Motherhood on a Megaphone
Leigh Ann Torres and Kristin Shaw remind you to Listen to Your Mother.
The Listen to Your Mother show is something you need to experience to understand. you need to hear it and you need to see it. Though you can get a sense of what it’s like from the more than 1,000 videos of past performances on the LTYM YouTube channel, like most things, it’s much more than the sum of its parts. For starters, the show gives a portion of its proceeds to families in need.
LTYM debuted on Mother’s Day 2010 in Wisconsin. Blogger Ann Imig hoped to give local performers a chance to voice their stories about motherhood onstage. Nearly 300 people attended that first performance, and a new community emerged. Performances in new cities were added every year. In 2015, live LTYM performances spread to 39 cities, including Austin.
The diverse stories can be hilarious (like the speaker who cautions you not to pump and drive) or heartbreaking, like the mother who fears eventually leaving her three sons because of a cancer diagnosis.
The Austin branch of this show, running since 2011 at the intimate 300-seat theater of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, is currently co-produced by Leigh Ann Torres and Kristin Shaw, freelance writers, bloggers and mothers who write frankly about many subjects, including parenting and relationships.
Torres grew up in Dallas and came to Austin to pursue a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in studio art from the University of Texas. She started blogging in 2008 with her Genie in a Blog to document the good, the bad and the ridiculous of life with identical twins, plus one.
“I started my blog because my twins were preemies, born nine weeks early, and I wanted the opportunity to keep friends and family updated about their growth and progress,” Torres says. “That’s when I fell in love with blogging.”
When she’s not writing or “momming,” she trains for the occasional race and tries to shorten the stack of books on her nightstand. She enjoys hiking with her husband and children, and spending time outdoors.
In addition to caring for her three girls and co-producing LTYM, Torres contributes to Multiplicity Magazine, freefuninaustin.com and The Huffington Post.
Shaw was born in New Jersey and grew up in Indiana. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, moved to Georgia, then met a Texan and moved to Austin in 2006. Now she’s a freelancer, wife and mother of a 5-year-old. Since 2011, she’s blogged for Two Cannoli, named a Babble Blog of the Year in 2013. In 2014, she was named a BlogHer Voice of the Year. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and the popular blog Scary Mommy. She’s worked in the aviation field for 10 years, and is currently the director of social media and a staff writer for Airport Improvement magazine. Her essays have been published in three books: Mommie Diarist, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends and Precipice, Volume III. In 2013, she quit her full-time corporate job to freelance and spend more time with her son.
“My greatest accomplishment, of course, is my son,” Shaw says. “He is the light of my life. I had him when I was nearly 39, and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Shaw is a big fan of ’80s music, baseball and baking, and has worked on perfecting egg-free chocolate-chip cookies and cupcakes because of her son’s life-threatening food allergy. She loves adventure books and thrillers, those written by Vince Flynn, David Baldacci and Clive Cussler, in particular. Since Torres and Shaw have read for LTYM in the past (Torres in 2012 and 2015, and Shaw in 2013), they both know what it’s like to be on the other side of the microphone, a useful insight to draw from when they became co-producers of the show in 2014.
“I remember what it was like to read then,” Torres says. “I felt an amazing and empowering sense of community. I never dreamed that I would one day be on the production team, helping keep the LTYM fires burning in Austin. I want everyone who reads and listens to come away feeling that they’ve had a shared experience.”
And shared experience is a good way to put it since not everyone who reads is a mother, writer or even a woman.
“They’re anyone who has anything to say about motherhood,” Torres says. “We’ve heard from men and we’ve heard from people who grew up without a mother. That story was about the lack of motherhood.”
“Everybody has a mother story and everybody’s story is different,” Shaw says. “It’s an opportunity for someone to share their stories in their own words, funny or sad or hopeful. It’s all truth that someone is going to relate to, while it’s also an opportunity to hear stories that you never even knew existed.”
The 12 or so performers are handpicked by Torres and Shaw from a stack of hundreds of submitted essays and then live auditions. This year alone, they auditioned 40 potential speakers.
“Every year, we want the show to take the audience through a whole gamut of emotions,” Torres says. “We like the show to be a good mix of lighthearted and meaningful stories.” This year, LTYM has even created a book, titled Listen to your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now, which includes 56 essays by first-time writers and New York Times best-selling authors alike. Contributing writers are of a variety of races, genders and ages.
For more information about LTYM, visit listentoyourmothershow.com/austin.