New Pro-Choice Generation Has A Stage To Voice Themselves
ReproRights! Theater Gives Women A Whole New Way To Speak Out For Their Reproductive Rights
by Heather Cassell
In a perfect world, women would have control of their bodies.
However, the war on women continues and has rebounded stronger than ever within recent years thanks to the U.S. House and Senate currently “under anti-choice control,” says Jennifer Roberts, co-founder and producer of ReproRights! Theater.
“South Carolina’s House passed a bill that would ban abortion for pregnant people facing tragic situations and [it] does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. Physicians who provide abortion care would face penalties of up to $10,000, and up to three years in prison,” says Jennifer, 48. “Women are imprisoned for engaging in activities that put fetuses at risk. Women of color make up the majority of these imprisoned women.”
That’s not all, just check the American Civil Liberties Union list of all of the various ways that women’s bodies are under attack on the state and federal level. These restrictions include: “restricting contraception; cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood; state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds; abortion taxes; abortion waiting periods; forcing women to tell their employers why they want birth control, and prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies,” says Jennifer.
The future looks bleak for women, especially if Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who declared “women must be punished” for their abortions, and his running mate former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who has led a crusade against access to abortion and the LGBTQ community during his administration. Not to mention the other crazy punishments current Republic politicians, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s desire to “obstruct abortions for women affected by the Zika virus, a virus known to cause birth defects in unborn children,” and Mike’s states lawmakers mandating that “miscarried and aborted babies must be buried and cremated, an undue burden of expense and emotional trauma forced upon women,” she continues rattling off other assaults upon women, such as the “continued blocking of access to contraception and health care, forced ultra-sounds, laws with arbitrary waiting periods; defunding Planned Parenthood, which offers many vital, health benefits to women and men, families who can’t afford health care elsewhere.”
“Unfortunately, it’s a battle we still need to fight. The U.S. House and Senate are currently under anti-choice control,” says Jennifer. “Political theater is vitally important.”
This is why a theater focused on plays about reproductive rights is important.
“Theater is transformative, therefore a powerful tool to use,” says Jennifer, who will present new works to theatergoers tonight, Thursday, August 25 at the ReproRights! Women and the Body Politic at 7:30 p.m. at the 3Girls Theatre Company’s New Works Festival at Thick House (1695 18th Street, 415-746-9238, thickhouse.org) in San Francisco, California.
This is the second year that ReproRights! Theater is participating in the New Works Festival. The night will be filled with special guests speaker Amy Everitt, executive director of NARAL – Pro Choice California, the beneficiary of the sold out evening that will be livestreamed on Howlround TV 2.
Like last year’s New Works Festival on Women@Risk, the night will be filed with short play readings, monologues and performance pieces centering on women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.
“The plays look at women and contraception, abortion, sex, the right to choose, women’s agency in controlling their bodies and their lives, pregnancy tests, and in vitro fertilization,” says Jennifer.
“It’s important to tell stories that aren’t often heard. We won’t be silent. It’s important not to be silent, not to relent,” she adds.
She hopes that the audience will be “moved by the stories” and “inspired to take action,” Jennifer says.
The Miracle Of Theater
ReproRights! Theater was the brainchild of playwright Patricia Milton who brought her idea for the theater to the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco in 2012.
At the time Jennifer was the president of the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco.
“We loved the idea. We had just gone through the 2010 midterm [elections] and it was clear women’s bodily autonomy would be under attack,” said Jennifer. “By the end of 2011, states had introduced 1,100 provisions to restrict abortion access and enacted 135 laws. It was record-breaking!”
The theater’s first show at the Brava Theater Center raised money for Planned Parenthood in San Francisco. The performance was only supposed to be for that evening, however, Jennifer kept an eye on the political scene. She was horrified as she watched the growing war on women ensuing by ideologues continued to attack women’s bodies and family planning programs and providers to critical, life-saving fetal tissue research.
By 2015, “the war on women and their bodies only intensified,” says Jennifer, who couldn’t stand by any longer. She reunited the team that put the first theater production together: Patricia, Madeline Puccioni, and Jeremy Cole, who was the writer and committee member for ReproRights! Jeremy has since moved on from theater company, says Jennifer.
The goal of the theater is to produce an evening of “short works on the subject of women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy,” says Jennifer, and to raise awareness, “not only for reproductive rights advocacy organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice California, but to raise awareness of the community that there is advocacy, there is a way to be heard and to fight back.”
“We just had to bring this into the theater. What can the theater do to raise these issues that are so important to us?” asks AJ Baker, co-founder, producer and artistic director, and resident playwright of 3Girls Theatre Company and executive producer of the New Works Festival.
ReproRights! Theater continues to grow, however, the theater retains its safe space and small community atmosphere that allows women to speak out and write about their experiences with their bodies and laws governing their reproductive rights.
“This subject (bodily autonomy) has not left one woman untouched,” says Jennifer.
“I’ve seen ‘taboo’ and underrepresented subject matter start to make its way into our submissions. I’ve seen a wider set of experiences come out, and that’s because we’ve created a space where it isn’t ‘taboo,’ where it’s safe to talk about it,” she continues. “Providing a safe space to write women’s stories allows us to break down these ‘taboo’ barriers and help normalize women’s bodies and experiences and give us control over them.”
This is why she hopes more women – women of color, women from all economic classes and cultures – will find ReproRights! To tell their stories, she says.
“We are all affected by laws governing our bodies, but our experiences can be vastly different. We need to hear those differences. Understand them so we can make change that benefits all women,” says Jennifer.
Jennifer and her team plans to reproduce the ReproRights! Theater show a couple of days before the November 6 election at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, 415-816-3691, pianofight.com) in San Francisco, California. The date and details of the show will be announced soon, however, it can be viewed via livestream at the New Works Festival.
The New Works Festival is August 22 – 28 at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street in San Francisco. Open free to the public. Seats go fast, reserve your seat today. For more information, call 415-746-9238 or visit, 3girlstheatre.org or thickhouse.org.
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