Phoenix comediennes Marlene Strang and Leanne Schmidt have been performing together as The Ladies, a zany pair of moms that poke fun at life’s most routine moments, since 2016.
“We use live performance in unexpected places to create these entertaining and social experiences for people to kind of come along and commiserate about life,” Schmidt says.
The Ladies had a show scheduled for May, but the pandemic threw a wrench in their plans.
“It was completely not an option because the show was with 20 people in close quarters, there was a buffet, there was hand holding,” Strang says. “Everything that you could not do with COVID happening.”
While many performers pivoted to virtual productions, The Ladies wanted to do something different.
“We came up with this idea, what if cars pulled up, we used their headlights to light us and put on some outrageous production?” Strang says.
That’s how Ladies in the Headlights was born. It’s a 15-minute pop-up parking lot performance where people drive in and illuminate The Ladies with their high-beams to a soundtrack broadcast through their car radio.
The next Ladies in the Headlights show is scheduled for Saturday, June 13 at 8 and 8:30 p.m. The performance is limited to five cars and participants find out the location 24 hours beforehand.
“We try to keep it intimate as part of the vision,” Strang says. “We pull in, have this wonderfully bizarre experience together and then off you go.”
Strang and Schmidt first met in 2002 while studying dance at Arizona State University. It wasn’t until years later that a mutual friend told them that they needed to connect and start making work together.
“I reached out to Marlene and said, ‘OK, rehearsal starts tomorrow,’ and we haven’t looked back,” Schmidt says.
Their first work was a skit about breastfeeding called Cluster Feed.
“As we were developing this piece, these characters just emerged,” she says. “Through discussion of the topic and just how hilarious and heartbreaking it can all be at once, these characters came out.”
Schmidt likes to say The Ladies were officially born at the Goodwill on 32nd Street and Cactus Road because that’s where they found their costumes. The Ladies’ costumes include fanny packs and shirts with prints that are evocative of the 1990s.
“We stay in the ‘90s, which is part of our outfits,” Strang says. “We only wear one outfit and we’re very committed to this connection to the throwback of the ‘90s.”
Schmidt says The Ladies are an exaggerated extension of themselves.
“We are The Ladies, we just kind of use our characters to amplify what’s already happening,” she says.
Strang says activities like Ladies in the Headlights are critical right now because people are looking for alternative ways to connect with their community aside from staring at a screen.
“We all want to see each other and we want to laugh together and we want to have fun and we need to keep those things alive with life being so intense right now,” she says. “We have to find the joy because the joy is what we all live for.”
People are praising the show for its ability to safely bring the community together during a time of uncertainty and despair.
“We’ve received a lot of really positive feedback about how it was the first time people left their house and didn’t wear a mask and didn’t have to worry,” Schmidt says. “The audience can expect to get out of the house and enjoy having a place to go and laugh, all these things we really haven’t experienced in awhile.”