Featured Artist: Ann Imig

Founder and National Director of Listen To Your Mother

by Lisa Cadigan

Ann_webI recently had the pleasure of chatting with Ann Imig about the Listen To Your Mother show coming to a city near you this spring, and her book, Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now, released on April 7.  Our entire conversation can actually be summed up in a Facebook status update Ann posted on February 20:

“I could never have imagined any of this–**OR RATHER**–that musical theatre, office temp, ad sales, social worker, stay-at-home mom, writer plan TOTALLY WORKED.” –Ann Imig

Listen To Your Mother is an annual performance offered around Mother’s Day, featuring live readings by local writers on “the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood.” It was born of Imig’s blog, Ann’s Rants and a trip to Chicago she took to meet some blogger friends at the 2009 BlogHer conference.  Well… it was born there, as well as in her past experiences as a “theatre person,” a former ad sales employee, a social worker, and a mom craving a creative outlet while staying home with small children. As anyone who has attempted to write her story can attest, the beginning can be hard to identify, while hindsight demonstrates how each step along a journey was a crucial plot point. But if we must pick a beginning, we will set the scene for the Chicago BlogHer conference six years ago; specifically, the Community Keynote presentation (now known as Voices of the Year), which is where Ann claims she “found her people.”

While sitting at the keynote address, Imig was moved by the simplicity of the readings – her inner theatre-person noticed the only necessary set decoration was a podium and chairs. Each reader, reading his or her own writing, provided a moving “script.”  She was also inspired as a social worker, by the power of people giving witness to their stories, not to mention, she added, “The writer in me was completely thrilled.” And so, the first seed of the Listen To Your Mother franchise was planted.

When she returned home to Madison, WI, Ann decided she would put on her own show. If no one showed to audition, she figured she had five or six friends who would stand up and read with her. Early concept discussions were modest, not conferred in a boardroom, but over the phone; conversations between friends trying to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood. When mid-sentence during one conversation Ann changed gears from producer to mom, addressing her son who was running around the house with no pants on, her friend thought she had titled the show, “Listen To Your Mother – Put Your Pants On!” The shorter version of the title seems to flow a little better, and has certainly caught on.

Concept in tact, Ann started drawing on her experience as an ad sales rep as she sought a venue, deciding from a marketing standpoint that Mother’s Day would be a great time of year to celebrate stories of motherhood. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Steve Sperling, director of the Barrymore Theatre, agreed to let her use the venue. It felt revolutionary – something important was happening.

AnnOnStage_webHer feelings were confirmed again when people showed up to audition, and Ann realized the show was going to be even better than she had imagined. Three hundred people attended that first performance in Madison, which was videotaped and broadcast on YouTube.  Seeing the videos, Ann’s blogger friends started pitching her to do shows in their respective cities.  The rest is history.  This year, the show will be offered in 39 cities nationwide. “I have never asked anyone to direct this show,” says Ann.  “People just keep showing up.” And once they come to the party, they typically don’t want to leave. Most cities continue producing the show annually once they get on board, despite the incredible amount of work it takes to make it happen.  For this, Ann is incredibly grateful, but she adds that anyone who works on the show also gets an incredible return in the form of positive community impact, networking, and amazing friendships.  As an alum of the 2014 DC Show, I can vouch for that.

Imig_3D_jacketTHE BOOK
Listen To Your Mother – What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now

A collection of essays from the hundreds that have been shared seems an obvious progression for this project, representing its mission and serving as the culmination of the first five years of work on this journey. “Most of LTYM is very ephemeral – 90 minutes once a year plus videos on YouTube,” says Ann. “To have this beautiful book to hold in my hands is such a huge gift.”

The story of the book’s production followed an equally serendipitous path parallel to the momentum of the show’s growth. Following the 2012 LTYM show in NYC, literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan contacted Ann to discuss publishing possibilities.  Kaplan had attended the show to watch the performance of one of her clients.  Ann knew she didn’t want to put together a book without the help of people who knew more about editing and publishing than she did. Narrowing the anthology down to just 56 essays was a challenge, and she is incredibly grateful for the perspective offered by her editor and agent, with whom she continues to enjoy a wonderful working relationship.

The resounding message on Ann’s journey so far? Trust the path. Listen To Your Mother is just one exciting chapter in the life of a woman whose story began long before the first show was launched.  It’s a story of trusting that each experience we have in life is both moving us toward something purposeful, while also offering incredible rewards in the present moment.

“What’s next?” I asked Ann.  “Another book?”

She replied, “Lately I have wondered, do I need to be more intentional with my goals? Well, that makes me nervous, because I have been much more successful when I trust the path.”

Indeed.  Enjoy the path, Ann.  Enjoy the success of your book, and thank you for sharing Listen To Your Mother with the world.

You can find your copy of Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now on sale at your favorite commercial or independent retailer.  Click here to learn more about where you can find tickets to a performance of Listen To Your Mother.  I’ll be at the one in DC.

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