William Cooper Howell has previously appeared in SLAM 2013 and worked as a directing intern on the 2012 revival of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. He is a senior in the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Utah. At the end of the first week of rehearsal for MAMA, he reflects on his own mother.
I think it’s impossible to rehearse a play about mothers and not reflect on her each rehearsal.
My mother . . . describing her is . . . how am I supposed to write a short blog post about this woman who shaped my entire life? What would it even mean to you as a reader? Nothing really, because—in most cases—your mother is far more important than mine. And that’s what makes mothers so special…so influential and powerful. It’s as if we’re all houses waiting to be built, and these women are an agency of architects ready to design their perfect home. And no one wants a shitty architect, right? Well, my mom was a fucking genius architect. You can agree or disagree—I don’t really care. What I do care about is Lori Howell. She’s the woman who made me the man that I am today, and I’m about to tell you why.
When I was a kid, I had terrible ADHD. Everything was hard to do. I couldn’t concentrate on anything long enough to be good at anything. I felt left out everywhere. School was the worst. I had a “resource” class every day (which was social suicide, btw) and—because of my non-stop doodling, writing, and looking out the window—I had to sit next to the teacher at the front of the class.
The only person who made me feel special was my mom. The reason I’m able to do anything is because my mother made me feel like I could. She was the best anti-bully, anti-drug, best friend, and cheerleader that a picked-on kid could ask for, and I always felt safe when she was around.
I once heard Stephen Sondheim speak in an interview about his unconditional mentor and “Godfather,” lyrist Oscar Hammerstein II. He said that if Hammerstein became a fireman then he would have been one too. It’s the same case with my mom, who happens to be an actress.
Some of my first memories of my mother were of her performing in wild west melodramas at the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. She was incredibly talented. The way she was able to take an audience on a journey with her emotions, even when she was chees-ily tied to fake train tracks and screaming for a hero to save her. And in her soft, humble way, she gave all of that up to adopt my brother and me and become a mom.
I couldn’t be more grateful for this sacrifice. Being 26 and a performer myself, I can’t imagine putting all my dreams on hold to care for children. But my mother would never consider it a sacrifice. Even through all the bullshit that’s come her way as a result of becoming a mother, she still considers it her greatest blessing…an accomplishment, actually. I only hope that one day I can gain the same understanding of the unconditional love she has. Because—as I mentioned—that love is a huge part of what made me the man and performer I am today. In most people, there is an indescribable, deep burning love for their mother. When my mom is disappointed in me, I want to die. When she is proud of me, no compliment means more. That’s how it should be, right?
Carleton Bluford’s MAMA receives its world premiere February 12-22 at Plan-B, featuring Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell, Latoya Rhodes and Elizabeth Summerhays, directed by Jerry Rapier. Click here for tickets, press and more information.