The New Brunswick Arts Board is an arm’s length arts funding agency with a legislated mandate to facilitate and promote the creation of art as well as administering funding programs for professional artists in the province.
Saint John performing artist Hilary Ladd is a multi-faceted musician, actor, writer, and teacher, who has been appearing on stages for the past 29 years. She has received professional development grants from artsnb and more recently, a Category B Creation grant to support her show in development: her first entirely pop music-based performance titled Breastmilk + Tears, to premier at the Imperial Theater in Saint John on May 21.
“I wanted a Beyoncé concert with feelings. I wanted to dress my mental illness up in rhinestones and teach it how to dance.”
Breastmilk + Tears is not a show about laundry.
When I started out, I thought I was writing a musical cabaret mostly because I didn’t know how else to go about it. I wanted to (or maybe felt like I had to), keep it light, simple, and small, so I wrote pages and pages of dialogue about the act of doing laundry. I wanted people to know that motherhood was making me tired, but that I was fine.
The truth is that I wasn’t fine, and no matter how hard I tried to mask it in my lighthearted laundry cabaret, the music I was writing was revealing something deeper, bigger, louder. It had nothing to do with laundry and everything to do with my internalized fears.
Eventually, I managed to be honest with myself about what it was that I really wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I wanted a Beyoncé concert with feelings. I wanted to dress my mental illness up in rhinestones and teach it how to dance.
I knew then that I had to be realistic about the logistics behind how I was going to accomplish such a grand scale performance and the only way to do that was to get down on paper what it would cost, and who I would need on my team to help me make it happen.
The more grants I wrote, the more clarity I had for the vision. The more creative people I asked for help, the closer it got to being exactly what I had hoped for.
Two years into the process and I now have a music producer, a choreographer, a director, a publicist, two stage managers and a social media manager on my team. I am constantly working on making sure that each area of my life is nourished in its own way. I’m also able to be present with my kids and finally have some time away from them without feeling any guilt whatsoever. It’s a gift.
This show has helped me carve out my own place in the world.
Over the course of my life, I’ve learned over and over how to pick myself up, brush myself off, stand up tall and do my best to shake away the voices in my head that tell me I’m too much for people. I’ve always felt this constant inner pendulum swing of sharing my guts out and then bottling everything up for ages. I have never been able to strike a balance so that I can make space for my emotions and how I choose to artistically express myself for the sake of pure creative release.
The process of creating Breastmilk + Tears has taught me the value of my own creativity and the time, money, and energy it takes to sustain an artistic life. Part of that is from writing budgets and grants and acknowledging that yes, this kind of work takes time, but it also takes rest, freedom, flexibility, support, daily practice, and people to talk to about all the messy details and the occasional identity crisis.
Photo Credit: Robin Hebb
The hardest part about being an artist is often just deciding what to do. It’s so easy to live within the confines of the expectations of others and to have someone else lay out the steps for you. God, doesn’t it just feel so good to check some boxes and get a hit of dopamine?
But the truth is (no matter how cliché it may sound), we are the creators of our own truth. We are in control of our stories even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
I’ve just turned 35 and I’ve been through death, abuse, despair, and back again through it all, and even still I manage to remember that my dreams are valuable and within arm’s reach, and that life is better when we make beauty out of pain together.
I still spend a large portion of my weeks doing laundry, but that’s not what this is about.
Hilary Ladd is a multi-faceted musician, actor, writer and teacher who’s been appearing on stages for the past 29 years. Over the last decade she has worked as the lead vocal director at InterAction School of Performing Arts, the only arts school of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
Her first love and main focus has always been as a singer-songwriter. Ladd is best known for her honest and vulnerable lyrics, and heartfelt story-telling. In 2017 she released a collection of songs with her band Ladd & Lasses titled “She Wanders”, written post-divorce as an act of self-rediscovery. With less time to wander these days, Ladd began writing high-energy pop songs between diaper changes and loads of laundry. Not knowing how to perform them as a folk artist, she opted to write them into a narrative concert entitled Breastmilk + Tears.
With the help of artsnb, Music New Brunswick, and Canada Council, Ladd has written the script which includes 16 original songs. She has gathered a team of collaborators and mentors to bring this project to life.
The EP Breastmilk + Tears, Pt: 1, produced by Erin Costelo, was released March 25, 2022. Breastmilk + Tears the stage production will be premiering May 21, 2022 at the Imperial Theatre followed by the release of Breastmilk + Tears, Pt. 2 will be released in early 2023.
As a provincial entity, the New Brunswick Arts Board acknowledges that it carries out its work on the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Peskotomuhkati peoples. Read the full statement.