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Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

Here in the south, we revere our mamas, y'all, often expressing our loyalty and devotion to the woman who raised us in a myriad of ways. Rarely a day passes that we don't give mama credit for teaching us all sorts of things during our lifetime, whether it's how to pick the right china pattern for a holiday dinner, the difference between a ripe cantaloupe and one that's not quite ready, or how to stretch a meal for four people in order to feed eight more.

Our relationship with the woman raised us can sometimes be fraught with tension and discord, she can drive us crazy, reduce us to tears with her too on-the-nose criticisms or wound us deeply because of a lack of understanding. Truly, the relationship between mother and child is complex and oftentimes hard to define.

Which brings us to today's new feature: Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, Nashville's iconic professional theatre, opens its latest show next week (Thursday, April 25) Listen To Your Mother, which runs through May 12.

From the original live storytelling phenomenon that "gave motherhood a microphone," Ann Imig founded Listen To Your Mother with a show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, on Mother's Day 2010. She and 11 other local writers read their original true stories of motherhood before an audience of 300 people, according to a story on the show's website. The show ultimately grew beyond the confines of that one theater, to be performed throughout the world.

"Listen To Your Mother entertains, energizes, brings community together and leaves everyone feeling a little less alone and a little more understood," according to the show's official website (www.listentoyourmother.com).

Members from the Chaffin's Barn's cast of Listen To Your Mother will tell us about their own moms and their lessons learned. Today our spotlight falls upon two Nashville theater veterans - Kim Nygren and Shawn Whitsell - who join their castmates for the show at Chaffin's Barn, located at 8204 Highway 100 in Nashville. For ticket information or reservations, call (615) 646-9977 or go to www.chaffinsbarntheatre.com.

Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHERKim Nygren It's great to be back! After performing at Chaffin's Barn for 20 years, Kim went back to school, earned her Master of Arts in Teaching, and now teaches third grade at Kingston Springs Elementary School. Some of Kim's favorite Barn credits include Man of La Mancha, Ain't Misbehavin', Steel Magnolias, The Dixie Swim Club, A Bad Year for Tomatoes, Chicago, Lend Me a Tenor, Don't Dress for Dinner, Johnny Guitar and too many others to mention! In addition to acting, Kim has directed, waited tables, managed the box office, and scrubbed the toilets here at Chaffin's Barn. Huge thanks to Joy for providing this opportunity to come back home. Kim lives in Kingston Springs with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, two cats, and one bearded dragon. She is convinced she has only gotten this far in life by listening to her own precious mother, Sally.

What's the best advice your mother ever gave you? Don't rush the meringue or the gravy. It takes time to get those perfect, firm peaks to complete a beautiful pie. If you put in the water or the milk before the flour is good and brown, you can't undo that. Also, bacon grease can pretty much fix anything.

Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Kim Nygren, her mom Sally Thornton
and her daughters Kelsey and Karley

Besides giving birth to you, what's your mother's biggest achievement? I can't choose just one. Honestly, one of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs, "I'm Still Here," comes to mind. My brother died in 2000, and I have no idea how my parents survived that. Then, my mother was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2014. IPF is an incurable lung disease. She has defied all the odds and is not only surviving, she is improving. As if all of that were not enough, my dad, her husband of 47 years, died suddenly from a massive stroke in February of 2017. She has not let her grief consume or define her. It has certainly changed her, but she continues to survive and live, and inspire her family every day. My parents would have celebrated their 50th anniversary on May 2, so I consider being in this beautiful production on that day to be a gift in many ways.

What personal trait do you possess that you got from your mother? Mom and I are both Olympic-level worriers. We have both said that when we don't have anything to worry about, we worry about THAT!

Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHERShawn Whitsell is an actor, activist, poet, journalist, teaching artist and the Founder/Artistic Director of the Destiny Theatre Experience. He has written, produced and directed a number of theatrical works. This is second production with Chaffin's Barn after appearing in The Odd Couple in 2017. He has also worked with Nashville Repertory Theatre, Nashville Children's Theatre, Dream 7 Theatre Productions, SistaStyle Productions, Actor's Bridge and Street Theatre Company (where he serves on the board of directors). When he's not performing, Shawn visits schools, prisons, libraries and community centers, teaching drama and spoken word for Southern Word, Tennesee Women's Theatre Project and other institutions. Follow him on IG at: @shawn_whitsell and @destinytheatreexperience.

Mama Knows Best: Talking with Kim Nygren & Shawn Whitsell from LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Shawn Whitsell and his mom,
Wanda Thompson

What's the best advice your mother ever gave you? In college, a staff member who I had a great deal of respect for, said something very hurtful in relation to my work as a student leader. Not only was what he said unfair and way off base, but he said it to others instead of bringing his "concerns" to me. When I found out, I marched to his office, fuming. When I arrived, I learned that he had taken the day off and wouldn't be back until the following Monday. I was extremely frustrated because I knew I was going to have to carry this anger for the entire weekend. I vented to my mother and she told me that when I returned to his office on Monday to "walk in like a man and walk out like a man." For me, that meant, to be uncompromising and unapologetic in standing up for myself but to do so with class, intelligence, dignity and integrity. It meant that I could embrace my righteous anger without going into his office and flipping his desk over. That re-shaped my whole approach. When I finally got the opportunity to talk to the man, he backpedaled on his comments, which was unfortunate because we've could've gotten further if he'd been truthful. However, I was happy with the way I handled the situation and that was all due to my mom's advice.

Besides giving birth to you, what's your mother's biggest achievement? I think my mom's biggest achievement is a lifetime of service to her family, friends, church and community. Whether a baby is being born or someone is having surgery or someone dies or someone goes to jail or there's a special event happening at church or someone is planning a party, my mom is always there supporting and assisting.

What personal trait do you possess that you got from your mother? My mon is a natural giver, helper, supporter. I think she passed that down to me genetically and reinforced it in the way she's lived her life.


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