There are many things comedian Teresa Thome remembers about her late mother, but a certain item that was always stashed in her mother’s purse has stood out in her memories.
“Cheese. She was always prepared for getting a hypoglycemic attack,” Thome said. “My mother was always prepared for getting sick. This was a common theme in her life and my childhood.”
This memory eventually led to the creation of “Warm Cheese,” Thome’s humorous and poignant one-woman show that recounts her personal struggles regarding her relationship with her mother.
In collaboration with director Stan Zimmerman (Golden Girls, Roseanne and Gilmore Girls) Thome is bringing the show to Grand Rapids as a part of LaughFest again this year. The performances will happen on Friday, March 9 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 10 at 2 p.m. at Dog Story Theater.
“Warm Cheese,” which brought Thome sold-out shows and standing ovations at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2016, is a testament to the power of humor but also to the power of writing for providing relief from difficult experiences. Such is the case with Thome’s relationship with her mother.
“The last few years and days with her were especially hard. I had a lot of pent up anger and I wanted to release that. As a writer, I started writing to work through it,” Thome said.
Thome didn’t always envision telling her experiences through a one-woman show, however.
“It started as a novel in a writer’s group, but the characters were fiction and I was having a hard time distancing myself from the story. Eventually, I made the novel about my mom and me, first person,” Thome said.
“Finally, someone asked me to read excerpts for a conference on women writers. I realized that the missing element was the audience. After that, the piece evolved and eventually became the show it is today.”
For Thome, bringing this story to life on stage is a little challenging, but she recognizes ways in which she can overcome that.
“Essentially, being alone on stage for an hour can be pretty nerve-wracking,” Thome said. “I think the work or adaptation to dealing with that is to do it again and again until muscle and repetitive memory takes over, meditate as part of the process, and keep focused on the end goal.”
Her end goal is to allow her audiences to not only be entertained but to feel as if they have been impacted by her show.
“I have experienced that the more specific I am with my storytelling, the more universal the story becomes,” Thome said. “If someone walks away with a better understanding of themselves, I will have done my job. I’ve received fascinating feedback about how people have changed their way of thinking about themselves or someone else or that they decided to act differently after watching the show. That’s a powerful motivator to keep doing this.”
In addition to performing comedy, Thome is co-founder and managing partner of Michigan-based Fubble Entertainment. She has received an Emmy Award for her co-written/co-produced web series, “Backstage Drama.” Her career journey has also included executive producing, production managing, directing, blogging, storytelling and more.
Before pursuing the creative life, Thome served as the executive director of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. After dabbling in some entertainment work through the museum’s partnership with a children’s television show, Thome decided to leave the museum and focus on entertainment and writing.
“I am a left brain and right brain person. I love administration and spreadsheets, but I need a creative outlet. It was simply time for me to get back to using the creative side,” Thome said.
Thome’s work has prompted her to divide her time living between Grand Rapids and Los Angeles. While it makes for a hectic schedule, she couldn’t be happier with what she does.
“Happiness has been elusive for most of my life. I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I could own happiness and not feel guilty about it,” Thome said. “I’ve found happiness . . . finally . . . and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it.”
In addition to performing “Warm Cheese” at LaughFest, Thome will also host a panel on women in comedy and serve as a guest for a panel on writing and grief. Purchase tickets at LaughFest GR.