The cast of “Out of Silence,” an episodic theatre performance consisting of students and alumni, reenacted a variety of adapted stories about women deciding to have an abortion in Mendellson Theater on Friday.
Brittany Batell, a dual master’s student in the Schools of Social Work and Public Health, organized the performance in conjunction with her internship this summer with the nonprofit Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health. Batell said she selected this project to concentrate on over the summer because the theatrical aspect of “Out of Silence” resonated with her.
“I just really felt an affinity with the idea of doing public health work through creative expression and trying to help innovate health communications that way,” she said.
The performance, she added, aimed to humanize an issue that is often submerged in political discourse.
“We hear all the time about the politics of this, we hear about different definitions of personhood and we hear about statistics, and those really don’t resonate in the same way that people’s stories do because you can’t argue with that; you can’t argue with someone’s real experience,” she said.
The 1 in 3 Campaign, a national project of Advocates for Youth that aims to spark conversation about abortion, created the script of “Out of Silence” from submissions from more than 400 women concerning their experiences with abortion. They then had playwrights craft 12 different five-minute vignettes from these submissions, eight of which were part of Friday’s performance.
LSA senior Katrina Hamann, co-director of “Out of Silence,” noted how the format of the show was essential to its humanizing goal.
“Doing it with eight different stories as opposed to one play about one particular situation humanizes the issue for people who may not know what to think about abortion as more than a one-dimensional sort of issue,” she said. “So they can relate to the characters and see them in a light that is not one of shame and stigma, which is kind of the dominant narrative that this country has about reproductive justice.”
In addition to the eight vignettes that were part of the original script, Daniel Bizer-Cox, who graduated in 2013 LSA, wrote an epilogue to the performance. He said writing this piece was an attempt to articulate his emotions on this topic.
“It was very cathartic to put pen to paper about such a really important issue that’s so divisive,” he said. “I wanted to try and find a way that I could express all the feelings that I had, especially in the political climate that we live in, and it can be so oppressive and frustrating so it was nice to feel like I could actually have a voice.”
The epilogue came in the form of a slam poem and included some of the political discourse the rest of the performance avoided. Bizer-Cox called it a call to action, especially in light of the presidential election.
“The 2016 election was very prevalent in my mind when I was writing it, and I think it will come across in that as well, and it talks about a lot of the things that politicians are currently trying to do to limit access to abortion,” he said.
Overall, Hamann said the show intended to emphasize both the personal and the physical factors behind abortion.
“It’s really just getting beyond this abstract idea of abortion and really putting faces to the stories,” she said.
LSA sophomore Madison Atkins, who attended the event, said she appreciated this personal and varied approach to the issue.
“I definitely liked the gray aspects of it, that it wasn’t just ‘Oh, they were raped and then they had an abortion because they were raped,’ ” she said. “There were these different aspects that played into it that were really interesting, and I’m glad that they showed.”
Nursing sophomore Kara Hoffman said the performance resonated with her due to her planned profession.
“I’m also a nursing student, so I wanted to get the perspective from future patients, because I’m going to have patients who go through this eventually,” she said.
A talkback panel followed the performance, which included representatives from a variety of health nonprofits and health professionals.
Hamann noted the panel was an important part of helping the audience digest the themes presented in the vignettes.
“I think it would be not doing the show justice if we didn’t have some sort of talk-back just to engage the audience a little bit more,” she said.
The panel discussed stigma in relation to abortion, advocacy, general reproductive justice and personal experience. They also accepted questions from audience members.
Panelist Timothy Johnson, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University, applauded the provocative nature of the play and said many of the stories resonated with him as a physician.
“I take care of patients every day, and each one of those stories is a patient,” he said. “I’ve taken care of probably 10,000, 15,000 people who’ve terminated their pregnancy. And that’s not a big part of what I do, but I’ve heard all those stories.”
Engineering sophomore Natalia Martinez also voiced appreciation for the variety of stories, as well as the way they challenged the stigmas surrounding abortions.
“People tend to treat abortion as one evil act and they tend not to look at the bigger picture,” she said.