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BWW Interview: REMARKABLY NORMAL by Jessi Blue Gormezano, Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign - Comes to Austin's Paramount Theatre

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Theatre can be many things to many people, sometimes it's a hearty laugh when you need it the most, sometimes it's a cathartic drama that touches the heart or rips at your gut, but theatre is best when it opens a dialogue between opposing sides. Seeing another point of view through the eyes of a character on stage has opened the minds of millions to new ideas since ancient times. One such play is making its way around the country and will make a one night stop here in Austin at the Paramount Theatre. REMARKABLY NORMAL by Jessi Blue Gormezano, Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign, is a new look at the controversial topic of abortion rights.
We talked to the folks at the 1 in 3 Campaign to find out more about their show.

BWW: What is the 1 in 3 Campaign all about?

1 in 3: We launched the 1 in 3 Campaign in January 2012 as a grassroots movement designed to ignite a new conversation about abortion, through storytelling, to end the stigma around abortion care in America. We believe by sharing stories we can create a culture that is more empathetic and understanding of those who seek abortion care, and help all of us be more vocal in our support for legal, affordable and accessible abortion services. Since launching the Campaign, we have collected more than 1000 first person abortion stories and the impact abortion access has had on people's lives. We have used the stories to publish a book, created multiple art installations, conducted the first 8 hour online abortion Speakout, used the stories for an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court on the Whole Woman's Health vs Hellerstedt case and assisted student activists on more than 100 college campuses to use the stories to help young women break through the silence, build community, evoke empathy and strengthen support for access to abortion care.

BWW: Can you tell us a bit about the play?

1 in 3: We are so proud of this play. Remarkably Normal by Jessi Blue Gormezano, Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign is 90 minute documentary play, based on real stories submitted to the 1 in 3 Campaign and one-on-one interviews with our storytellers. It is an intimate, at times humorous and affirming look at an experience so many have, but so few talk about. Our phenomenal cast is made up of 5 actors, who play a total of 11 characters and through them the audience experiences the nuanced narratives of those who seek abortion care, like a young anti-abortion protestor who finds herself with an unintended pregnancy, a mother of four children who knows her family can't support another child, or a victim of sexual assault. These stories are so powerful, and perhaps unlike the typical abortion stories you hear about.

BWW: Can you tell us about the inspiration for the play?

1 in 3: The play is composed from real life stories and interviews submitted to the 1 in 3 Campaign, so those storytellers are the foundation of this play and as they are the foundation of the Campaign. We have seen how art and especially theater has been used to amplify social change movements from civil rights, to the HIV epidemic, to environmental sustainability. Theater is a great way to change minds and open hearts.

BWW: Why did you choose testimonials from women who have had abortions to tell your story?

1 in 3: Almost one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. You know someone who has had an abortion, but it's the stigma and shame that women are made to feel about abortion that prevents us from speaking about it. People are sometimes even afraid to say the word, 'abortion'. This stigma not only negatively impacts our ability to speak our truths, but also our ability to seek abortion care when we need it. It is this silence that enable anti-abortion legislation flourish. We understand that we cannot begin to advocate effectively for abortion services unless we can speak up about the important role abortion care plays in women's lives and the lives of their families.

Our playwright interviewed a number of people who have experienced abortion care to understand the nuances of their stories and the impact of abortion on their lives. She then wove their stories together to show the common threads, explore the differences of opinion, and delve deeper into the impact of people's experiences on their beliefs, their values, and the rest of their lives. The characters speak directly to the audience-as if someone in the audience is interviewing them about the issue. This direct, first person story approach is very much in line with the 1 in 3 Campaign.


BWW: With all the recent Presidential campaign rhetoric, with emotions high on both sides, how do you present such a volatile subject?

1 in 3: Many people we talk to want to move past the tired and divisive political rhetoric. Its politicians that haven't kept up. For too long negative images, harsh and polarizing rhetoric and even violence have dominated the national debate on this issue.

We present our audiences with real-life stories from women across all walks of life. These stories can help us explore the complexities, ambiguities, and circumstances surrounding women's lives and abortion. They help us contextualize their decisions, personalize their experiences. People see themselves, a friend or a family member reflected in these stories. They help us cast aside the labels, myths and even talking points and instead put women's real experiences with abortion care at the center of the debate. In short, storytelling, in this case through theater, moves us beyond political rhetoric to a more honest conversation about the role abortion plays in women's lives and in so doing, we hope builds a more culture of empathy.

BWW: Several of the cities where the play is touring are in states not particularly friendly to your cause, Have you encountered any open hostility or have you had warm welcomes in every venue?


1 in 3: Fortunately, we haven't experienced any hostility on this tour. We're lucky to be working with great partners in each of the cities such In Austin we are working with Texas Freedom Network. Because our partners have long standing ties in each of our tour locations, communities have really been welcoming and eager to see this play, and we are truly thankful for that.

BWW: Do you believe that women's rights and abortion rights are inexorably linked or are they separate topics?

1 in 3: Abortion care is one component of the continuum of reproductive and sexual health care women should be able to access, just like contraception, STI screenings or prenatal care. Women and their families should be able to determine what is best for them, given their circumstances, constraints, hopes and dreams. For too many women abortion is inaccessible if they need it--there are no providers within hundreds of miles, the cost may be prohibitive, or maybe they are afraid they will lose a job they really need if they take time off to seek services. Access to abortion care is certainly a "women's issue", but it's also a human rights issue that affects men, families and even whole communities. The question we have to ask ourselves is do we believe in every person's right to bodily autonomy, to live with dignity, and to plan for his or her own future?

BWW: What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

1 in 3: First of all, whatever you're expecting when you think about a play on abortion, this is not that! People will be pleasantly surprised by the airiness, movement and beauty throughout this play. People leave the theater saying things like, "I wish I knew about these stories before," or they start sharing their own abortion story with the people they came with. We want audiences to walk away with a sense of compassion for those that have shared their stories, and for the people in their lives who have also experiences abortion care. We want them to understand the complexities of women's lives and to not judge each other's decisions. We hope that compassion can be channeled into stronger support for abortion access. In Austin, the audience has a chance to provide their feedback during an after-show discussion that includes former state senator Wendy Davis as a panelist.

REMARKABLY NORMAL makes its appearance in Austin for just one night, May 26 at 7:00PM at the Paramount Theatre, Congress Avenue, Austin. You can reserve your seat now at 1in3campaign.org/remarkablynormal.

Photo from left to right: Evelyn Spahr, Giselda Chipe, Shanta Parasurama, Josh E. Johnson, Tracey Conyer Lee.


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