It’s a comedy about the darkness of parenthood.
That’s how Emelia Symington Fedy describes Motherload, the collectively-created play she and three castmates are bringing to the Yukon Arts Centre’s mainstage on October 13.
Fedy traces the play’s conception to a specific outing with her infant son, at a time when she was grieving her own mother’s lingering death from cancer.
“I remember walking up a street I’d lived on for ten years, feeling more isolated and alone than I’d ever felt in my life,” Fedy recalled.
“It was a busy street, full of friends, and I had a newborn baby strapped to me, and it was supposed to be this amazing connective time, and I felt utterly alone. It was just horrific.”
As a theatre-maker, Fedy’s instinct was to expose that awareness to the light of storytelling.
She invited several fellow actors, who had recently given birth or who had been moms for a few years, to join her in exploring “the surprise that comes with becoming a parent that is not incredibly pleasurable,” Fedy explained.
“I fundraised for three nannies, and five of us women sat in a room for ten days and just got it all out. We had a transcriber who wrote it all down, and we just laughed and we cried.”
The only thing that made them feel better, Fedy said, was realizing that they were not alone in their feelings.
With no script, no money and no all-star cast, Fedy approached the executive director of the East Vancouver Cultural Centre (The Cultch), who agreed to buy the show based on the concept alone.
“That was a miracle in itself. We didn’t have the time or the ability to raise $100,000. We were all just surviving,” Fedy said.
“We were just a collective of women; we were just moms. We weren’t attached to a theatre company, and we got money,” she added.
“Granted, we spent our money on childcare. That’s the irony of doing a play when you have kids. All the money goes to pay for a seventeen-year-old, to take care of your kids so you can make a play.”
During the script-development phase, the four women who became the final cast gathered regularly to write a show based on their own bittersweet experiences of parenthood.
“We all have these archetypal moms. I’m the mom who’s trying to keep her job alive at all costs. I’m also dealing with the death of my mother. So I’m grieving, I’m trying to keep my career going, and I have a newborn baby,” Fedy said.
“Then there’s the character of Juno (Rinaldi), who’s going through extreme postpartum depression, and doesn’t know if she wants to live, and is put on meds. How can you go so dark, and what can you do to get out of it?”
The next person Fedy sought out was her friend Jody-Kay Marklew, who had quit her dream of being an actor to become the kind of “hysterically perfect mom” who stayed up half the night decorating her room as a dinosaur cave for her daughter’s second birthday.
Fedy’s final pick was Sonja Bennett, an “excellent writer” who was in the early stages of divorce.
“I knew Sonja was a workaholic like me, and I wanted that in the room, a little of that workaholic energy. We were going to do this well; this wasn’t just moms yakking around; this was going to be an excellent play.”
The collective process was both intense and rewarding.
“There was a lot of crying. We cried every day. We fought, we breastfed each other’s children. Jody broke her tooth, so she was in the hospital and I was breastfeeding her three-year-old. We were just passing her around.”
While women have been having babies for millennia, Fedy said they have also joined together to talk about it for millennia.
“There is a great longing and desire to gather and talk about it and share the truth. When we do, we just feel so much better and we feel like we can continue,” she said.
“It’s really healing to know that you’re not alone in the darkness you feel; you’re not bad for feeling it. That has never changed. This is just another conversation around that.”
Using comedy to explore the fact that motherhood isn’t always “this blissful damned ecstasy trip” makes the play “connective” to women in the audience.
“The irony is, it’s a really funny play. But by the end of it, the women are crying so hard, because they relate so deeply, that they’re too busy wiping their makeup to stand up and applaud.”
Motherload will be at the Yukon Arts Centre for one performance: Saturday, October 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at a lower cost for self-declared low-income purchasers.
For more information, go to yukonartscentre.com.
(Ed. Note: This article has been edited to reflect cancellation of the Sunday matinee.)