When Noelle Elliott experienced postpartum depression following the birth of her second child, she initially hesitated to share her struggle, feeling it would somehow make her a less-than-perfect mom.
But one evening, over dinner with several girlfriends, she finally opened up and shared what she was going through. And she listened to what her friends had to say.
“All of us were just sitting around and telling stories,” says Elliott, a communications and marketing specialist with Notre Dame’s Department of Music. “And I just felt so good leaving, I just felt empowered, I felt like I had a support system. And I thought, I would really like to share their stories.”
That moment—women sharing real and sometimes raw moments of their everyday lives—stayed with her. And it ultimately helped inspire her to create The Mamalogues, a staged reading of women’s stories that opens each summer to a live audience in an intimate South Bend venue.
“We all have a voice and we all have something to say,” says Elliott, a mother of four boys. “I just give them a microphone and a stage and a platform to share. And when other women hear a story, it just sparks something in them to let them know they’re not alone.”
The Mamalogues’ tone is one of empathy, but it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Shows have dealt with anxiety and depression. They’ve grappled with the death of parents—and children. They’ve tackled infertility and dating after divorce. And they’ve explored things like diet, exercise, and the challenges of everyday married life.
“I have two rules: We’re not going to complain about motherhood, because that’s not a gift that everyone gets to experience. And we don’t man-bash because men are parents too,” Elliott says. “We’re not there to bash men, but we do want to celebrate women.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Each year since it began, The Mamalogues has quickly sold out. Part of the appeal is that you have to be there. The shows aren’t taped, and they never will be. In an age where video clips quickly go viral on social media, Elliott wants to preserve the energy that comes from having a live show and a small audience. For the last few years, shows have been staged at The Brick, a popular event space that can accommodate about 300 people.
The live, in-person feel is also something of an antidote to today’s social media culture, Elliott says, where friends and family are constantly sharing carefully cultivated selfies and where everyone else seems to be living their best lives 24/7. The show aims to be real. Participants express vulnerability and poke fun at themselves.
“The women who participate say it’s life-changing,” Elliott says. “I think it gives them confidence. A lot of them say it’s like nothing they’ve experienced, and it makes them feel like they do have a voice. They feel like people are listening to them. People are laughing with them and crying with them.”
Elliott, a South Bend native who earned a theatre degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, draws on her creative background to help develop the show each year. She and a friend, Kate Coates, read submissions and choose the selections they will feature. And there’s a group reading to help prepare for the upcoming show.
“A lot of times women have never shared these things,” Elliott says. “There’s something about this meeting before—we read it, it takes as long as it’s going to take, and there’s a lot of tears. But then once that’s out there, it’s really cool because then they feel comfortable sharing their story. And that’s one of my favorite parts: we’re all sitting in my living room, drinking wine, getting to know each other and sharing our stories. And we give each other feedback.”
Once everything is ready, it’s time for the show. Proceeds benefit local charities, and cast members who read stories one year may return again to perform alongside newcomers. They become friends who continue to share with and support each other.
“It’s empowering,” Elliott says. “Lifting other people up gives me strength. It’s overwhelming after each performance, the love that you feel and share from making this connection with people who are so similar, but you didn’t know that until they told their story.”
To learn more about The Mamalogues, please visit the show’s Facebook page.