November Profile: Wendy Beckett

Wendy Beckett

Relationship Status: Married
Residence: Australia and New York City
Children: Connie, Age 9
Photograph by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Wendy Beckett is the playwright and director for the new Off Broadway play A CHARITY CASE, starring Two Time Tony Nominee ALISON FRASER, Award-winning film actress ALYSIA REINER (“Sideways”) and JILL SHACKNER (Les Miserables). Visit: Her show is running at the Clurman Theatre in NYC until November 20th.

Profession: Wendy has written more than 25 plays (all staged) and directed more than 40 in England, France, Scotland, Australia and New York. A native of Australia, she has also written radio plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and conducted interviews for ABC with some of the best minds of our time, including Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin and Martha Graham. At age of 22, she founded her own women’s theatre company, “Colours Inc” and brought to the stage several plays that toured Australia, most notably Without Limits-Isadora Duncan, Anais Nin-One of Her Lives, Claudel, Losing My Religion, Love Therapy and Refugees. Her directorial credits include works by Shakespeare, The Cherry Orchard, Waiting For Godot and The Women of James Joyce. Recently, she directed her own work, For the Love of Alma Mahler at the Sydney Opera House. She has been a university lecturer, author, librettist and journalist.

Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? Tell us what your road to parenthood was like.

A: I decided to become a mom later in life because it hadn’t happened earlier in life. In fact, it wasn’t really an option as I wasn’t with anyone who wanted to have children, and many men don’t think about starting a family until they reach the age of 40. When I first started out as a mom, I was shocked by the responsibility of being ‘the one’ 24 hours/day. Despite being a feminist in my past, I was also shocked to learn that men assume you have some extra gene that makes parenthood easier for you. I am still looking for that gene, ha! My child was a poor sleeper, and I recall 62 continuous nights of broken sleep. Aagh! I also recall the first moment we looked into each others eyes and how deeply emotional that was for me. The idea that this child was to be ‘my child’ for life! Wow!

The adoption process from Australia took 5 years, and it was only an oversight that I had not canceled the paperwork on adoption …because I had in fact long given up on it happening at all. BUT..when the call came, and I was listening to a distant foreign voice telling me: “A child had been allocated to you.” My immediate impulse was to say YES! The whole of my life changed in this one response – and I became a woman with a family.

Q: What inspired you to write A CHARITY CASE? How long have you been working on it? What does your daughter think about it? Wendy Beckett

A: I wrote the play CHARITY (an Australian version – and yes I had to have it translated into American speak, very funny this is) about 10 years ago. It was extremely well received in Sydney and went on to the Adelaide International Arts Festival (the equivalent of the Edinburgh festival in Scotland.) As an adopted person myself, I felt there were many parts of an ‘adopted persons’ experience’ that remain secret. Adoption has been romanticized. And yet all adopted children are children that have experienced grief, the loss of their initial parent. Many adopted children are angry about this initial rejection/abandonment. They do not act grateful; why would they? And many struggle to believe in the ‘unconditional love’ on offer. They may hate their birth mother, their adoptive mother, themselves. They may fantasize about an absent parent all their lives. They often scan the faces of strangers thinking: “that person could be my mother.” And many adopted adults have lived their lives protecting the feelings of their adoptive parents, their birth parents, their siblings. Some choose to search, others don’t, but all adopted people wonder.There is a huge array of different responses within the adopted person, and I wanted to give voice to some of these, the dark feelings, the crazy feelings, the ambivalence. In addition, I wanted to depict an imperfect adoptive mother. Why need this story be ‘blissful’ when ‘family life’ is a mixed bag in reality for most people – not an idealized Utopian family. Adopted children share all of the same teenage problems as birth children, and I am sure any person who has had a mother/daughter relationship will find something that resonates within this story, even if one is not adopted.

This is probably around my 27th play on stage, and my daughter is too young to read or attend a performance, but I hope when she grows up she will feel I cared enough about the adoptee’s experience to go where angels fear to tread – in the hope that they may heal and that adoption for the adopted person and the adoptive mother may become easier.

Q: Do you see as the positives and challenges of becoming a 35+ mom?

A: I have my career in place and have more perspective with age.

Q: Having been adopted yourself, what would you most like to share with parents who have adopted?

A: To accept and facilitate the process of the adopted person ‘trying to understand themselves’ as they grow. Help them search if they want, and keep an open state of mind. Don’t get overly sentimental – the emotions belong to them first – and they are trying to process these emotions; don’t confuse them with your own (save that for your girlfriends in private). The child can’t deal with your responses as well as their own; it’s too much all at once.

Q: Were you aware from a young age that you were adopted? Did you have any interest in meeting your birth parents?

A: Yes, but it’s a longer dialogue than I can share here. I am also a trained psychologist as well as a playwright and theater director, and I have done all the work on myself – so I am free to be open on this topic now (it doesn’t hurt as it did when I was a child or a young adult). Where my daughter is concerned, I protect her privacy. She is not ‘the topic.’ And her experience will be uniquely her own. This play was heavily researched with interviews from adoptees’ birth mothers and adoptive mothers.

Luanne Rice

Cast of A Charity Case – Wendy Beckett in the middle and from left to right: Alysia Reiner, Alison Fraser and Jill Shackner.

Q: What do you most want to teach your daughter? Is she aware she is adopted, and has she expressed curiosity about her birth parents?

A: To accept herself, and yes, she knows she is adopted and so far, she has only expressed curiosity about the birth process – more will come as she grows, and I will be open and helpful.

Q: Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later moms?

A: I have a girlfriend with adopted children whom I share parenthood with, she too is an older parent, and I think organizations like Motherhood Later can be hugely helpful and supportive.

Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?

A: Motherhood is not about how old or young you are. Its about a life-long relationship that you will have with your child and with the next generation. It’s about becoming a family, gaining a relative, becoming connected, opening yourself to the wonderful within the ordinary. It links you to all that is human; sometimes parenthood will be hard, but ultimately it will prove fulfilling and compared to the other relationships we have in life, this one is special if not just a bit extraordinary.

Q: When you became a mom, did your own mother or mother figure share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated?

A: My mother sadly has passed, but she lives on in me and my parenting (thank goodness – she was tougher than me being a mother of 5, and she considered motherhood ‘straightforward.’ It wasn’t an ordeal for her, and she was very loving). I also have a wonderful older friend (Margaret) who acts as grandmother to my child. We are all very fortunate to have found each other.