Molly Pope’s Candid Musical Polly Mope Comes to the Kimmel Center

Molly Pope stars in Polly Mope at the Kimmel Center

Performer Molly Pope could have been daunted by her mental health issues, but instead, she has turned them into a witty, candid and intimate musical.

Her live show, Polly Mope, is playing to the Kimmel Center’s SEI Innovation Studio from Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 11.

Born out of Pope’s time as a Kimmel Center Theater Residency artist in 2017, her performance is an intimate portrait of her personal experience with manic bipolar 2. She tackles the vital question, “How Do You Get through the Night?”

She also does so in an equally comedic and dramatic one-woman-show, which tells an intimate and poignant story about coping with humanity, mental health, and keeping yourself company. Pope will be backed by a live band.

The show comes at a fitting time since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and also something that nearly 1 in 5 American adults are living with or 18 percent of the population, according to Mental Health America.

How did this show Polly Mope come about?

Molly Pope: I have been doing my cabaret show at Joe’s Pub in New York since 2008. I had been working on my show Polly Mope for a few years and got an email for the residency at the Kimmel Center.

What was that experience like?

One of the things is really great about it was that we were paid to create and develop our work. It allowed all of us to relax, by giving us the financial support to focus on the work, so we didn’t have the added stress of worrying about paying our rent. There was a resident director as well as a playwright that would help us by checking in on us. They kept me to push myself because at any time someone could walk in and say “What are you working on.” Sometimes, we would get lost in the creative discussions.

What did you think of living in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia is a great city. I lived in New York for 19 years. I did a musical with the Philadelphia Theatre Company so I was here for a few months and now I feel like it is my second home. In my mind, this city is associated with “that’s the place where I do my creative stuff.”

What should audiences expect? Why should they come to see your show?

What I am trying to do is put on stage my very specific experience of my life up until this point. My current diagnosis is manic bipolar 2, and I have had some form of mental illness or mood disorder since childhood. So, the show is all about my relationship with that and what that means. Being bipolar for me is feeling all of those things that we feel all in one day. So, the show uses humor and as much honesty as I can put out there.

Please tell me more.

I felt that I was going to deal with this creatively at some point. I couldn’t get on board with it. It felt self -serving and – it was pointed out to me there are many people on the spectrum of mental health. I went through phases in my 20s where I let my diagnosis define me. For every single person dealing with a mental illness, it is specific. So, if I am able to get up on stage and sing and make jokes about it, it is one way I can make use of my mental illness.

What is the goal here?

If one person realizes “I know what that is” or it hits them on an emotional issue, then it was worth it.

How prevalent is mental illness today?

Extremely. Everyone knows someone who is dealing with a mood disorder – an immediate family member, cousin or a friend. Someone was talking about their mother and whispered she’s manic, because they were fighting the stigma to be ashamed.

Do you have another way of looking at it?

It’s scary. This is the least I can do – “to take a broken heart and make it into art,” which Carrie Fisher said. I have a nontraditional female voice. This has an original book and music. I can’t fit pre-existing roles and character that are out there, so I don’t want to wait for someone behind the (casting) table to pick me. I am going to do my own.

Was this show part of your career plan?

No, I never imagined myself doing this. When I was at New York University I saw myself in Jerry Herman revivals. People kept telling me to be patient saying, “In 10 years your career will take off. I felt what was I going to do for those 10 years and I decided on cabaret. I felt I had to evolve or die. I needed to take the plunge.  My attitude was, “Maybe I’m not a great songwriter, but at least I tried. I definitely want this to be wildly successful.”

This is certainly a heavy subject for a musical.

Yes, It’s a funny show and it’s not about having a mental illness all the time. There are certain parts it rises to the surface. Every night is different. On one night there are things going on that start stirring the pot. Some parts of the show are what I would be doing – there is an NPR talk show scene about having a discussion over when you should tell a potential romantic opportunity you are manic bipolar 2. Sometimes I do have to laugh at it and find the humor. I say things like, “Let’s take a ride on the bipolar coaster.” I know that I have to find self-acceptance since there is no cure for it. So, let’s get comfortable with it and learn how to laugh a lot and not be sad all the time.

What was going on during your Kimmel Center residency?

I was thinking about how I could tap into the universal and still be very specific to me. The ups and downs are intense and I feel things that are intense. There are other analogous situations. Some things you can’t fix or get over. It’s about “Okay, this a thing, now let’s figure how we live our best life carrying this with us. I am not going to let it ruin or run my life.”  I do try to keep it in perspective. It’s a manageable place for me.

What is your first memory of performing this show?

I remember when I presented 10 or 15 minutes at the Kimmel Center for the first time and there was feedback. A man was tearful because he said that he saw the show and what leaped out at him was so much about family and forgiveness. I have had instances when people come up and have expressed to me that this is something they are dealing with, as well. So, my being open about it is helpful to them, which is gratifying.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I want to continue with the show. I would love to bring it to Joe’s Pub in New York City, which is how I got hooked up with the Kimmel Center. I am looking at other options for the show, I may take it to Boston. I’m just about ready to start to get bookings in other places. It finally feels like it is a real thing.

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