This Saturday we’ll go to the main branch of the San Francisco public library for our first of three days of auditions. Did we remember to bring a copy of last year’s program for the people waiting their turn to audition? Did we bring a copy of the Listen To Your Mother anthology? (And will the library try to re-shelve it the way they did last year?) It marks one of my favorite parts of the Listen To Your Mother season.
When the auditioners come—who are often but not always women and often but not always mothers—we sit and we listen. Each story stands on its own—each one a shining star, beating, glowing, vibrating. Something started out as an idea, a image, a conflict, something that kept nudging its way in someone’s brain until that person put it on paper to give it life and then chose to share it with us.
For me, it’s like sitting and basking in the sun. We’re at a special advantage because we’ve read all the essays; we know in advance which pieces fall into the poignant category and which ones will make us laugh. This enables us to really sit back and listen and enjoy each one.
After the auditions are over, we look at the collection of stories we’ve heard. Each auditioner gets her own index card and when we select the pieces we think will fit together, we look at a possible order for the show as well as the coherent whole. Which piece would be a good opening? Which piece sounds like a final note—the one we want to linger for the audience as they disperse into the night? And of course, which pieces find each other and want to be read together, like complimentary and contrasting hues on a color palate?
If we just picked the pieces that were our favorites, we’d have a twelve-hour show that spanned three days (sort of the way our auditions span three days and three cities). If we just picked the pieces that deserve to be in the show, we wouldn’t have a submission process at all; we’d just have a mic and a stage and a week’s worth of storytelling.
The fact is that casting for LTYM has nothing to do with favorites or formulas and most pieces won’t get chosen for this year’s performance. I myself auditioned for Listen To Your Mother three times before finding my way into the cast. But I firmly believe that there is a home for every piece. Last year one of the stories submitted but not chosen was subsequently published in Grown and Flown and another was published in the Washington Post. In my case, one essay found a home in a letter to my own mother. Another piece was a runner up in Pregnancy and Newborn’s essay contest. And my third try evolved into the essay I read at last year’s show.
For the upcoming auditions, we try not to focus on the destination or even the journey. Your story is your gift to the world. On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, we are the ones who get to receive. We are grateful that you decided to share your story with us and now that it is out into the world, we hope that you continue to seek out ways to share it with others.
Janine, Tarja, and Maryby