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The unpredictable and unglamorous side of live theater / by Madeline Burrows

This fall I, along with Production Manager Allison Smartt and Director Emma Weinstein, took my solo show, MOM BABY GOD--a show based on undercover research on the anti-choice youth movement--on tour to New York City, D.C., Chicago, and Philadelphia with a final hometown performance in Easthampton, MA. You can read more about the political experience of the tour here:

One of the biggest take-aways from the tour for me as a performer was how adaptable you have to be on the road. There is so much in a piece of performance that can change depending on the audience and the space. Here are some photos and reflections from the road on Tour #1. Stay tuned for shows in Seattle, Boston, and Lincoln, Nebraska (!) this spring. 

MOM BABY GOD Tour Diary #1

After only performing the new version of the show for an audience of 4 people before, we opened to a sold-out crowd of 99 people (+ one right-winger) in NYC. I nearly peed my pants before, during, and after this show.

Sometimes you walk into a space the day of the show and discover that there is a GIANT IMMOVABLE FIREPLACE set piece GLUED TO THE FLOOR. Apparently this was being used for a play based on a Farrah Fawcett movie where FF defends herself against an attacker by throwing the perpetrator in an oven. Here is Allison Smartt, AKA the Beyoncé of Technical Directors (actually let me just brag about Allison Smartt for a minute—she’s MOM BABY GOD’s lighting/sound/projection designer/production manager/technical director/my hero.) Anyway, in this picture Allison is patiently explaining to the space manager why it doesn’t actually work to have a GIANT IMMOVABLE FIREPLACE in the middle of the stage. We ended up having to throw black cloth over it because the Farrah Fawcett play had to go on.

With our new pal, Kim, the box office manager in D.C. and one of my favorite people we met on tour. He is sporting our Reproductive Justice t-shirt (Great Valentine’s Day present hello).

We spent our 1 non-traveling day off on tour at the Renaissance Fair in Maryland. Pictured: MOM BABY GOD’s very dreamy graphic designer (okay also my partner) Taylor. Sidenote: Someone needs to write a thesis about gender performance at Renaissance fairs. Lots of breast-enhancing corsets and men decked out in silver armor, jousting. We also watched a 30 minute “modernized” (ie they used the phrase “Oh no she didn’t”) version of King Lear. An example of the jobs available to working actors in the U.S. in 2013.

Living the glamorous life, traveling by bus + subway. Easily became The Most Disliked People of Washington, D.C. and Chicago due to carrying all of our technical equipment on buses. Still waiting for Taylor Swift to see the (feminist) light and hook us up with a free tour bus.

Making new costume piece in Chicago at the very awesome Gorilla Tango Theatre. This is the price you pay for using glitter glue and stick-on letters—It cannot be washed, so I spray it with vodka which, fun + interesting fact, is a deodorizer!

This was the point in the tour where we started to get ~road weary~. We took a 19 hour train ride from Chicago to Philadelphia to perform at Swarthmore College. I know what you’re thinking. Train rides are very relaxing! That’s what I thought, too! And then I took this train ride. The train ride from hell. This was a train with no internet which had a 5 AM layover in Pittsburgh. NEVER AGAIN.

Only private liberal arts schools think chairs like this are a good idea. They are never a good idea. They will always give off douche chills. Right after this picture was taken someone asked if Emma (pictured here) and I were “prospies” >:0

Swarthmore College. Where to begin. We performed at a space on Frat Row (!!!) which was essentially an abandoned frat house/sanctuary sandwiched between two actual frat houses. It had murals all over the walls with relatively tasteful paintings of naked women and then extremely distasteful (re: misogynistic) graffiti of dicks going into the women’s mouths. Off to a great start. Then we walked into the performance space, which boasts that Nirvana performed there in the early ‘90s but neglected to let us know that the space has not been renovated SINCE the early ‘90s. This is a photo of the closet where all the technical equipment was supposed to be but was an actual nightmare. Turns out a student had been squatting there all summer, and had left his belly shirts there. Not pictured: Me wearing the belly shirts. Not pictured but also present: A bubble machine (unfortunately did not find a way to incorporate into the show), a broken drum set (Nirvana’s?!?!), and OVER TEN KNIVES. That’s right. There were more knives in this space than working lights.

Pretty much nothing worked in this space. The heat didn’t turn on, the water didn’t run, most of the lights didn’t work and the ones that did work were either chandeliers, Christmas lights, or had bright green and red gels on them, which works if you’re doing either a Christmas pageant or a low-budget production of Wicked, but isn’t the most subtle choice for a play about teenage sexuality and the right-wing. There was also no ladder in the space, and when Facilities finally sent one over, the Facilities guy felt the need to explain to Allison (who is a professional sound engineer and the Technical Director at a college) what an A-Frame ladder was, because duh girls can’t do stuff. Then we discovered through playing “Love on Top” (Sorry B) that the speakers were completely blown out. Needless to say, there was a lot of problem solving to pull this show off. The audiences at Swarthmore were extremely polite and also seemed to be terrified to be there. I think some of them actually thought they were walking into the Students for Life of America Conference, which is unsurprising given that they were literally walking into a church, albeit one filled with solo cups and dick pics and knives.

We got back from tour to find out that a male Students for Life representative secretly filmed our NYC show with ~undercover spy glasses~ AKA THE LITERAL EMBODIMENT OF THE MALE GAZE! Props, dude! This is a screenshot of their “exposé” article, which they published the day we got back from tour. Getting right-wing backlash after the tour (like being called, via e-mail, a “dumb bitch rugmuncher cunt”) was exactly the kind of “feedback” that made me want to keep performing this show.

We took November off from performing but started December with a hometown show at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA, which was such a blast and the best way to end the fall tour. This is a picture of my ponytail watching MEN’s set which followed ours—so awesome and inspiring. That was a show where I really felt like we created what we set out to create—political art that didn’t preach to the choir or talk down to people, but could inspire people to want to do something.

Madeline is a theater artist and activist based in Northampton, MA. She plays drums and sings in the band Tomboy. You can read more things she writes at and e-mail her at madelineburrows at gmail dot com

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