta-blocker to slow down your heart rate for public speaking. I was worried a glass of wine or a Xanax would make me loopy or unfocused, but a beta-blocker seemed reasonable and became the thing that would save me.

I made an appointment with my doctor who prescribed the beta-blocker without hesitation. I tried it a few days before the show to make sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction. That tiny blue pill gave me the false sense of security I needed going into the big day.

LTYM-NJ SOPAC on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

Although we only met twice before the performance, there was an instant bond among the cast members. We range in age – from a college student to a grandma—and backgrounds, but we were drawn together by the desire to share our stories.

I was humbled to work with such talented people, and their support and kindness made the experience even more gratifying. Some of their stories were deeply personal and I was awed by their courage. Others were so funny, I couldn’t wait to see how the audience received them, as if I had something to do with it.

LTYM-NJ on carpoolcandy.com

courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

On the night of the show, as I waited in the wings for the cast to be invited onstage, my hands were clammy and my heart was racing again. But this time, the fear was replaced by elation and pride.

Brooke Lefferts in LTYM NJ on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

Reading my piece before a live audience was thrilling. The enthusiastic, sold-out crowd was a dream. I read on Twitter that we received a standing ovation, although I was on such a high, I don’t remember it.

Brooke Lefferts in LTYM NJ on carpoolcandy.com

courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

After the show, Wilson, my 14-year-old, and several friends greeted me with smiles and flowers. I was lucky to have many people there who said they loved the show as much as I did.

I’ve said before that I believe everything happens for a reason. I was disappointed each time “Finding Freedom in a Fitting Room,” was rejected by those magazines. But the universe was saving the piece for me to experience performing in “Listen to Your Mother.”

Thanks, universe. You really know what you’re doing.

Listen to Your Mother aims to give parents all over the country a microphone to share their stories. It started in Wisconsin and is now performed around Mother’s Day weekend in 32 cities. If you have something to say about having a mother or being one, write it down and audition at a city near you next year!