- Nick Fleming
There are a million and one reasons why a person might get an abortion. Maybe they were assaulted and the pregnancy is deeply unwanted. Maybe they have a medical condition making pregnancy extremely dangerous. Or maybe they just don't want to be pregnant. Despite more than four post-Roe v. Wade decades and millions of people taking advantage of legal abortion services for myriad reasons, Americans have a hard time shaking away the miasma of shame surrounding the procedure.
This lingering stigma is exactly what inspired Remarkably Normal, produced by the Salt Lake Acting Co. in partnership with Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. Written in 2016 by playwright Jessi Blue Gormezano, the performance features real-life stories shared through the 1 in 3 Campaign (1in3campaign.org), a grassroots movement dedicated to talking about people's abortion experiences. The campaign is inspired by the oft-repeated statistic that one in three women will have an abortion during their lifetime (according to the American Journal of Public Health, as of 2017, the statistic is now 1 in 4). The production represents part of Planned Parenthood's annual fundraiser, and also marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. All proceeds from the performance go directly to Utah's Planned Parenthood.
Some of these stories are remarkably matter-of-fact: a college sophomore speaks frankly about her abortion freeing her to pursue an athletic career; a young career woman gushes gratitude over not being pregnant. Others are incredibly raw and painful: A mother talks about the severe physical trauma of her first pregnancy, while teenagers write about being pushed into sexual situations they weren't ready for. All share the larger goal of breaking the silence around abortion. Katrina Barker, communications and marketing coordinator for Planned Parenthood, says hearing these stories gives a human face to dry statistics and abstract morality arguments.
"I believe strongly that the arts can touch hearts and minds in ways that a lecture can't. This play is able to bring together a wide variety of stories andperspectivesin a concise and compelling way," she says. "I think anyone who sees it will walk away with a greater appreciation for the complexity and diversity of circumstances that bring women to the choice to terminate a pregnancy."
Remarkably Normal tells true experiences through a lightly staged reading, complete with music and transitions. But for Cynthia Fleming, SLAC executive artistic director, one of the most interesting parts of the show comes in the setup: Each character is being interviewed, and the audience is the interviewer.
"As an audience member, you're not going to actively be asked to do or be something," Fleming says. "But I think it creates a little more of an intimate conversation between the audience and the actor and the character."
The show's 11 roles are portrayed by a mix of professional actors and high-profile Utah women like Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City; Mindy Young, development director for Equality Utah; and Theresa Martinez, sociology professor at the University of Utah. Olivia Custodio, development director for SLAC, says while it's always the actor's responsibility to inhabit a character and make it their truth, there's something more powerful going on here.
"You can really feel that connection much more when you know that it is a real person," Custodio says. "And to be honest, I think that's a big responsibility, because these people gave their permission for their stories to be used, and it makes it really special when you know you're doing this on behalf someone else for everyone else who may not have had the opportunity or courage to speak their truth yet."
Producing Director Janice Jenson considers documentary-style theater an important experience for the audience as well. "I think as an audience member and as a community member to know that this is someone's actual story, there's power in that, and I think that it empowers you to tell your own story," she says.
Fleming, Custodio and Jenson all acknowledge the importance of Planned Parenthood and the comforting presence it's had in their lives. While it's likely most attendees of Remarkably Normal don't need to be convinced of Planned Parenthood's value and are similarly committed to the organization's community presence, Barker says the night will still provide a valuable experience in allowing people to speak their truth.
"I feel confident the audience will leave feeling uplifted, and with a greater appreciation for the importance of comprehensive reproductive health care and access to abortion services," Barker says. "I hope they will be more willing to speak up for those rights with their friends and family and get more involved in the political process to protect those rights."