Writer and performer of a new production featuring her mother
by Laura Jane Pittman
It’s always a treat when an original show comes to town. This February, Theatre Jacksonville patrons will be only the second audience (the other being in New York in January) to see the debut of Mom Before Dad: A Young Woman of the Greatest Generation, a production written and performed by Theatre Jacksonville’s own Executive Director Sarah Boone. Inspired by a diary and letters found after her mother’s death, Mom Before Dad has been a highly personal and rewarding undertaking for Boone as she has developed a living story about the hopes, dreams, challenges, and heartbreaks of a young girl during WWII. We sat down with Boone to hear about the show and discuss her remarkable creative journey.
How was the idea for this Mom Before Dad conceived?
My mom passed away in October 2019 at the age of 93. Because of the subsequent pandemic, my sister and I postponed going through her many papers and letters (there were a lot!) until May of 2021. A few days into our endeavor, we were surprised to find her diary from 1942, which was her gap year between high school and college. Although my mom was fond of keeping notes and documents throughout her life, I’d never known her to keep a daily journal. For the first time, we had written, first-hand commentary from her life well before she met my dad. I was so taken by her quick wit, independence, and maturity at that young age. And as we discovered more letters, scrapbooks, and mementos, the idea of telling her story just took me over.
Your mom grew up in the small Florida town of Winter Haven, and even though you weren’t familiar with the exact stories from her diary, what did you know about her early life?
My mom was very open about her life experiences, so I grew up knowing about all the major life events. She would always tell us kids about her past—she would talk about growing up in the Depression and being the middle child of five kids, and we were invited to hang out and hear family stories when she would visit with her parents and siblings. I can’t count the number of times I fell asleep on the living room floor listening to the adults reminisce. She talked about growing up in central Florida and her time at Florida State College for Women, which became Florida State University the year she graduated. Over the years, I had met her high school buddies at reunions, as well as her best friend from college. Looking back, I realize I took all this for granted, and then I didn’t take the time to ask more probing questions in my adult years. Of course, I had never really thought of her as an independent adult before she married my dad, which happened when she was only 21. Boy, was I wrong!
How was it to realize that your mother had this whole other life, before she even met your dad, that you never knew about?
Even though I was familiar with so much of her life, I did not appreciate the fact that she had been so independent and such a trailblazer in the family early on. I had only known and identified with her as “my mother.” I think all of us tend to pigeonhole our parents this way. When I read her own words and important letters she had received (and saved!) for more than 70 years, I realized that her life before meeting my father was quite amazing. It gave me completely fresh insight into what she was really like at the time. I wish I could have known her then.
Tell us about the writing of the show and how you put the material together.
Once the idea of a show started to take root, I immediately thought of the music that would tie the arc of the story together. I’ve been singing my whole life and creating cabarets shows professionally for many years, so a musical format was a given. First came the songs. Many of them are from the 1940s and some from later periods, but all the music was chosen to support and move the action along. The actual writing of the script came after that. And with this show, unlike others I’ve put together, there is a video component. I wanted to incorporate images of her keepsakes, as well as photos, to help tell the story. It’s really a multimedia production that takes people with me on this journey.