Marlene and Leanne

Marlene and Leanne use their everyday lives as inspiration for their comedy-improv show.

Their mission: To laugh at life’s most routine moments. Their vision: As memorable as mom jeans. Transplants Leanne Schmidt and Marlene Strang make up the Ladies in the Headlights, a physical comedy show that combines theater, improvisation, movement and, most importantly, fun.

From Buffalo, N.Y. and Detroit, Mich., Schmidt and Strang met back in 2003 when they were attending Arizona State University. They became friends and bonded over their love of dance. Years later, they decided to combine their talents as moms and dancers, add a dash of comedy and start an improv show.

“We created a piece in 2016 about breastfeeding titled ‘Cluster Feed,’ and these characters were developed, and they just stuck,” Strang said. “Our lives as mothers and wives primarily inspire our work. We love drawing on life’s everyday moments and showing how ridiculous and awkward a lady’s life can be.”

When they’re not performing, the ladies work in dance education. Strang is an adjunct professor of dance, and Schmidt works as a dance specialist for the North Valley Arts Academies in Paradise Valley. They’re both moms to two kids.

They are both professionally trained dancers and have performed at Triskelion Arts in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Beta Dance Festival in Phoenix, Center for Visual Arts in Denver, the Regional Alternative Dance Festival in Kalamazoo, and were showcased at the 50th anniversary of Dance at ASU. 

The idea for Ladies in the Headlights came about as a result of the pandemic.

“We were getting so sick of screens for our children, for ourselves, and we had to find a way to create and experience without the use of screens,” Schmidt said.

“Since we are both teachers and moms, once we became quarantined, our whole lives moved to the screen. We were working on the computer. Our kids were doing school on the computer, we had meetings on the computer, etc.,” Strang said. “We were feeling fed up with looking at screens. We decided it would be great to get people out for a safe but fun evening and bring some life back to our community, not to mention our own lives.”

The idea is simple: head to the venue, park your car and turn on your headlights. Attendees will be able to listen/hear the music for the show through their car radio and watch the Ladies perform their act.

“As people panicked to buy groceries and things like toilet paper, we saw a lot of people lined up outside of businesses to get first dibs. There are also people getting together outside, six feet apart, to have a little socialization time,” Strang said. “In Ladies in the Headlights, the ladies are out waiting for businesses to open, while socializing six feet apart. Our audience members have just shown up a little later than we have.”

Along with the Headlights show, Schmidt and Strang are also the creators of Let Your Lady Out and Ladies Gone Mild, two self-guided shows that allow participants to explore a pop-up boutique resort and a panel of self-help gurus.

“We love allowing participation in a fun and social experience,” Schmidt said. “We always create opportunities for the audience to influence what happens in our shows through participating or not. No show is ever the same, which is so exciting. We love to laugh, and we get so much joy in making what we do accessible to everyone.”

Schmidt and Strang say that the inspiration for their shows comes from juggling being parents, wives, homemakers, artists and teachers.

“From meals being made and not eaten to receiving advice about how to get rid of muffin tops, the inspiration behind our works is from the mundane and relatable parts of life. There is something that everyone can relate to in our show content,” Strang said.

In the future, The Ladies plan on continuing their shows and bringing them to venues around Phoenix. They also recently started a non-profit to provide improv workshops to businesses and groups.

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