When I first heard about Stage Mothers, I admit I was sceptical – and it was with trepidation that I signed up for my first session. After all, don’t we parents have enough drama in our lives already?
Then, the night before the class, I experienced a bout of stage fright. I was wrong for this. So completely wrong. I am (and always have been) a happily bespectacled geek. I was a librarian at school and am pathologically opposed to loud ‘look-at-me’ activities that make me the centre of attention. Indeed, my only attempt at on-stage drama occurred when I was nine and it scarred me for life. Doing something completely out of character, I signed up for the school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I was desperate to be one of Pharaoh’s wives (they had pretty costumes and got to wear makeup). Instead, I was handed a fake beard and made to play a hairy Ishmaelite.
By breakfast time, I was convinced I’d be surrounded by a class of extrovert, bead-twirling, amateur thesps who’d given up treading the boards to breed beautiful children with ludicrous names. The teacher (I imagined) would be a multicoloured cocktail of crocheted layers, body piercings and feminism, and she’d make us do things like pretending to be ‘trees in a storm’. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as happy as the next mum to publicly make a fool of myself – if I have a baby to blame it on. But, without the accompanying small person, pretending to be a wigwam or a frustrated womb (or something equally random) just doesn’t have the same appeal.
I get there 10 minutes late, with a cunning plan to pop my head in and pretend I’ve come to the wrong room if it all looks too bonkers. My first glimpse of the class results in my almost bolting back to the car. There they are standing in a semi-circle, clapping, clicking their fingers and playing some kind of strange name game. But at that moment, something happens. One of the women – a surprisingly normal-looking gal, without a string of beads in sight – gets the rhyme wrong, bursts out laughing and blushes to her bootstraps. I hesitate for a moment, and the next thing I know, Hayley Doyle, the class teacher (wearing jeans, a trendy top and no crochet) has spotted me. ‘Hi – so glad you could join us,’ she smiles, her Scouse charm impossible to resist. And that’s it. I’m in!
We are handed a script – a stage dialogue called Henna Night, about an ex-girlfriend and a new girlfriend who are heatedly discussing their mutual male ‘friend’. Each of us plays one of the women – swapping over to the next person in the semi-circle we’ve formed, when we reach the end of each page.
Within minutes, my nerves vanish and I am engrossed. This is just like reading Hamlet in an English literature class at school – only so much more interesting. In this story, there is a suspected pregnancy, infidelity, jealousy, cigarette smoking, hair dye and quite a lot of serious swearing. Gosh. It’s just like being 25 again!
After dissecting the script, the improvising begins. This time, Hayley tells us to be ‘girlfriends on a night out’ – discussing boyfriend woes. It is awkward to begin with, but soon the conversation flows and everything goes swimmingly once Eileen Kelly, a straight-talking mum of two from Ireland, cracks open a pretend bottle of plonk. ‘Seriously – I can’t even remember back to before my kids were born – so imagining life before my husband is quite bizarre!’ she later admits.
Meanwhile, Siân Worth, a former dance teacher from Devon and mum of two, decides she has no problems playing the disaffected ex-girlfriend. ‘It’s great to be able to reminisce back to those single girl days that were so much rockier than they are now. We’ve all had our hearts broken and discussed it to death with our girlfriends. We all love watching Sex and the City, because we can relate to the way women form certain dynamics.’
So why are they all here? Why not join a painting class, a gym or sign up for yogalates? ‘I just fancied it. I’ve done corporate public speaking, but never drama, and it looked like it would be a laugh,‘ explains Alex Toms, mum of two girls. ‘I do think it can build up your confidence too. It forces you out of your comfort zone and puts you on the spot.’
Although two of the mums have performance backgrounds, the rest re novices just like me. ‘I was in a school play once, and I really enjoyed it, so thought I’d give this a shot,’ Sue Edwards, an unassuming school photographer, tells me after the class. ‘This was my first lesson and I did feel pretty daunted initially. But I really enjoyed it. I’m glad I signed up.’
‘I think it’s popular because we keep it real,’ explains Hayley – who happily admits she’s not the sort of drama teacher who encourages weird and wonderful performances. ‘I understand why that side of things is important, but it’s not what I enjoy. I appreciate great writing and the way characters can make a scene so believable, the way a good script can take the audience on an emotional journey that we can all relate to. So, did you enjoy the class?’
I answer an immediate ‘Oh yes!’ My preconceived notions of air-kissing luvvies have all but disappeared, and I find myself doing the unthinkable – and asking if I can come again. It had been huge fun, and while I’ll never take acting further, I’ve learned a lot about screenplay dialogue. And as Eileen so rightly points out, ‘We mothers have to practice forced improvisation and drama every day. It’s quite refreshing to do it just because we actually want to.’
For more information about Stage Mothers, contact Ductac on (04 341 4777 ext 235) or visit www.kidstheatreworks.com.