No pity parties here. As Jen Bosworth sees it, there is no better way to cope with heartache than laughter.
“Laughter is essential if we are going to make it through this life,” says Bosworth. “We gotta laugh.”
And laughter is what is promised—lots of it—while in attendance of Bosworth’s one-woman comedy show “Why Not Me. Love, Cancer, and Jack White,” on the Heartland Theater stage from July 18 to August 17. The show chronicles Bosworth’s starry-eyed move to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a successful actress, then her subsequent move back to her native Chicagoland to tend to her sick father and, later, her mother.
Bosworth says that the title of (and inspiration for) her show comes from the mantra she adopted during her mother’s second battle with cancer—“Why not me?”
“It has a double meaning,” says Bosworth. “[My mother and I] would say ‘why is this happening to us?’….One day, we were sitting in the Kellogg Cancer Center waiting room with [several] other families and my mom turned to me and said “Wait a minute, look at this! Why not us? We are not immune to this.” “That attitude really changed my perspective on what it means to be alive, and part of being alive is dealing with intense sadness and tragedy,” says Bosworth. “The other part was—wait a minute—I have been told my whole adult life that I can’t do things because of the way I look or because I don’t do this or [that]…I’m like ‘No, no, no—I can do this! I can do my own show!’ Why can’t I have success as an actress and performer just the way I am? [‘Why not me?’] had that double meaning.”
Bosworth, an alumnus of The Theatre School at DePaul who has appeared on TV series ER and Early Edition and starred in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The House on Mango Street, says that going solo requires a lot of self-accountability.
“It is basically accountability to yourself and to the story that you are telling, and that can be challenging,” says Bosworth. “I also have an incredible team….but it is just me on stage; so, at the end of the night, if something doesn’t go well, it is nobody’s fault but mine.” “Why Not Me,” Bosworth’s second solo show, is currently in its third run. Bosworth says that the show has evolved a lot since it was first staged in 2012, growing longer and more pared-down, as mobility is required for her performances at hospices and medical conventions. “It is storytelling at its root,” Bosworth says of the show. The show came to fruition under the direction of Alyson Lyon, whom Bosworth describes as a ‘powerhouse’: “She was tough on me, in a good way.”
Bosworth says that it is important to her to work with other women, as she acknowledges that her industry can be especially tough on women.
“When I was first starting out as an actress, I was told as a woman over and over again “You’re too fat, you’re too this,” and so to get roles that were produced and cast by other people, especially in LA, could be ridiculously hard and sort of demoralizing,” says Bosworth. “I said, you know what, I’m gonna do my own stuff. I’m not gonna wait for (usually men, unfortunately) for some man to say, ‘Oh, you’re beautiful enough to be cast in this role.’ I’m gonna write my own stuff.
Bosworth says that she had an example of a driven, powerful woman in her mother, who immigrated to the United States from Colombia as a teenager. “She didn’t work her butt off for me to be like, ‘No I’m gonna sort of play small…that would be not honoring her memory.” Bosworth says that her mother came to the US and threw herself into her studies, making her way through college and graduate school to earn a high-powered position, all while urging her daughters to pursue higher education. Bosworth seeks to honor her mother’s advocacy of education by partnering with the Apareció Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to girls’ education, for her August 9th 15 nonprofit organizations hand-picked by Bosworth to receive a portion of her show proceeds. Each organization will be featured on a separate show night.
“I felt really strongly about combining nonprofit organizations with this show,” says Bosworth, who worked for a nonprofit for 5 years. “The message of the show is [that] we need to really support one another in living our dreams….This is my little way of giving back.”
Bosworth, who was her mother’s primary caregiver during her illness, says that she hopes to continue to extend her support to the caregiver community as well. Currently, she appears as a guest blogger on various sites, a position she hopes will one day be more consistent.
“My vision is to start a blog where I can talk about my experience as a caregiver and also provide resources for people that are caring for people that are terminally ill or chronically ill, because we don’t tend to focus that much on caregivers,” says Bosworth. “We tend to focus on the patient, understandably, but behind the patient there is usually a family member or a friend that is really working hard to take care of that person. Their own personal health and well-being takes a backseat…
I think that we do ourselves a disservice but not taking care of ourselves….we need more support and resources for that.” So, it is pretty clear where the ‘love,’ ‘cancer,’ and ‘why not me’ from the show’s title come into play…but what about Jack White?
Bosworth says that the rock star (of White Stripes fame) starting appearing in a reoccurring dream during her mother’s second battle with cancer. “I had no idea who he was, but I must have seen him somewhere,” she says. “[In my dreams] I was really infatuated with him, and it got weird and it sort of bled into my other life…I started listening to the White Stripes. Now I know that I needed some escape from the really hard stuff.”
“He became this symbol…he does what he wants, he lives his life the way he wants,” says Bosworth.