Shining the spotlight on reality
The controversial issue of abortion is a topic that has the ability to polarize – you’re either for it or against it.
In the case of The Abortion Monologues, the goal is not to divide, but rather shed some light on the reality of the issue, explains the playwright.
Written by former MRU instructor Jane Cawthorne, the play will make its Canadian debut at Mount Royal on Feb. 4.
“I would say that it is a compassionate look at women’s lives,” says Cawthorne. “These are stories that don’t get told, still, because there is a fear of retribution, reprisal and judgment.
“[The actors] talk about their lives through talking about their abortions, and it’s impossible for a woman to talk about her abortion without talking about her life and her family and her relationships.”
After more than seven years as a women studies instructor at Mount Royal, Cawthorne says that she left teaching to pursue writing, which she says she has always loved.
Cawthorne found herself putting aside the theory that she had once taught in the classroom and trying to focus on the real women behind the issue.
“I didn’t know what I was writing at first,” says Cawthorne. “I’ve heard a lot of women’s stories over a couple of decades…and I always thought that their stories were so vastly different from the rhetoric that goes on.”
After years of involvement in the women’s movement and working with women-serving agencies such as Planned Parenthood, she says she has heard numerous stories, all of which are different.
Through a series of 23 monologues, performed by female actors ranging from teenagers to seniors, Cawthorne explains that her goal was to showcase a variety of individual stories. While the original version is made up of 23 monologues, the adaptation being put on at Mount Royal will only have 19.
“Why so many? Because I don’t want it to get bogged down in the particular circumstances of one person’s life,” says Cawthorne. “There are a lot of circumstances and I’ve put as many in there that I think an audience can sit through.”
The play was first presented in April 2009 in Portland, Ore. and Cawthorne says it has since been produced in other cities. According to Cawthorne, the play is currently being produced in Iowa City, Iowa in response to the murder of Dr. George Tiller.
Tiller was an abortion doctor who was shot last May while attending church in Wichita, Kansas. He was one of few doctors to perform late-term abortions.
“The people producing it in Iowa City, they decided to do this as a response to the murder of Dr. George Tiller last year and I’m really honoured by that, that they would choose this as a way to respond to that murder,” says the playwright.
Now that the play has made its way to Canada, Cawthorne says that she is excited about Mount Royal being the venue and seeing her work performed under the direction of Tarra Lo•s Riley.
Before becoming the director, Riley offered her advice to Cawthorne during the writing process and said that it was the honesty of the monologues that really impressed her. As the founder and former artistic director of Broad Minds Theatre, a female-minded theatre company, Riley is no stranger to women’s issues.
“I actually thought that I had sort of explored everything I wanted to explore artistically around the subject, and then I realized that this is far more than anything I had explored before,” explains Riley. “If absolutely nothing else, [the play is] a new way of actually looking at the subject.”
Riley says that when she began working on The Abortion Monologues, she realized how many women this subject affects.
“I didn’t know that that story was so common, if you will, and once we started working in terms of the actual direction and everything else, it was amazing the stories that came out that were so honest and overwhelming,” she says. “Almost every woman – well, I would say in my experience every women – has had to deal with this subject.”
While the topic of abortion may be a contentious one, both Cawthorne and Riley explain that The Abortion Monologues serve to offer a different point of view than the polarized ones that are commonly presented.
“I think it’s a difficult, difficult subject matter and I think that when you are faced with the realities in whatever way, it can change your perspective,” says Riley.
This one-night performance has already sold out; however, if you wish to purchase the right and stage your own production visit www.abortionmonologues.com.