the true story of a woman who changed her life while her sibling changed his gender, and the baby who made it all happen.
In My Pregnant Brother, Johanna Nutter tells the incredible and true story of her brother’s pregnancy. As she tries to put aside the role of family caretaker and live her own life, her transgender sibling is preparing to bring a child into the world he is not sure that he can parent alone.
“Nutter weaves an incredible tale with pitch-perfect balance, avoiding the maudlin while alternately wrenching the heart and making us smile. This show deserves to be seen across the country -- and the continent."
Pat Donnelly, The Gazette
With barely more than a piece of sidewalk chalk to set her stage, Nutter traces a portrait of a unique family. In so doing, she also shines a light back on our own values, our own concepts of identity and maternity, and most importantly, on the fine line we can all walk between being there for those we love and being our own persons.
“What struck me about this piece was its authenticity. Johanna’s performance is honest without being indulgent. I felt as though I was hearing a very personal story without any filters and it was a unique theatrical experience”.
Brenda Leadlay, Artistic Director, Magnetic North Theatre Festival
I remember that Christmas, 2006, when I spent 26 hours straight lying on my kitchen floor. It was a linoleum floor, but to me, it was the proverbial rock bottom. At one point, I had this thought; ‘If I ever do manage to get up, I’ll have to write a play about this’. I had always been fascinated by that point we sometimes reach that is as close to nothing as we can get, and even in my emptiness, I was curious. I wondered what sort of story I would come up with to explain myself, now that I had been reduced to a blank page.
What had brought me to the floor was a series of mostly unbelievable events: my brother gave birth to a baby girl and wanted the three of us to form a family. When I declined, he gave her away to a woman he found on the Internet. I could try to make the facts more plausible by explaining that my brother is transgender and has much of the same chemistry as our mother, often described as bipolar with a touch of schizophrenia. I could go on about growing up as the caretaker of my family… but already I can feel the frustration these labels elicit mounting inside me. Hence the play. With theatre, I can hang out somewhere between the black and the white, where the grey truth lives. I love these people; my mother and my brother. And I hate them, too. Mostly, I hate the arrangements we’ve made with each other; ‘I’ll be this if you be that’. But this is a story about rearrangements. This is a story about change.
After I got up off the floor, I started to write. I knew I had to tell this story, but I was petrified. I was Sisyphus pushing a tangled ball of old yarns up a very steep hill. People can’t relate to this story. It’s too crazy. It’s too private. One day, I wailed to my father, ‘I’m evil! I’m cannibalizing my family for the sake of an audience!’ And then I found Jeremy, who possesses the greatest gift a director can have; he inspires trust. When I would stop, mid-rehearsal, and say ‘people don’t want to hear this’ he would say, ‘Well, I’m a person, and I want to hear this’. So, I’d put my fears aside and keep going. I’m very glad and grateful that I did. Doing this play makes me feel useful. And I can’t think of anything better than that.
When Johanna Nutter asked me to come on board a project called My Pregnant Brother, I had a number of immediate concerns. First of all, I was worried that my total lack of exposure to the complex issues facing the transgendered community would betray on my part at best a staggering ignorance, and at worst a despicable hypocrisy. Second, I wasn’t sure just how much I wanted to launch myself into a discussion of gender issues when I myself have spent so little of my life thinking about such issues, and when those artists who have are already so vocal.
At one point during the dramaturgical process—Johanna and I spent the first couple of months developing the script together—I asked the playwright what this play was “about.” It’s a playwright’s least favourite question, so I didn’t know what kind of answer to expect. In my own writing I have begun to use this question as the most direct avenue to identifying the central heartbeat of a play, and with it the central struggle, the central character, and the culminating moment of climax. Even so, as it came out of my mouth the question seemed facile; Johanna’s play was so clearly about sexuality, gender, motherhood, family. But when without hesitation Johanna said “identity,” I was surprised. “Whose identity,” I asked. “Mine,” she said. In a single word my entire perspective on the play was shifted, and I was for the first time able to see the precious jewel of a story I was working with.
From that point on, my involvement in this project became increasingly a process of getting out of Johanna’s way. (And what an invaluable lesson for a young director-dramaturg to learn!) Johanna’s vision was so clear, and her passion so driven, that all I had to do was make sure her story came across (and, okay, looked pretty on stage). Perhaps that sounds like an obvious job description for a director, but it seems to me that very few directors would understand themselves on those terms. Thank you, Johanna, for helping me to unlock this secret with your beautifully simple story. And thank you, Johanna, for sharing. Enjoy the show!
"As compelling as it is intelligent and as witty as it is dramatic. She had the audience eating out of her hand. Three cheers for My Pregnant Brother."
MJ Stone, HOUR Magazine
JOHANNA NUTTER had her first role at the age of two in her father’s NFB film, Loose Associations. She trained with Actors’ Studio alumnus Warren Robertson (who taught Jessica Lange and Robert De Niro) for ten years and has appeared in numerous film and theatre productions, including the roles of Sarah Schorr in Trying (Victoria Playhouse) and Eunice Kennedy in Jackie Kennedy: A Life (CBS). She has been dubbed ‘one of Montreal’s finest actors’ by theatre critic Pat Donnelly. This past December, Johanna took on the role of Margie Walsh (for which Frances McDormand won the Tony Award) in the Canadian première of Good People at the Centaur Theatre, playing to sold-out houses and rave reviews.
As well as being the founder and artistic director of Freestanding Productions, she is also the acting president and concierge of The Freestanding Room, a member-driven studio space in Montreal, dedicated to giving emerging artists a place to create. My Pregnant Brother is her first play.
“Taylor has insisted the actor play the silences--inhabit the stillness--and the quietness of certain moments in the play was shared by the house: No one, it seemed to me, was breathing”.
Gaëtan Charlebois, The Charlebois Post Canada
JEREMY TAYLOR is artistic director and playwright-in-residence of the award-winning company Two-Wheeler Productions. A graduate of the playwriting program of the National Theatre School, his plays include Shouting (NTS); The Beekeepers, The King of Fifteen Island, and Living With Rick (Two-Wheeler); and Big Plans (Two-Wheeler/Freestanding), which will be part of the SummerWorks Festival this August. Jeremy was also the founding regional director of the Waterloo Regional Tournament of the Canadian Improv Games, now in its 12th year.
Taylor’s work as a writer, director, producer, or performer has been seen from coast to coast across Canada, as well as in New York City, Edinburgh, and Brussels. He is an associate director of Freestanding Productions and an administrator and board member for the Freestanding Room. He lives in Montreal.
Founded in 2009, the company unites creators who want to tell stories with intimacy, simplicity, and integrity. These principles govern an overall desire to foster a reciprocal relationship with the audience. Their shows have toured across Canada and to the United States and Europe. Freestanding Productions also manages the Freestanding Room, a studio and artists’ collective located on the Main, across the street from Leonard Cohen’s house.
As well as My Pregnant Brother / Mon frère est enceinte, Freestanding premiered Duplicity Girls, by Ned Cox, starring Paula Costain and Johanna Nutter and directed by Tanner Harvey, that began in the Freestanding Room, moved to the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, and went on to the famed White Bear Theatre in London, England. A new play by Jeremy Taylor, Big Plans, was created in the Room in 2011, and then brought to Toronto's SummerWorks Festival in August 2012, where it won the CanStage award for Direction for Tanner Harvey and, combined with My Pregnant Brother, which was also in the Festival, earned an "Emerging Artist of the Year" award for Jeremy Taylor.
“Duplicity Girls is expertly directed and sublimely performed”.
Gaëtan Charlebois, The Charlebois Post Montreal
"Engaging, poignant ... the most incredibly riveting tale."
Lennie MacPherson, The Guardian
"Astonishing … a beautiful story related with magic nuances and brilliant simplicity. It is theatre at its most elemental."
Anna Fuerstenberg, Rover Arts
“She shows us her insecurities and lets us into what affects her the most. It’s honest, it’s personal, it’s real, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s uncoated, and it’s raw. If you’re about to mount a one-person autobiographical narrative show, this is the level you now have to strive for.”
Andrew Snowdon, Apt613
“I consider myself very fortunate to have been in the audience today. This is a wonderful play that will touch your heart."
Helen Pergantis, The Gazette
Length: 60 minutes
Playing area: 16 feet (width) x 16 feet (depth) x 8 feet (height)
Technical requirements are minimal: A floor and back wall that can be drawn on with sidewalk chalk. The back wall may be achieved with three standing flats, 4 feet wide by 8 feet high.
My Pregnant Brother is the result of a collaboration between writer-performer Johanna Nutter and director-dramaturg Jeremy Taylor for the Montreal Fringe 2009. After winning the best in the Fest, and a subsequent MECCA for best text, the show began touring across the country. It has appeared at the Centaur Theatre’s WildSide Festival (January 2010); the Victoria Playhouse in Prince Edward Island (July-August 2010); the GCTC’s inaugural Undercurrents Festival in Ottawa (January 2011); the Neanderthal Arts Festival in Vancouver (July 2011); the Just For Laughs Festival (July 2012); Toronto's SummerWorks Festival (August 2012); Winnipeg's FemFest (September 2012); and at the Sullivan Mahoney Theatre in St. Catharines, Ontario (April 2012). In May, the show will be part of the UNO Festival in Victoria, showcasing the best of national and international solo performance, before moving on to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Johanna has also performed My Pregnant Brother on a mesa in New Mexico and on a moving train, somewhere in Northern Ontario.
In September 2010, propelled by an invitation to present the show on the coveted stage of La Licorne Theatre, Johanna participated in the Bill Glassco Translation retreat in Tadoussac, led by Linda Gaboriau, translator to Michel tremblay, where she completed the first draft of her French translation. Following rehearsals with Taylor, Mon frère est enceinte played to sold-out houses and rave reviews for three weeks at La Licorne in November, 2011, with English performances on Fridays--a first for the francophone theatre! It was then presented in French and English in Rimouski in January 2012, and in French as part of the ProPulse Festival in Brussels in February. It went on to win the COCHON D'OR for Best Independent Production in Quebec for 2011-2012, and has been touring the province's many Maisons de la Culture throughout the 2013 season.
The text will soon be published in French by Dramaturges Éditeurs and it is available in both languages at the National Theatre School of Canada.
To be continued...
SOHO Theatre, London August 28th – September 1st
mon frère est enceinte, the french version of the show, won the COCHON D'OR for best independent theatrical production of the 2011-2012 season.
johanna was also nominated for la cochonnette vedette (best actress) and le cochon dramatique (best text)
on june 21st, 2012, at the gala attended by over 400 members of the theatre community at les écuries, johanna had the honour of holding a real live pig in her arms...
here is the letter she was given with the trophy...
she was proud of her golden pig, as you may observe in this promotional video for the Just For Laughs - Zoofest:
SUMMERWORKS extends an invitation to My Pregnant Brother to present its Toronto debut, from August 9 -19, 2012:
The show travels to WINNIPEG, to participate in FemFest, in September 2012...