"Call Me Adam" chats with Urban Momfare co-writers Pamela Weiler Grayson and Alice Jankell (who also directs the show) about having their show in the 2014 NYC International Fringe Festival Encore Series.
Why don't we ever hear songs about moms not actually liking their kids? Urban Momfare is a romp through motherhood on Manhattan's Upper East Side spans 17 years: "Music For Gifted and Talented Babies" to bra straps and Bellinis. Strap on your stilettos cause this is war!
Urban Momfare plays at the Soho Playhouse in NYC (15 Vandam Street) from September 21-28. Click here for tickets!
1. You co-wrote the new musical Urban Momfare which just finished a run in the 2014 NYC Fringe Festival and is now part of their Encore Series at the SoHo Playhouse. What excites about having the show in their Encore Series?
Pam: It’s exciting that our show was chosen out of over 200 shows in the regular Fringe Festival to be in this Series. It’s a huge honor and we are so grateful to have another opportunity to present the show. It’s especially exciting to be having a production during the fall season, when people are back from the Hamptons, Fire Island, Europe, or wherever else they told us they were when they said they couldn’t come to the show in August.
Alice: The Encore Series offers continued opportunity to learn about our show. Every time we get to see it in front of an audience, we see what lands, what can grow, what wants fleshing out.
Pam: The Fringe Festival has a very loyal and built-in audience that supports the festival, and the fact that it’s based in New York City gave us the opportunity for industry people to come to the show. Also, the size, scope, and prestige of the NY Fringe Festival allowed us to meet lots of really talented people and have the kind of press that helps boost the recognition and buzz of our show.
Alice: The Fringe’s audience is savvy and diverse, and we were able to get a great deal of feedback. Additionally, the prolific nature of the festival forced us to pare our show down to its essentials. We feel we can pick up our production and go anywhere with it now!
3. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Urban Momfare?
Pam: I hope that audiences experience relief, connection, and joy, because the deep, dark, complex feelings they have about their kids, family, friends, and themselves were articulated on a stage, and validated. I want them to say, "I had those same feelings and thoughts, and I wasn’t sure anyone else really did. And not only did the characters have those thoughts and behaviors, but they sang about them!"
Alice: We want to convey the dirty secret that mothers are all human, and we all have selfish and irresponsible human impulses, and that’s ok. We want to open up the dialogue.
Pam: Well, the show is not really about mothers who don’t like their children, but we do have that feeling expressed in part of the show, in the sense that mothers have very complicated feelings about their kids, and they feel guilty for not liking them all the time (of course we love them, but liking them as people, not always!). I think for me the most trying part about being a mother is feeling like I am supposed to be the role model and "get things right," and so many times I feel like I’m doing a lot wrong - that I’m not behaving any more maturely than my kids, and sometimes I’m even more infantile! You have to be a grown-up and act like you have the answers, when we really don’t know what we’re doing most of the time. The most rewarding thing has been the sense that I actually did a pretty good job, in spite of all my insecurities. My kids are both teenagers now (one is in college), and they are really loving, bright, and good kids, who actually say nice things to me.
Alice: It’s not a show about mothers who don’t like their children at all. These mothers love their children. But like ALL mothers, they struggle with conflicting emotions and impulses at times.
Pam: We were "fixed up" by mutual friends of friends. I had this idea for a show of some kind that was partly based on some freelance writing pieces I wrote about women, and particularly mothers on the Upper East Side. My friend knew someone who knew Alice, whom they thought could act as dramaturg and help me shape the piece (and eventually direct it). We all met at a Pain Quotidien and talked. Alice and I clicked instantly. We now finish each other’s sentences, both on and off the page.
Alice: We were put together by a consulting producer 3 ½ years ago. Pam’s writing made me laugh out loud and cry too. When I asked her if she was willing to explore the darker side of motherhood, she jumped at the chance, and we were off and running.
6. What has been the best part about working together on this show?
Pam: Alice and I are so in sync, it’s been the most amazing collaborative experience of my life - a close second to the one I have with my husband. It’s truly a "marriage" of mind and heart. We laugh and cry at the same things and both have so much passion for this subject. We are not afraid to tell each other if we think something needs to be fixed, and we are both perfectionists about our work. And because we are both moms, we don’t have to feel bad telling each other that we can’t talk at that moment because one of our kids is having a meltdown.
Alice: Crafting the piece together and watching it emerge.
Pam: This is actually the first full show I have written. But I wrote freelance pieces for many publications (mostly magazines and newspapers) for years. I love the way that writing reaches people and also how it allows me to express myself. I relish finding just the right words. I have a background in theatre, as I was performing in shows all through my childhood and as an adult. Also, I have always been passionate about the power and magic of theatre, especially how a song in a show can touch an audience in a way that is so with different from prose.
Alice: The immediacy of a live audience and the magic of crafting moments anew night after night.
8. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Pam: "Never let those jealous bitches get you down." Okay, well, that’s not exactly the best advice, but it kind of touches on something that was great advice: Once when I had written some pieces for a newspaper that generated a lot of controversy among my "social group," and I was really worried about it, my editor at the time gave me great advice. She told me that I should really enjoy the controversy, because if something I wrote caused people to react that strongly, then I had touched a nerve and really written something worthwhile. I think about that a lot, and it helps me be brave in my writing.
Alice: As a director, I helped so many other people shape their scripts. I was eager to try writing myself.
9. What have you learned about yourselves from being mothers and playwrights?
Pam: In terms of being both mother and playwright (and composer/lyricist), I’ve learned that it’s a constant balancing act, like any other kind of work you do when you are trying to raise kids. But writing is the kind of career you can have that is pretty flexible, so it has allowed me more time to be with my kids than if I had stuck with being a lawyer (which I did for 5 years). I’ve learned how to incorporate my writing time into my mommy lifestyle pretty well. So much of my family life has informed my work, so that often when something happens to me, instead of running to my therapist, I can run to my laptop and write it into the show - although sometimes I also run to my therapist because I am paying for her time anyway.
Alice: That being a quiet, patient listener is invaluable. I’m not always good at that!
Pam: I’d probably choose the ability to take stressful situations and diffuse them instantly, which seems like a super power to someone as high-strung as me. So instead of my usual freaking out reaction, all of a sudden I’d be as calm as the Dalai Lama. I think that super power could be used to great effect on a global level. And I’d also like a really flattering costume - if I have to wear tights as a super heroine, they need to be black, because colored tights on a woman over 40 and under 5'5" don’t look that great.
11. If you could be an original Life Saver flavor, which one would you be?
Pam: I never really liked Life Savers that much, but I guess I would choose pineapple, because it’s exotic and fun and more unusual than the basic flavors.
12. Favorite skin care product?
Pam: I love Janet Sartin products (I go to their salon for facials), and their White Astringent is great. It goes on white but you dab it off with a tissue, and it does wonders for tightening pores.
13. How do you want to be remembered?
Pam: I’d like to be remembered as a loving, loyal person who was funny, smart, and original. I’d love to be remembered for the nice things I did and the not-so-nice things I’ve written, because "nice" isn’t usually funny. The darkly comic observations, those that are provocative, honest, and raw, are most interesting to me and my legacy as a writer.
Alice: By my sense of humor.
More on Pamela:
Pamela began her theatrical career as a performer in summer stock theatres. She then worked in television production and spent a number of years practicing law. Pam has also written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The New York Observer, and Harper’s Bazaar. Some of Pam’s original songs have been performed at The Metropolitan Room, Don’t Tell Mama, and Toshi’s Living Room. She is the co-writer and lyricist of the short musical film, “Burning Up!” which was a featured selection at the Katra Film Series this past May. Pam’s inspiration for writing Urban Momfare came from her own experience of being an Upper East Side mom, and years of freelance writing about it. The show had its first public reading at Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Work Series, in March 2013. Pam just completed the two-year songwriting program at The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Education: Brown University and Fordham Law School.
More on Alice:
Alice is originally from New York City and has lived on both coasts. For Disney, Alice helped to create and develop new Broadway musicals. As Associate Artistic Director of The Williamstown Theatre Festival, her directing work included As You Like It, Dinah Was based on Dinah Washington, and Enough Rope, the special event on Dorothy Parker starring Elaine Stritch. She has worked and learned in venues as varied as the Mark Taper Forum, the L.A. Opera, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, La Mama, and City Theater, among many others, as well as in film and TV. Favorite acting roles include a solo performance, backed by the L.A. Philharmonic, at the Hollywood Bowl. Alice is the Creative Director of F.A.B. Women (For, About, and By Women) under The Barrow Group’s off-Broadway umbrella, helming the company of 100 professional female writers, actors and directors. Education: Wesleyan, Masters at NYU.