With “Infamous Mothers,” Sagashus Levingston has not only created a captivating coffee table book, but an incredible movement that has given an important platform to formerly marginalized African-American women to tell their amazing life stories. And now, “Infamous Mothers” is going to be a play. The highly anticipated adaptation for the stage is happening and the production is currently auditioning actresses.

“One of the best quotes I’ve heard from Sagashus is that ‘when people lose hope, they have nothing else to go on,’” says Marie Justice, director of “Infamous Mothers.” “They can’t springboard from there. With ‘Infamous Mothers,’ Sagashus is giving women hope and that’s the foundation of your dreams.”

Justice is very excited to be the director of the new “Infamous Mothers” play – based up Levingston’s book – which has been edited and adapted by Coleman, who has trimmed and shaped the stories of 20 remarkable women from the original interviews conducted by Levingston.

Presented by Strollers Theatre, the play will debut Oct. 26 and is in the middle of casting right now.
“We are so complex as women. We are more than just our worst moments. We are redeemable,” Justice tells Madison365. “We can be different from a traditional mother and still be a very good mother. I love how Sagashus is owning this and teaching other women to do the same.”

Marie Justice (pictured here with husband Johnny)

Based on the book, the “Infamous Mothers” play brings to life true stories of incredibly strong women who “went through the belly of hell and brought something good back.” This beautifully told piece weaves powerful theater by interposing Levingston’s own remarkable story with the stories of six real-life women from her book and four fictional women who represent the struggles and triumphs of all marginalized women.

Becoming the director of “Infamous Mothers” was a full-circle moment for Justice.

“When [husband] Johnny and I were first on our entrepreneurial journey, we became friends with Sagashus through different community things that we were involved in,” Justice remembers. “She was still in school working on the Ph.D. and trying to figure out what was next for her. We had her over for dinner a couple times and we ran into and finally one day, Johnny and I were like, ‘Sagashus, you’ve already done it all. You’re doing it! You know what to do – take that work and turn it into something.’

“A few weeks later she comes back and sits on my couch and says, ‘I’m doing it!’ So it was so exciting to see her on this journey and being such good friends with her,” Justice adds. “Watching this movement materialize – this book, this project, this art, this empowerment campaign and watching her be a keynote speaker. She’s living in her truth and giving a voice to a woman who really deserve that. She’s changing the way that we view mothering in a society that teaches women that they have to be perfect.”

Sagashus Levingston

Justice believes that “Infamous Mothers” play will be very powerful.

“I think it’s going to reach people on another level,” Justice says. “More than just reading the book you can now see it in action and these characters can be brought to life. These women’s stories are so absolutely intense. Sagashus’s story is so intense. It will be incredible to have that played out on stage.

“The other part that is exciting is that there are not many opportunities for women of color to get involved in the theater scene,” she continues. “This is a nearly all-female black cast. That’s huge. This is opening up doors for actresses and for audience members.”

Justice is putting a call out to the greater Madison area and beyond to come to her “Infamous Mothers” audition which will be held on Monday, Aug. 6, 6 p.m. at the South Madison Branch Library. She stresses that experience is not necessary.

“We’re looking for five black female actresses and one white female address,” Justice says. “We’re looking for people with or without acting experience. I think there are a lot of talented black women, they just don’t have the opportunity or they don’t even know how to get involved.”

The small-cast play will have a modest set. The actual adaption of the book will be a split scene, Justice says. Sagashus will be on one side talking to the audience and telling them about her story and sharing her provocative thoughts on the lives of marginalized women.

“The other scene will be an established, successful black woman holding a book club with these four other women and they are reading the stories of the women in the book,” Justice says. “They will basically be channeling them. There’s some really tough stuff that will be read and talked through. The play delves into quite a bit. I’m sure it was difficult for Coleman to choose which stories [to use] because there are so many good ones in the book.

“These are some intense stories,” she adds. “I’m excited to see them come to life.”

“Infamous Mothers” will be performed on the Evjue Stage of the Bartell theater from Oct. 26-Nov. 10 and will run for one hour and 45 minutes. Justice says they are looking for a cast of strong, adventurous women.

“I’m confident that we will find some super-talented people that might not even know that they have this ability,” Justice says. “When you have people who really have that passion and they really love something, it’s really special. This is authentic. This is real. This isn’t Shakespeare. So you want people who can relate to this and can bring out that gritty realness.”

“I love the idea of this network of women uplifting each other and knowing that we can be each other’s support system,” she adds. “Sagashus is proof that there is the other side for us mothers. She’s so poised and so articulate and so strong to get through what she did.”

Auditions for “Infamous Mothers” will take place Monday, Aug. 6, 6-9 p.m. at Goodman Branch Library, 2222 S. Park St. Please drop in any time during this open audition. You will be reading from the script. No need to prepare anything, but sides are available by request.