Margaret and Allison Engle’s Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End returns to Geva Theatre’s Fielding stage in T-minus one week, and we couldn’t be more excited. Back to reprise the show’s starring role is Rochester’s very own “Suburban Outlaw” Pam Sherman, columnist for the Democrat and Chronicle by day, sidesplitting iron-board guru by night.
You may be wondering, how does one possibly step into the shoes of one such as Erma Bombeck? Wife, mother, column creator, warrior for women’s rights… There are far too many words with which the woman deserves to be esteemed and simply not enough time or column space to use them all. But in essence, Mrs. Bombeck is a true pioneer for the modern mama—She who can do it All (or do her level best to). And one that, despite what the play’s title may lead you to believe, is never at a loss for wit or some quick snippet of wisdom to pass along.
Lucky for us, there is no one better fit to step into Mrs. Bombeck’s kitten heels than Pam Sherman. I’ve had the honor of getting to run lines with Pam a few times over the last week or two and personally, can’t wait to see her in full, shirtwaisted action. It’s a pretty big role to fill—and a one-woman show, to boot!—but Pam is pretty spectacular. How does she do it?
Well, I figured who better to ask?
So you are returning to this play after a very successful performance last year. What are some things you are doing to re-familiarize with the role and get back in the swing of things?
Pam Sherman: A few months ago I started re-learning the lines methodically – three pages a week. It’s a little different than last time learning the lines without knowing where I’d be going. Now I can picture the set in my head, where I move during transitions, even the props that I use during the show.
This play is essentially one big monologue. But the script seems to go through her life in a somewhat chronological order. Is this at all helpful in the memorization process? Or does it make no real difference?
PS: Well no actually, because sometimes it goes off in the direction of her columns – sharing perspectives that may have nothing to do with advancing the chronology – so that makes it really interesting. Once I get on the set and can see the arc of movement those parts that take the off-ramp make more sense.
Part of what makes this play so spectacular is that it’s a one-woman show. It allows the audience a glimpse into Erma’s life and daily distractions without actually having to be distracted by these distractions, and be able to focus on the story she’s telling. But what have you found beneficial about being a solo production? What are the advantages to having no other actors on stage?
PS: Well it’s not my first time doing a one-woman show – I wrote one with a great partner and it was produced down in Washington. D.C. The beauty of the experience is you really aren’t alone. You have so many collaborators to help you share the story out loud – the director, the design team, even the playwrights who I’ve come to know.
That being said – that solo journey is such a leap of faith – that you’ll hit the moments; remember the lines and take the audience on a journey with you as this other person. I would say other actors aren’t distractions they often are life-lines in performance. For this show my life-line are those behind the scenes who make sure I’m making sure that every night is the one that we worked on in rehearsal.
Nowadays, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill for ladies to have full, successful careers while also being loving, responsible, attentive mothers. So being that her advice columns were written in the ’50s and ’60s, when obviously expectations of women were very different, some might consider them outdated, or irrelevant to the goings-on in the present woman’s world. But as a mother and modern, working woman, why do you think Erma Bombeck’s story is still worth telling?
PS: I think the story resonates with all women of any age and is timeless. Her resilience in how she grew up certainly is something we see today; her persistence and work ethic to become a writer at all and writing while raising a family is a story we see all the time today; and then her incredibly brave fight to support equal rights for women is something worth telling and is very timely given the fight over the ERA continues today. I hope all audiences will either revisit her story again, or discover it anew this year in this remount. I’m very excited to continue the journey.
Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End will be running March 12th through March 31st, 2019 on Geva’s Fielding Stage.