Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Imagine a place where laughing at menopause is not only allowed, it is strongly encouraged! ‘Menopause the Musical’ has been tackling the difficulties and stereotypes associated with menopause, amid fits of healing hilarity, since 2001. Pammie O’Bannon, known to legions of women as the Earth Mother, has been with the show since the beginning and she shares her views on the show’s success.
O’Bannon, along with fellow actresses Cynthia Jones, Professional Woman; Cherie Price, Soap Star; and Carolynne Warren, Prairie Housewife; are all part of the current Canadian tour. Due to the show’s popularity and multiple tour dates, O’Bannon has played her Earth Mother role alongside a variety of actresses. “This creates a new mix of magic with every production. But the main reason our show stays fresh and exciting is the incredible feedback we receive from every audience.” Audiences help all of the actresses to stay in the moment and to work in tandem with attendees to release many, sometimes years, of pent-up menopause emotions.
After performing in a variety of exciting and challenging roles, O’Bannon learned about ‘Menopause the Musical’ and joined the inaugural performance in 2001. With both menopause the transition and ‘Menopause the Musical’ occurring at the same time, O’Bannon remembers how “Life and art imitated each other pretty darn perfectly for a while.” It would be difficult to say whether being menopausal helped to develop the Earth Mother character or being the Earth Mother helped to cope with menopause. Either way, the results were very empowering as both an actress and a woman.
A musical about menopause?
Despite the fact that virtually all women will deal with menopause, women have spent years afraid to talk about what is happening to them. As a consequence, most women report feelings of isolation and feel that there is nobody to talk to. ‘Menopause the Musical’ arrived on the scene just as attitudes towards menopause were slowly changing, not to mention how society views the aging process.
“Menopause has allowed me to be the woman I am now.”
‘Menopause the Musical’ is the creation of Jeanie C. Linders, a successful business woman with a solid background in the arts. Linders set out to create something very different when she conjured up songs like “Puff My God I’m Draggin” or “Hot Flash” (think Rod Stewart’s ‘Hot Legs”).
O’Bannon credits the philanthropic Linders not just with the show’s phenomenal success, but also as a champion of women’s lives. “She (Jeanie) is very involved in many causes, including raising awareness and funds to beat ovarian cancer; helping to build homes for those in need; and working with women artisans in Africa to give them an outlet to sell their wares.”
A brilliant marketing woman and caring citizen, Linders works to help women achieve their goals despite, or in spite, of menopause. O’Bannon recalls hearing how Linders avowed that menopause does not have to put the brakes on dreams and goals. “I remember hearing Jeanie say that ‘menopause has allowed me to be the woman I am now’ and that in turn motivates me.”
Actresses have to deal with the dilemma of finding meaningful roles to continue honing their craft. ‘Menopause the Musical’ has created an outlet for what we love to do and helps us move from fighting youth and fighting old age. We can accept who we are at this time of life without fear or apology.” O’Bannon’s passion for her profession is stronger than ever, and reminds us that what really ages us is giving up on learning and discovering in our lives.
“Popularity is mind-boggling”
Perhaps no one is more surprised about the show’s success than the ladies’ themselves. As O’Bannon points out, the production is hardly large scale or big budget. “There is no grandiose premise or big script for us to follow, and our stage set is very simplistic.” But this gives the actresses a chance to really shine; their personalities are not lost in a cloud of special effects or theatrical props.
"You don't just send your friends, you bring them."
This what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach gives the women in the audience the ability to see this play as being for them and about them. Most of the time, we enjoy live theatre but can feel somewhat disconnected due to the physical and psychological distance between stage and audience.
‘Menopause the Musical’ is not unique in relying on word-of-mouth and repeat customers to help build a loyal following. But unlike other plays where you simply tell your friends, fans of ‘Menopause the Musical’ accompany their friends on subsequent visits. As O’Bannon sums it up, “This is a show where you don’t just send your friends, you bring them.”
“The Fifth Girlfriend”
As expected, women make up the majority of ‘Menopause the Musical’ audiences. Yet the play manages to reach out to women of all ages, not just those actually in their menopausal years. There is something for every woman to relate to, from the women who have already finished with menopause, to the younger women who attend with their mothers.
As O’Bannon points out, every woman who lives long enough will experience menopause. “Menopause is something that will happen, is happening, or has happened to every woman. Now instead of dealing with menopause in isolation, we can come together in a shared experience.” If the grand finale at the end of the show is any indication – women are encouraged to participate and by this point do not really need any prompting at all – women become part of the cast. Every woman wants to be, and really is, the unofficial ‘Fifth Girlfriend.”