Posted on May 26, 2015 in Alumni News and News
Like many close friends, Sara Stotts and Julie Thies Dunlap can finish each other’s sentences. They also finish each other’s songs—much to the delight of audiences who have seen their irreverent musical, “MotherFreakingHood!” (Maternal Discretion Advised), which makes its Kansas City debut May 29-June 14 at the Goppert Theatre at Avila University.
The two began creating music—including Rock Chalk Revue productions—as Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sisters and roommates at KU. Like true collaborators, each credits the other for their successful partnership.
“I’m not a singer,” Dunlap says. “Sara’s a phenomenal singer. I can play the piano and barely carry a tune to get my idea across to her. She’s really fantastic.”
Stotts, d’95, a physical therapist in Chicago, has performed with comedy troupes, including The Second City and Annoyance Theatre. Improvisation helped her hone her comedic skills, she says, but Dunlap “helped me find my funny bone. I was a lot funnier after I met Julie. Before her, I was boring.”
Dunlap, c’98, hatched the plot for “MotherFreakingHood” following Stotts’ 40th birthday party, when Stotts’ husband, Bill Vellon, booked a comedy band to perform. The party triggered Dunlap’s creativity. “I started thinking about when we were roommates, doing Rock Chalk Revue. We wrote stuff all the time,” she recalls. “I thought we should make a show about motherhood, so I called Sara and suggested we write this musical and make it about three moms—and she didn’t call me back for probably three months. I thought, ‘Well, I guess we’re not going to do that.’
“I had written a couple of songs just for fun, and Sara finally called me one day and said, ‘OK, I’m in. I’ve written three songs, and I’m ready. Let’s go.’ So we did.”
When they began the project, Stotts’ children, Steven and Lauren, were 3 and 1, and Dunlap, who lives in Lawrence with her husband, David, c’92, m’96, was guiding her four children through grade school while writing a weekly column for the Lawrence Journal-World.
After sharing songs and ideas long-distance and holing up at hotels in Lawrence and Chicago for weekends of writing, the two finished the musical (originally called “Mother%$!#hood”), and it sold out in fall 2013 at the Lawrence Arts Center. Their work caught the attention of producer Seth Eckelman and Moonshine Variety Co., which is staging the Kansas City premiere.
The show tells the stories of three mothers, Rachael, Angie and Marcia, whose children range in ages from infants to teenagers. “We had very few rules, but one of them was that everything had to be funny,” Dunlap explains. “There cannot be anything sad and nobody dies in the show. Motherhood is stressful enough; you don’t want to go to a play and cry about it. And it had to be truthful—and I mean the truth in your head. The truth you might not even tell your best friend.”
For the musical’s Lawrence debut, Dunlap directed and Stotts played Marcia, the oldest mom in the show who is surprised to learn she’s having a “bonus baby.” Now the two are watching director Heidi Vann and new actresses interpret their work for the Kansas City production. “It’s really fun to see their instincts and their chemistry,” Stotts says. “It’s not like I didn’t know the show, but they brought things to the songs that I didn’t expect.”
The two friends hope a successful Kansas City run will lead to performances in Chicago.“The ultimate goal is to see this do for moms what ‘Menopause The Musical’ did for menopausal women,” Dunlap says. “It is a voice and an anthem and a celebration—and we want it to take over the world.”
—Jennifer Jackson Sanner