How Maddie Corman Became Accidentally Brave and Used Her Strength to Help Others
Maddie Corman turned the darkest moment in her life into a play specifically so she could make other people feel heard.
Four years ago, Corman found her husband — a prolific television director — on the cover of all the major tabloid newspapers when he was arrested and charged with downloading and sharing child pornography. The pain, the anger, and the toll it took on their marriage and family was inconceivable.
Through therapy, reading, and the help of a then-stranger she calls her "angel," Corman has found a way to work through her anguish in the service of others. For the past several months, she's been performing a solo show about her experience, called Accidentally Brave, at the DR2 Theatre. Unsparing in its details, Corman's main goal was to explore the messy parts of stories like hers that never get told, and in doing so, show a community of people — the partners of addicts, the people who feel completely alone — that they do have a voice.
As the production winds down its off-Broadway run, Corman discussed her desire to use her theatrical platform in the service of others, and why it's important for people to know that someone has their back.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to create Accidentally Brave? Therapeutic exercise? Service?
I did not go into it to do any kind of therapy for myself. I may have done it to avoid having lunch with a lot of people. [laughs] As corny as it sounds, I truly did want to do this for service, for the people who could not tell their stories, or believed they were alone, or for the partners of addicts who don't get a lot of attention or understanding.
Someone had reached out to me and it saved my life. I know I'm an actress and can be dramatic, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that this person, who was willing to share her darkest, most painful experiences with me privately, was really what got me through. This was not a friend of mine; it was a stranger who found me because my story — my husband's story, which became my story — was in all the newspapers.
When I said, "What can I ever do to repay you," what she said to me was, "Just do it for someone else." I don't think she meant for me to write a one-woman show and perform it off-Broadway, but that's how I took it. This is what I felt I could do to share this story in a way that would potentially help people.
How hard is it to confront your own trauma as you perform this show eight times a week?
I didn't have time to get as scared as I probably should've been, because it happened so quickly. I only read it out loud four times before we did the production. I did a reading in October and within 12 hours, Daryl Roth said, "I'm ready if you are." That gave me courage, that one of the first ladies of theater, with incredible taste and integrity, was willing to say, "Let's go." I felt very protected by her, and I felt very protected by my director, Kristin Hanggi. Even in the scariest moments.
The first night, I wasn't sure I could actually go on. It wasn't stage fright, it was, "Oh my gosh, I'm really going to tell this story." Kristin said to me, "Somebody out there needs to hear the story tonight," and that got me onstage.
Do people often stop you in the lobby to share their stories?
I've had people say something at every single performance. Many, many times, there has been someone I don't know who has fallen into my arms, and I hug them and they cry, and sometimes I cry. I've also had people who I know really well have the same reaction and share things I didn't know.
There's some hope in my story, but still with the reality that there are going to be messy, painful moments within the hope, which feels more comforting in some ways than someone going, "It's all going to be OK." I had two people share stories after today's matinee — not the same crime, not the same set up — but people who said, "I get it." And that's awesome. It's helpful to feel not so alone in what I'm feeling.
Have I gotten some nasty comments? Yes. Not by anyone who's seen the show, and that's hard when it's something this personal. It's not someone saying, "You look fat in that dress." It's people saying that your choice is abhorrent, and that is not easy for me. But overall, part of the beauty of having the good feedback from audiences is that you're able to go "OK, I hope I'm making a difference."
Have you thought about what it would be like for you to watch this play just as the author, with someone else performing?
There's been a lot of talk about that, and it seems bananas. It would be really, really wild to sit and see it. I have a hard time going to see anything where I've created a role, like community theater productions of Next Fall. I'm fiercely protective, and for this one, I can't even imagine. But it would be interesting to go and be a playwright and help people get to the truth. A lot of people have had to be accidentally brave, apparently, and there's something comforting about knowing you're not the only one, even if you're the only one going through your particular thing.
I wrote about something that felt completely unique and completely other. I thought no one would be able to understand. I never thought I would be a part of a community again. I was afraid I would have to turn in my feminist card, my artist card, all my cards. But the fact that so many people say, "I've felt grief like this." "I've dealt with addiction and public shame." It seems to be universal.