“I think I should have an abortion. I think it’s for the best.”
It’s the choice at the heart of the stories woven into Out of the Silence: Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign, playing at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theater. It’s a fittingly-titled composite montage—a series of fictional vignettes inspired by the stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign, a grassroots advocacy organization named for the Guttmacher Institute’s finding that one in three American women will have an abortion before the age of 45.
The script—which is available to produce on a free licensing agreement from the organization’s website—takes bold cues from earlier community-sourced composites (think Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues). And it’s the product of a powerhouse team of local and nationally-recognized female playwrights: Jennifer L. Nelson (Torn from the Headlines), Karen Zacarías (The Book Club Play), Anu Yadav (‘Capers), D.W. Gregory (The Good Daughter), and others have produced 12 vignettes from over 700 abortion stories shared through the campaign. The result is a blend of the peculiar and profound; an attempt to highlight and disseminate the many varied stories that make up the unspoken human background to the impossibly-politicized abortion debate.
Among the themes is the notion of “our story.” That the decision to have an abortion—frequently and misleadingly portrayed as a choice made primarily by teenagers—is oftentimes a family affair, made by couples and with consideration to other children. The vignettes illustrate the breadth and diversity of the choice, in much the same way as The Vagina Monologues brought attention to the variety of female sexuality.
But the stories fall into a similar trap of feeling allegorical. Many of them spend their respective few minutes tracing a similar line with different characters: a couple engages in a recently-announced pregnancy, weighs their options, decides to have an abortion, embraces, and reaffirms their commitment to each other. Variety of circumstance and background are on point (notable here is Nelson’s poignant “Darnell & Shenay,” which draws attention to connected issues of poverty and race), as are the vignettes that deal with more tangential issues (Yadev’s “Wrestling with Choice,” engaging in the intersection between politics and friendship).
Out of the Silence: Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign
by Allyson Currin, D.W. Gregory, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Nicole Jost, Jacqueline E. Lawton, Kristen LePine, Jennifer L. Nelson, Anu Yadav and Karen Zacarías
Director: Marie Sproul
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And there is undoubtedly a catharsis and relief in the public sharing of long-tabooed stories. Yet when attempting to express and expose the complex point of decision in the lives of these couples, the limited time frame for each scene feels prohibitively brief. It seems disingenuous to condense a moment so profound into vignettes so short. And when played one-after-the-other, with cycling characters, the evening comes across as a (rather progressive) set of middle school skits.
But perhaps that’s not the point. Out of the Silence is a community-driven play intended for a communal response. It’s widely-sourced and diversely-constructed, putting an emphasis on the love and commitment at the heart of the decision to have an abortion. Neither the staging, acting, or construction is revelatory. But the commitment to illuminate the families behind these choices most certainly is.
Its goal is to push these narratives from the background of the debate and into the limelight, humanizing and illuminating the women and men who make the choice to abort a pregnancy, for the near-infinite number of reasons they may choose to do so. It isn’t perfect theater, so much as a bold attempt to rise above a staid debate with a proud, collective voice.