Art is an engine of culture, both as a reinforcement of our ideals and as a critique of our norms. Art is intrinsically linked to our perceptions of ourselves, on an individual and societal level, of who and what we consider to be “Us”, “normal”, “acceptable” as opposed to “Other”, “aberrant” or “wrong”.
Art is vital to movements for rights and visibility.
It reminds an audience of the impact of politics and morals on their own lives and on the lives of those across town, different but not dissimilar to their own. This is especially true of the movement for reproductive freedom, as decisions surrounding how and whether or not to have children and the ability to parent these children; are universal. Everyone will be faced with these decisions in some form in their own lives.
Yet most topics that fall under the purview of this movement are still relegated to whispers in private – birth control, abortion, infertility, sexual assault, birth, pregnancy loss, sex education. As a result, it has been all too easy for our soundbite centric political discourse to inhibit constructive discussion of these issues and push forward a destructive, oppressive legislative agenda that seeks to strip us all of agency over our own bodies and futures.
Storytelling and performative works on these subjects are vitally important in educating audiences and motivating them to change the culture of silence and shame surrounding some of the most omnipresent and complex human experiences. Abortion speakouts, while nothing new, are proliferating rapidly – Melissa Madera’s The Abortion Diary podcast, Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign, #ShoutYourAbortion, and Abortion Looks Like, to name a few.
I am honored to be part of a team contributing to this growing artistic mission to share a wide range of reproductive issues, including abortion, with a live audience in NYC and with viewers afar via livestream. The Reproductive Freedom Festival, a Words of Choice production, will be held on March 20th at 5:30pm EST. This collection of 25 new monologues, short plays, and poems, staged by 6 directors, seeks to recognize and celebrate the fundamental human right to bodily autonomy and the ability to define the creation of one’s own family.
In Laura Shamas’ play, two anthropologists discover the first directions for birth control – over 4,000 years ago, while in The Pill by Laura Zhatos, a woman encounters an absurd interaction with a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription. In Jessica Litwak’s play, lawyer Sarah Weddington meets for the first time with Norma, the woman who will become the plaintiff in the 1973 Roe v. Wade, while Judith Arcana writes movingly about a meeting of Jane, which provided pre-Roe abortions in Chicago and Jessica Feder-Birnbaum describes unexpected pregnancy and decision about abortion in the 21st century.
Yvette Heyliger writes about the shock of middle age (she also will perform it), and Allie Costa shares in Two Girls the way that sexual assault lives on in haunting memories. Jeremy Rishe presents a nightmare phone conversation with a health insurance operator and teens from the High School for Health Professionals present their own sketches on bodily autonomy. Angela Bonavoglia writes about a woman who doesn’t see motherhood as her ideal, and Junita Middleton describes how complicated unwed motherhood will be for a Nigerian woman. Winter Miller, drawing from her play Spare Rib, shows the absurdity of thinking of fetuses as born persons.
A duo of plays tell, from differing perspectives, the horror of a pregnant woman shackled in prison. Marge Piercy’s poem, My heroines, gives thanks to the women and activists who stay up late and get up early to get out the word, escort at clinics, and keep a movement going.
As Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilić observed in Design of Dissent “Art can’t change anything except people – but art changes people, and people can make everything change.” Join our online community on March 20th as we add to the voices seeking to change people’s hearts, minds, and, hopefully, their legislative leanings.
Rachel Goddard is a NYC based production manager, stage manager and events professional. She has worked on productions at Carnegie Hall, events spaces, and several Off-Broadway theaters. She is a current member of the Planned Parenthood of NYC Activist Council and relishes the opportunity to merge her background in theater with her longtime support of reproductive justice issues. She has previously worked with Words of Choice on the Reproductive Justice Walking Tour, exploring the history of reproductive issues in Tribeca/SoHo/West Village neighborhoods.