British-born New Jersey-resident Zara Phillips – wearer of multiple hats like singer-songwriter, author, playwright, filmmaker, public speaker and adoptee rights advocate – will present the U.S. premiere of her current one-woman play, "Somebody's Daughter," based on the 2018 book of the same name Saturday, Oct. 21, at Hopewell Theater and again Saturday, Dec. 10, at Outpost in the Burbs.
The play was written and will be performed by Phillips and feature music by her husband, Richard Thompson.
Subtitled A moving journey of discovery, recovery and adoption, "Somebody's Daughter" is the most recent of Phillips' three books to offer an honest, few-if-any-holds-barred account of the frequently hidden challenges that face an adoptee.
Phillips' first book, "Chasing Away the Shadows," was self-published in 2004 and her second book, "Mother Me: An Adopted Woman's Journey to Motherhood," came out in 2011.
While the various themes cross over in the books and plays, each covers different times and parts of Phillips' story. Although the play "Somebody's Daughter" draws heavily from the book, it also is a vehicle for carrying Phillips' story forward.
Phillips states emphatically on her Facebook page, "the play is a totally new production."
I asked her how it was that she connected with Richard Thompson, who wrote the music and will perform live for the play.
"Well," she started, "we're married."
I told Phillips I appreciated her clearing that up without me having to ask awkward questions. "I read conflicting reports," I told her.
"The internet needs time to catch up," she replied.
She and Thompson have been in a relationship for about six years, she told me, and she had started singing with him, which led to the two performing together.
Thompson and Phillips
"It was during the onset of COVID," she said, and "we were sitting around, thinking we needed to record music."
"So, he wrote an album – and I wrote an album," she said.
"Mine is called "Meditation and KitKats."
That made me laugh.
"I know," Phillips said. "I enjoyed finding that title."
She then wrote the play "Somebody's Daughter" and knew she wanted music in it. "I didn't want to ask Richard (Thompson) – he's so busy," she said, "but he said he would like to do it."
I recently read the book and told Phillips how it surprised me that she could talk candidly about her life, even the sad and scary parts. I asked if she was introspective by nature or whether that came about from writing about her life.
She paused, then said, "When one is adopted, one doesn't have information about oneself. So, you often stand back and do a lot of observing.
"Adoptees tend to be quite tuned in. We think we might hear some nuggets about ourselves.
"But writing did help me clarify things."
I also told Phillips that her open communication style was very refreshing.
"I had never spoken about any of this before I got into recovery when I was 22," Phillips said. "I didn't talk about anything.
"I was a young person who felt like I needed to keep so much to myself. I had to live the secret – everything's fine; nothing's wrong.
"I kept so many feelings inside; it was like they were bursting out.
"The alcohol and drugs helped to keep them down.
"There's this saying in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), ‘We're only as sick as our secrets.’ And when I went to meetings, I was in rooms where people spoke freely about their lives and all the things they had done before they got sober.
"It was liberating for me and, slowly, I began to reveal myself.
"When I was first writing, I had a conversation with someone, and I told this person that I didn't think I could write about the drugs. But she reminded me that as an adoptee who was able to speak about my experiences, I could help so many people.”
"But then they're going to know…." Phillips told her.
The person replied, 'Oh, so you mean that you're going to have to stay sober now?'
"And she was right," Phillips said. "I felt like I had to use what I had learned to help others."
A point that Phillips made several times during our conversation is that the impact of being an adoptee not only affects people in childhood but can result in lifelong hardship. "There are all these things we carry," she said, "thoughts that we're not good enough, that we were the second choice, that someone didn't want us.
"I'm not saying this is true of everyone who is adopted, and I'm happy for adoptees and their families when there is understanding and support, but we also must acknowledge that isn't always the way it is.
"Adoptees often feel disconnected, like they don't belong anywhere."
Even those with a caring family and a stable home life still bring along unanswered questions and unexplained emotions. And this is further complicated by feelings of guilt and disloyalty that may arise if adoptees decide to search for their birth parents.
"It's called the triad – the adoptee, the adoptive parents and the birth parents," Phillips said.
"The issues are very complicated.
"The truth is, that adoption comes from loss. Adoption is grief. And, especially for children, if grief is not acknowledged, it gets turned inward.”
And the adoptee is not the only one who deals with the grief. "There was no support back when my mother was going through it," Phillips said. "There was nowhere for her to go.”
Fortunately, things have been changing. "There is a lot of help out there these days for adoptees and their families," she said.
And the play dives deeply into all these topics and more with personal insights, tenderness, and humor.
"You'll laugh, and you'll probably cry," Phillips said. "It's quite funny."
In 2009, Phillips wrote and produced a short documentary called "Roots: Unknown," which brings together interviews with adult adoptees and their spouses to show the complexities and feelings surrounding the adoption experience. The film has been used as a teaching tool for professionals working with adopted families and won the award for Homegrown Documentary Short at the Garden State Film Festival.
In 2011, Phillips co-wrote the song "I'm Legit," with Darryl McDaniels from RUN DMC to bring to light adoptees' rights in the U.S. to obtain their birth records.
Phillips and McDaniels
Additional materials and resources are listed in the back of the book “Somebody’s Daughter.”