Essential oils – typically distilled from aromatic plants like lavender, lemon, peppermint, bergamot, and eucalyptus – have been around for centuries. The ancient Egyptians used them for embalming and mummifying. Medical icon Hippocrates is believed to have advised patients in Ancient Greece that “healing begins with an aromatic bath and daily massage,” and contemporary proponents believe that essential oils relieve illnesses ranging from headaches to insomnia.
Kate Fossner of Phoenixville, stage manager at People’s Light Theater in Malvern, began sharing her favorite oils with exhausted thespian colleagues to help them relax and re-energize during particularly stressful productions.
“We did our pantos, a Christmas show that can be pretty exhausting … with a pretty hectic schedule,” recalls Fossner. “I had discovered essential oils through my acupuncturist and had done my own research to learn more about them. I knew how much they helped me. Whenever our actors felt sick or particularly tired during the Pantos season, I mixed an oil blend to make them feel better. “
Fortunately, these blends did just that, and – supported by the collective thumbs up of their colleagues and their own growing knowledge base – Fossner slowly created a range of natural household and body products. Alluding to his and her theatrical roots, the line evolved into a retail brand called The Backstage Apothecary, which is currently available online and on Saturdays at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market.
The brand offers handmade body butters, roll-ons, sprays and mists, bar soaps, foaming hand soaps, salt scrubs, wellness blends and beard oils … each a simple blend of fragrant, chemical-free ingredients.
According to Fossner, olfactory honesty underpins the collection.
“You actually smell the peel of an orange or a lavender,” she says. “I want people to know exactly where each of these products came from, so I don’t use any chemical additives or preservatives. I don’t want people to look at a label and wonder what really contributed to what’s in the bottle. “
So far, the response has been positive, although Fossner says she has no plans to commit financial murder or retire her Actors’ Equity Association résumé anytime soon.
“At first it was basically just friends and theater connections,” she says. “I created the website just before Christmas in 2018 so it helped sales to be on vacation. This is really something I do for fun … and because it’s something I really believe in. I came to the farmers market this year so I could reach different people. And the farmers market community was great … very supportive. “
There was a flaw along the way – a respiratory virus that coincided with the birth of daughter Liza in 2015 and decimated Fossner’s olfactory sense for five years.
“I got it back last year, which was ironic as it was right around the time so many people lost their sense of smell from COVID,” she says. “Mine came back little by little, and actually came and went over the course of a year. So I was still doing mixes, but I did this with a lot of help from the cast from People’s Light and my wife Lily.
“Still, it was… very satisfying. I’ve always loved helping people make them feel better, even if just a little bit – helping them sleep better or just putting a smile on their face when they wash their hands . The simple joys. “
Backstage pharmacy supplies, including Lily Fossner’s pure cotton face masks, can be ordered on Saturdays at www.backstageapothecary.com or purchased in person at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market on 200 Mill Street under the Gay Street Bridge along the French Creek Trail between 10am and 12pm Clock. Local farmers and artisanal food producers, artisans, artists and providers of other sustainable products and services are also represented at the weekly market. Visit www.phoenixvillefarmersmarket.org for more details.