We were just three women having coffee together on a Saturday morning. New York is famed for its boozy brunches, and at noon on a Saturday one can walk down almost any street listening to people talk about their Friday night escapades over Mimosas and Bloody Marys. But Miranda Huba, Suzan Eraslan and I had not gathered to gossip and laugh over cocktails. This trio of politically active writers and artists has converged for strong coffee and strong words. And we didn’t dance around the topic. We cut right to the chase. We were there to talk about abortion.
Eraslan is Co-Executive Artistic Producer at MagicFuturebox, an independent theater company based in Brooklyn, and she had recently commissioned Huba, a feminist playwright, to write a play about abortion for her company. The play, Bloody Lullabies for Brave Woman, was written in response to the recent political dialogue about reproductive rights, a topic both Eraslan and Huba feel quite strongly about.
All the proceeds from the production of Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women will go to the New York Abortion Access Fund, which provides financial assistance for abortions to low-income women. MagicFuturebox chose NYAA because there is no filter in the process; all money donated to the organization goes directly to funding abortions.
This is not the first time that MagicFuturebox has produced a work to benefit people in need; after the 2011 tsunami the company donated the box office profits to victims of the disaster.
After witnessing the recent political debate regarding reproductive rights, Eraslan said she felt the need to do respond through her work. Citing the all-male Congressional panel on birth control as well as Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” for using birth control, Eraslan knew she to do something.
“What’s the point of having a space and production company if you can’t use it for good?” she asked, mentioning a lack of plays about abortion that do not follow the model of a dysfunctional family making a decision. Rather than produce a play that was already written, Eraslan contacted Huba and asked her to write an original play about the topic.
Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women is described as “an abortion fairy tale” that explores the process women go through when having an abortion instead of focusing on the decision to have one. It is not set in a clinic, but rather a forest, and Huba said her play differs from other works about abortion because it is not a confessional play with a tragic or agonizing tone. Acknowledging that these topics can be difficult for people to talk about, Huba stressed the importance of accessibility in her work, saying, “To go and see a play where you’re really kind of punting some serious, dark stuff, there has to be a level of empowerment and also entertainment…There has to be something that’s kind of magical.”
“We’re not going to tell everyone’s story,” Eraslan said. “We should never say that we’re speaking for everybody. My major frustration with the stories coming from the right and the left was that either side presumed to introduce one story that spoke for everybody. This doesn’t presume to be the beginning and the end of the discussion. It’s the beginning of a discussion.”
When responding to the political dialogue that inspired the commission of Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women, Huba described the discussion and debate as being “insane,” saying, “I felt the need to channel that kind of nuttiness into something artistic and poetic. It doesn’t seem that poetic when watching Fox, but there’s an amazing drama about it that’s being played out.”
“What’s happening on Fox is a drama,” Eraslan added. “It’s set up with these passionate speeches, so it’s time for us to turn around and say, ‘Great. We’re going to do it too!’”
Huba, who is from Canada, described the two-party political system of America and its approach to health care and reproductive rights as “boggling her mind.” She expressed surprise that a person’s opinion on reproductive rights can be defining of their political stance, saying reproductive rights signify much more than whether one is conservative or liberal.
“It’s connected to health care. It’s connected to environmental justice, immigration…That’s why I think in many ways this show opens the dialogue for many different discussions,” she said. “When it comes down to it, it’s really about health care and how we get the services we need in this country.”
As she watched and read about the debate over reproductive rights, Eraslan described the tipping point as being when “the left wing began playing in the right wing’s ballfield” and justifying the need for an abortion. Citing stories about upper middle class white women who were married and required an abortion for medical reasons, she described the dialogue surrounding “good” abortions and “bad” ones, with “good” abortions depicted as being needed by a married woman who, for a medical reason, is forced to abort the child she wants to carry to term and “bad” abortions portrayed as being needed by unmarried teenagers who are sexually promiscuous.
“The idea is that women know what is right for their bodies,” Huba said. “They will make the correct decision for themselves.”
As the topics of incest and rape entered the discussion surrounding abortion, the topic of Representative Todd Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” does not result in pregnancy was inevitably raised.
Responding to Akin’s statement, Eraslan said, “It would seem to me that the only consideration whether one gets pregnant when raped is not the ‘legitimacy’ of the rape, but whether you are ovulating,” she said. “We’re not 100% of the time walking around like ticking time bombs ready to conceive.”
The varied and complex reasons that factor into a decision to to have an abortion, whether because of rape, incest or any other consideration, is what excited Huba about writing Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women. When working on the play, she interviewed numerous people and said the amount of people willing to share their experiences with her was amazing and further validated the importance of producing a play like this one.
Stressing the importance of a safe place for women to talk about their experiences, Eraslan credited the public perception of women who have abortions as perpetuating a stereotype
and hopes her play will help to adjust that point of view.
The perception of women in modern society and the shifting gender roles in relationships has provided an interesting backdrop to the debate about reproductive rights. Eraslan credits the rise in high-level, high-income professional women with frightening some politicians, saying,“Surprise! If you give us an opportunity, we’re good at it. I think that’s terrifying to the old guard of politicians especially. Suddenly our desires and our choices are supported by ourselves.”
The choice of some women to not be mothers also tied into Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women, as Huba talked with numerous women who were judged for their decision to not have children.
“It’s very, very interesting,” she said. “There is some sort of threat if women are fully empowered in terms of their reproductive systems and their bodies.”
“There is a very genuine fear and distrust of women who don’t want to be mothers,” Eraslan added. “It does make the point that just because you don’t want to be a mother doesn’t mean you hate babies or that you hate people who are having babies – that you’re some sort of monstrous Kronos devouring his children Goya painting. That’s sort of what’s portrayed. As if I’m going to go out like Herod and slaughter children. That’s what’s portrayed. It makes it about other people and not about the woman herself. If she doesn’t want to be a mother then she hates babies, not that she has made a choice for herself not to be a mother.”
While interviewing both women and men about abortion, Huba was surprised by some of the statements she heard, including, “Don’t have sex with him unless you can imagine him being the father of your babies,” or “There are no accidental pregnancies.”
“Even people who are pro-choice will throw out these things that make me go, ‘Do you know what you’re saying?’” Huba said. “It’s disempowering. Like I’m only having sex because eventually I will get pregnant.”
Eraslan added, “My pleasure is only purchased by setting myself up to eventually be a mother. Otherwise I don’t have any entitlement to enjoying and having fun with my body.”
The entire creative team of Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women is female, which was a deliberate choice made by Eraslan due to the topic of the show as well as in a response to a recent outcry against the Guthrie Theater for selecting works written by and directors that are white men for their upcoming season. (When asked about this choice, Guthrie Director Joe Dowling stated, “…one thing I want to be very clear about, tokenism is the worst thing you can do.”)
But Eraslan said when MagicFuturebox issued the audition call for Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women, they received a strong response from women expressing a desire to work on a play about abortion.
Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women will be performed November 1-5 at MagicFutureBox. (Tickets can be purchased here.) The choice to stage the show immediately before the presidential election is a strategic one, as the subject of the show has been such a widely discussed topic in the electoral season.
Producing politically and socially active shows is important to Eraslan, who said, “By large, people are putting on shows that are pretty people talking about their feelings. I’m just not interested in making that kind of work. I’ve never been as excited and passionate about doing a show as I am about this one. It’s something that I very strongly believe needs to be communicated and at the end of the day, it’s not about, ‘I want to have my artistic expression in front of people.’ It’s about making sure people have access to health care.”
The practical aspects of health insurance and abortion can be difficult to assess, and Eraslan mentioned that numerous women do not know their health insurances will cover one elective abortion per year. The lack of knowledge regarding this aspect of American health care was very surprising to her.
“[Abortion] is talked about so much, in a very intellectualized, politicized way that it’s kind of infuriating that it can’t be talked about in a personal and practical way,” Eraslan said. “Abortion is not theoretical. It happens.”
With Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women, Eraslan and Huba hope to inspire more conversation about abortion within the audience.
“We’re not interested in making something people have to endure,” Eraslan said. “We want them to enjoy. I hope that everybody who comes out and sees this leaves and thinks about becoming more active and defending and supporting reproductive justice. But if they just show up and have a good time…if nothing else, they’ve given their time and money for someone to afford an abortion.”