“You’ve got a great smile,” said an audience member as the lights started to brighten on Johanna Nutter, writer and star of the one-woman show, My Pregnant Brother. “Thank you,” she replied.
A few moments ago, when people were trickling into the theatre to grab a seat, Johanna was standing on the stage, welcoming audience members. A few people she knows walked up to her to chat and wish her good luck &- something that doesn’t happen often in theatre. With many shows, the cast appears and vanishes when the lights come up and come down. But Nutter stood there and socialized, looking serene despite the almost full house last Friday.
This woman wishing Nutter good luck shows the open nature between her and her audience. Nutter performs a story that is both true and extremely personal. When asked what it’s like to perform in front of strangers every night, she answered, “Well, they become not strangers. Every face I see out there, they’re so lovely…people I’ve never met are so supportive. It’s pretty amazing.”
And what a story it is. Indeed, Nutter’s got a great smile &- wide and welcoming. Speaking to her in Dusty’s, a bustling diner on Park and Mont-Royal, she is makeup-free and grinning, though she confesses she has jitters about her show in the afternoon. It’s an appropriate spot for this interview, as the story she stages crisscrosses the Plateau &- it’s where she grew up, and now resides.
“I love, love, love Montreal,” Nutter gushed. “It’s funny,” she recounted, “to go for drinks on the same street where I used to have cookies.”
This is where her story begins with Johanna and her sister’s bohemian childhoods wandering with their mother.
Johanna grew up reading books because there wasn’t much to do since she didn’t go to school, and the children she did see were her sister’s age. Some of Nutter’s favourites included books by John Steinbeck and the BrontÃ«s, and the story of Zorba the Greek, her favourite hero because of his passion.
“I think I always knew I wanted to write my own story about what I saw going right around me,” she said, relating that she knew she wanted to be an actress since the age of 12.
Her sister became her brother through hormone injections and surgery – though evidently not completely, because he got pregnant. When the baby was put up for adoption, the fallout led Johanna to put the words to paper and then on to the stage.
Nutter’s been an elementary school teacher, an actress, and also made some short films &- but it seems like she’s found her groove with My Pregnant Brother &- which came about slowly over time with the help of Jeremy Taylor.
Taylor is a National Theatre School playwriting student who already had a few directing and dramaturge credits under his belt when Johanna approached him to help with her project.
As many people are when they hear Johanna’s story, Taylor was incredulous. “There were so many times where I would say, “really, really? That happened?'” as new elements of the story revealed themselves over the course of rehearsals.
But Taylor was won over by the way Nutter revealed her tale. “I was hooked on the story immediately,” he said. “She told it with such simplicity and such honesty, with such bareness of emotion that I could instantly see how it would work onstage.”
Taylor also realized that audiences would identify with Nutter’s story of a transgendered sibling with child much more than Nutter had originally anticipated.
“I was shocked on opening night and so many people came up to me telling me how they related to the story,” said Nutter. “And they would tell me stories, “I was the oldest in my family, too.’ That was really incredible.”
Nutter’s narrative is actually universal &- it’s about family. “I started to think about it, and I realized that there is nothing more intense than family… it’s where we get who we are,” she said.
She hopes to tour the show, which she called a “sturdy little boat.”
Nutter has other projects in the works, some of them with Taylor &- hopefully, her stories will continue to captivate people, whether they’re her personal stories or not.
“I’m a storyteller, so give me your ears and I’ll talk “em off.”