From the archives: this article was originally published on February 15, 2023
The Secret Comedy of Women returns to the Garner Galleria Theatre for its sixth engagement. Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, creators and stars of the long-standing comedy, share their insight on fumbles, friendship and finding a place to belong.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BACKSTAGE?
BARBARA GEHRING: Mayhem! We are doing a two-woman show and there’s no break. It’s not like a regular show where maybe you’re doing a puzzle in the greenroom until your line is needed and you go on stage for a few minutes. It’s 100% go for the entire time. So backstage, we’re just ripping off clothes as fast as we can to get into our costumes — Ballet, Craft Corner and Puberty, among others.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY FUMBLES BACKSTAGE THAT THE AUDIENCE DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT?
GEHRING: Yes! We were at the end of a run, I guess I was tired and I put on my ballet costume thinking we’d already done the Craft Corner. I tore off my clothes, changed bras, which meant I took my mic pack off as they are stored in our bras. I put on my ballet costume and met Linda at the closet door where we enter and we just looked at each other wild eyed. We were like “whhaatt???” She was in an entire different costume, dressed for Craft Corner. So, in the split second I had, I threw on a wig, my Craft Corner outfit and shoved the mic pack in my pocket and sort of stuck the tape on the side of my face. We went out there and did Craft Corner with the greatest energy.
KLEIN: When I go backstage to change into Puberty Girl, I find it easiest if I just do everything in the exact same order: I set my wedding ring on the counter then take a sip of water. A routine, right? Well, something got out of order when I was changing and the last two things got mixed up. I reached for my ring and almost put it in my mouth. I had this moment when my instinct was to drink it! It would have been just a private, little goof, but I look over at the dresser backstage and tears are rolling down her face. I burst out laughing and had to go on stage. There I was with tears in my eyes, but I couldn’t explain it to anybody because we had to go do the bit. It was such a magical energy on stage because I just had to make that shift.
GEHRING: Something different happened.
KLEIN: Yeah, remember when the bed broke? It was one of our first performances at the Denver Center, and there was a piece in the middle of the choreography where we land in the middle of the bed kind of forcefully and the bed actually caved. It went to the floor. We were surprised, the audience was surprised, and we all had a great laugh.
WHAT’S ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE PURSES THAT YOU’VE HAD?
GEHRING: When we “borrow” audiences member’s purses, we don’t know what we’re going to find. We don’t know what each other’s going to do or say. So it’s this little mischievous moment that we have on stage. Recently, I opened a woman’s bag and it was full, I mean chock-a-bock full of snacks. Usually we search through the purses and give each other an item we find. However, we never got to exchange items in this performance because I was taking out a pack of Nutter Butters and Swedish Fish and gum and…I can’t even really explain how many snacks were in there and so I just loaded Linda up with all the snacks. The audience was dying because I just kept pulling them out. Finally, I pulled out a baggie of homemade cookies and I fed her a cookie. That was it. It was so memorable because I have never seen that much food in a purse. It was fun to come back to her throughout the show like when someone in the shower scene suggested we all have a snack we could say, “She’s got enough for everyone!” So much fun.
KLEIN: I remember someone’s phone ringing in my purse and answering it. It later dawned on me that it was such a risk because you don’t know who it is or why they’re calling. It turned out to be a fun little thing and all that, but now, I ignore phone calls because you just don’t know!
WHAT ARE SOME MEMORABLE INTERACTIONS YOU’VE HAD WITH AUDIENCE MEMBERS AFTER THE SHOW?
GEHRING: My most memorable one was in Minneapolis. We finished the show and a woman who was my age came up. She was crying and hugged me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying.” She took a moment and said, “I forgot about that girl. I’ve become a wife and a mother, and I’d forgotten about that girl.” We just held onto each other for a little while and she left. That was probably the most poignant moment I’ve had with an audience member.
KLEIN: I don’t remember how it all got said, but it was the woman who said, “I always thought that I had a bad childhood, but now watching your show I feel like maybe I didn’t.” I think she’d forgotten the good parts.
IS YOUR SHOW TRULY FOR GIRLS ONLY?
GEHRING: No! We’ve had so many men come. Originally, our title was Girls Only and “The Secret Comedy of Women” was just a whisper. Then it was The Secret Comedy of Women and a little whisper…“Girls Only.” Dropping the emphasis on “Girls Only” is important for us to make everyone welcome. There was a guy in Phoenix, an older gentleman who said, “Thank you so much for allowing us two hours to just sit and forget about everything else.” And he got it all!
KLEIN: I think there is a great deal of energy in a room full of women and we thought that inviting men into our space would break that. Instead, we have learned it just enriches it. Any man…anyone who wants to come to a show called The Secret Comedy of Women is the perfect person to be there because they want to know the secret or they already know the secrets. Also, it’s a comedy! It’s fun, lighthearted and accessible and anybody can participate in that.
GEHRING: And man laughter is deep and loud. It is fun to hear in a sea of women.
WERE YOU CHILDHOOD FRIENDS?
GEHRING: We’re actually really good friends, but we didn’t meet until we were older. Had we been childhood friends, this is exactly the show we would have put on together. We’ve been writers together, performers and business partners. We’ve really learned to be businesswomen. And over the years we’re like sisters. You can’t put a price on that. Sometimes we just look at each other and can read each other’s minds. You develop a type of telepathy after performing over 1000 shows together.
HOW DID YOU CREATE THE SHOW?
GEHRING: There was this memorable afternoon when we got together in Linda’s kitchen and shared our diaries. We looked at each other through tears of laughter and said, “this could be a show.” We brainstormed like we did the other shows we had created together with our comedy partner Matthew Taylor. Then we created lists and lists of our ideas; some made it into the show and others got left in the notebook. When I look back at how we wrote it and how we perform it, it’s just such an entire blend of our lives. That’s what’s so special to me.
KLEIN: We’ve been doing this show professionally for nearly 15 years, but first created it 19 years ago as an amateur production. It’s interesting to consider that I have changed while the show has remained largely the same. When we wrote the show it was birthed, in large part, in nostalgia, except for things like menopause, which we hadn’t experienced yet. But we were looking back 20, 25, even 30 years. Now I look back at when we wrote it and I feel two layers of nostalgia. I feel nostalgia for when we wrote it and nostalgia for my younger womanhood. I can see the arc of us thinking we were writing a show about ourselves, and then that beautiful discovery was that it wasn’t about us. It was about every woman in the room. The show is the people in the room. It’s almost like our show sets the conditions for them to create their own experience and we really aren’t in charge. It’s just happening.
WHAT’S THE SECRET IN THE SECRET COMEDY OF WOMEN?
GEHRING: Originally, we had that idea for a secret club, a secret girls’ club. The secret is that we’re all the same. What a joyful idea that anybody in that theatre can say, “I belong here.” I think that’s what we all want is that sense of belonging and community. The fact that we’ve been able to create something that lights these little sparks and we don’t know where they go is magical.
The Secret Comedy of Women
Jan 3-28 • Garner Galleria Theatre