Mandy Schmieder could have drawn from any number of life experiences to write her first one-woman show: her formative years in Atlanta, her struggles as a Brooklyn-based model and comedienne, or her adventures in the world of independent theater and film acting. Instead she picked something far more painful to discuss — her break-up with her husband of six years. And she somehow managed to make it funny.
When she split with her partner, Schmieder found herself in a kind of limbo. She took notes about her thoughts and feelings, trying to decide whether to reconnect with him or make a clean break. Once the dust had settled, these notes formed the basis of Separation Anxiety.
The solo show has evolved a lot since Schmieder premiered it in February 2010. “At first it was too obscure,” she says. “I wanted to make the writing much more clear.” With appropriate honing, it’s now apparent that her nine characters represent her insecurities, fears, and hopes. We see appearances from Food Network host Paula Deen, “drunk as a skunk and horny as the dickens.” There’s also Schmieder’s childhood babysitter, who has a calcified rock in her womb; a cop who accuses men of “being intimidated by her beauty and femininity;” and a self-centered friend who insists that she knows what’s best. They all address the audience as if they’re talking to Mandy, offering shaky advice on whether to stick by her spouse or quit while she’s behind.
“The audience is taken on a ride with me,” Schmieder says. “It finds out what it was like for me to discover I was married to the wrong person and wondered how to get out. It seemed like a life or death situation. It’s so personal and universal — nothing puts a mirror to yourself like a traumatic experience.”
Schmieder’s years at the College of Charleston gave her a good grounding for her New York career. “When I took a bachelor’s in theater in Charleston, I was able to grow up a little bit,” she says. “I declared my major in my first semester there. I knew what I wanted to do. It was perfect because it wasn’t a fine arts program, it was more well-rounded. Professors like Evan Parry and Joy Vandervort-Cobb led me to the decision to get a master’s in acting there.” The performer also says that all her training came in handy for Anxiety, including character development.
These days she can be fairly objective about the show’s content. “It’s more like playing a character in a play. The first time I did it, I felt I’d been put through the ringer. I was so vulnerable. I can still access that, but it’s not as traumatic. You can’t immerse yourself in those kinds of feelings forever.” Fortunately Schmieder has the audience to help her figure out how to handle her sticky situation, assuming her role and helping her pick the right course of action.
“I have a great group of friends that were there for me when I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Schmieder says. “They saw exactly what I was going through and how I transferred it to this response.” Her ex hasn’t seen the play though. “That would be hard for him to see.”