Q&A/What to SEE/Theatre

What to SEE: Mama Stitch regional tour

12 August 2022

Exploring the earliest relationship that we have, Mama Stitch is engaging audiences around Western Australia with our own stories about our mothers.

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Mama Stitch is a performance work that takes a personal topic – the relationships we have with our mothers – and makes it even more unique.

Designed to be toured, each season of Mama Stitch sees creators and performers Georgia King and Mark Storen, of Perth-based performance company Whiskey & Boots, gather true stories about people’s relationships with their mothers. These stories become the basis of the show.

In addition to a Perth Festival season in 2021 at Midland Junction Arts Centre, Mama Stitch has toured to numerous communities in the Perth metropolitan area and regional WA, drawing on stories from local residents wherever it goes. Accompanied by a live band and an exhibition of letters to mums written by past audience members, Mama Stitch is a richly layered experience.

Just last month, Whiskey & Boots was recognised for its work on Mama Stitch, with the Pinnacle Performing Arts Award for Western Australian Producer of the Year.

Ahead of Mama Stitch‘s next seasons, in Narrogin and Port Hedland, Nina Levy spoke to Georgia King and Mark Storen to learn more about the story behind the work.

Nina Levy: Tell me, Georgia and Mark, what’s the elevator pitch for your performance company Whiskey & Boots?

Two performers wear headphones and smile at an unseen audience. It looks like they're talking or singing.
Georgia King and Mark Storen on stage in ‘Mama Stitch’. Photo: Fionn Mulholland

Georgia King and Mark Storen: Whiskey & Boots makes headphone verbatim performance work that examines the challenges and contradictions of the human condition.

Using storytelling with music we take real stories gathered from a community and share them publicly, illuminating moments that are familiar, exposing common challenges and secret fears, reminding audiences that we are all complex, ugly, beautiful, brave, funny, flawed and vulnerable.

Our work is low-fi, stripped back and welcoming; the fourth wall doesn’t exist. Through the sharing of honest moments in intimate spaces we can try to understand each other better, boldly, honestly, playfully. 

NL: For those who aren’t familiar with headphone verbatim performance, can you explain how it works?

GK and MS: We record interviews with real people and distil these recordings down for the performance. Then during the performance the performer wears a set of headphones, with the recorded voice of the interviewee playing, and says the words from this recording as they hear it.

Audience members enjoy a cup of tea. Photo: Fionn Mulholland

NL: What is it about headphone verbatim performance that appeals to you as makers and performers? Why is the technique central to your work?

GK and MS: We like headphone verbatim because it allows for a very authentic way of presenting the real life accounts of the people in a community. It allows us to be respectful of the participant and honour their story and voice with total truth. We believe real people are interesting and don’t need to be embellished or characterised to be made entertaining.

Making work this way means we have to be in a community for longer as we conduct the interviews and create the show. This means we get to spend more time getting to know the place, its rhythm, its people, its sounds – all of which we try to reflect in all aspects we create for the show.

There’s an additional challenge that we include in our work which is to have our band respond musically to the verbatim material. I say challenge because unlike normal verbatim theatre, HV means you can’t interfere with the vocal cadence at all, so the original rhythm and pace must be reproduced and as such the music composed must fit into that rhythm too.

NL: Where did the idea for Mama Stitch come from?

GK and MS: We had noticed that there were shows and stories around about the experience of being a mum but not really any about the experience of having a mum, even though when we think about it, our relationships with our mums makes us recall stories that are funny, frustrating, tragic and very relatable. We started the journey of interviewing people about their mums to investigate if this was something that could be interesting to audiences.

A photograph of a letter is in the foreground. In the background we can discern the performers, although they are out of focus.
Letters written by past audience members to their mums form an accompanying display. Photo: Fionn Mulholland

NL: As well as presenting Mama Stitch at the 2021 Perth Festival, you’ve also toured the work to many other metro and regional destinations, most recently Dampier, Karratha and Roebourne. How has Mama Stitch developed since its inception?

GK and MS: Over the years we have refined the way we approach interviews, how we edit the content and respond musically.

We have also collected over 500 letters from previous audience members who wrote anonymous letters to their own mums. These are displayed in the space to be read before and after the show, so these continue to build and make up the “set” of the project, along with collected photos of past participants and their Mums.

It’s a lovely cumulative approach. We feel like we carry the stories and the people we have interviewed with us into each version of the show. They envelope us in a warm embrace and continue to be a part of the experience.

NL: What have been some of the most memorable moments of the work so far?

GK and MS: Each time we perform Mama Stitch we discover something new and inspirational. One thing that always stands out for us is how incredibly generous people are. The stories they share create so much discussion and a sense of ongoing connection.

For example one of our participants who shared a story in Joondalup, our very first Mama Stitch show three years ago, came to one of our recent shows in Dampier. For us this is a testament to how potent the work can be and how memorable the experience is for the participants and for us.

Mama Stitch is heading to Narrogin Town Hall, 9-10 September and Port Hedland, 11-12 November. Keep your eye on Whiskey & Boots’ Facebook Page for details.

Pictured top are Mark Storen and Georgia King on the set of ‘Mama Stitch’. Photo: Fionn Mulholland

A group of performers sit on stools, two with guitars, two without. They are performing to an audience who are also sitting on stools. On the walls  behind them are framed photos and lamps.
Whiskey & Boots performing ‘Mama Stitch’. Photo: The Gatherist

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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