Some names have been omitted from this article due to the request of the interviewees.
The conversation I’m viewing is intimate: one between friends.
Someone sits at a table, a carafe and two coffee cups on the table in front of her. Her friend paces anxiously in front of her, staring out the window at the unseen and unheard, yet present body of protestors outside.
On any given Wednesday, the same conversation might be happening in Fargo. On First Avenue North in Downtown Fargo, protestors walk in front of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion provider in the state of North Dakota.
And that’s what this conversation is about. Abortion.
On Feb. 2 and 3, Newfangled Theatre Company, the student-run theatre group at North Dakota State, is performing “Out of Silence,” a collection of brief plays on abortion originally published by nonprofit organization Advocates for Youth.
In 2015, Advocates for Youth launched the 1 in 3 Campaign, and commissioned playwrights around the country to contribute their storytelling ability to “Out of Silence.”
According to the campaign’s website, the mission of the play was to “create a new conversation about abortion and move beyond the political rhetoric and divisive debate to a more personal understanding of the role abortion plays in women’s lives.”
“One day, the staff at Advocates for Youth, frustrated with the politicized debate that continued to threaten abortion access, began a discussion about what was needed to create a new cultural narrative around abortion — one steeped in empathy, cognizant of the complexities of women’s lives and supportive of safe abortion access for all women,” said Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, in a forward to “Out of Silence.” “We recognized that we needed to speak more from our hearts — to tell our personal stories, to give a face to the experiences of women throughout the ages.”
The title for the campaign, 1 in 3, harkens to the statistic that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
As Newfangled was planning their 2018-19 season, which includes their 7/11 Project and a full-length production, they began researching different projects they could perform that complied with their mission to “challenge and enlighten” audiences.
They found “Out of Silence.”
Immediately, the show appealed to director Molly Vines.
“Last year, when my school schedule permitted, I volunteered at the Red River Women’s Clinic escorting,” she explained. “So, I felt like that gave me a better understanding of the process of getting an abortion and everything that goes on pre-medical situation.”
The show is comprised of 12 different plays, each telling a different experience of abortion, a different woman’s story.
One story, titled “Ruah,” tells the story of Alexis, a college student who is terrified not of pregnancy itself, but the discovery of pregnancy — what it means, what consequences it brings, the whole life-changing experience it produces.
Another story, “Dear Harriet,” describes what happens after an abortion is made public. Harriet, an author, publishes her story and receives a slew of hate mail and death threats. But she also receives an anonymous letter, someone thanking her. And that makes all the difference.
Yet another story, one referenced at the beginning of this article, is titled “The Line,” and is a conversation between two friends, sharing a cup of coffee before one makes an irreversible, personal and politicized decision.
And still there are more. All told, there were more than 700 similar stories submitted to 1 in 3. The play could have lasted for days, not hours.
Newfangled is performing most of the shows from the original script.
“It was an easy choice, for me, to do most of them because they’re really personal and I connected with them,” Vines said. “All of these stories are really short, but they’re so personal and intimate. And I feel like the main vision from Newfangled and our production team is to really get down to the realism of these are real people and real circumstances. This is real life.”
Actors were also excited to be a part of the production and storytelling of something that can be polarizing.
“Norma,” one of the actresses in the show, said, “This production is just something that many people wouldn’t do, in general. It’s a topic that’s sensitive to a lot people, and it’s something many people don’t want to talk about and people have specific sides that they think.”
“Millie,” another actress, was apprehensive when she first heard about Newfangled’s chosen play. But she grew to admire what the production was trying to accomplish: “It brings a light to the people around you, even if they don’t really want to turn that light on quite yet. It just kind of brings it up to their face.”
Newfangled, Vines and the actors are aware the show is extremely divisive. It’s nearly impossible to discuss abortion without hearing a stance, one way or the other. However, “Out of Silence” isn’t about the politics of abortion. It’s about the women.
“This isn’t a story about pro-choice or anti-choice, or whatever. This is a story about women.”Molly Vines, director, “Out of Silence”
“I think that abortion is so politically charged and so connected with religion and politics that I want to sit the audience down, I want them to put themselves in the shoes of the women that are struggling, and think, ‘What would I do if I was in this position?’” Vines said. “This isn’t a story about pro-choice or anti-choice, or whatever. This is a story about women.”
Of course, despite the conversation they’re trying to engage, when the word “abortion” pops up, suddenly the story is forgotten in lieu of political ideologies and a desire to be neutral on such a triggering topic.
“One of the difficulties for me has been approaching it to other people,” Millie said. “Because, one of the things is, you want people to come see the show that you’re in. But the second they’re like, ‘What is it about?’ You say, ‘It’s about abortion.’ They’re like, ‘Oh.’ It kind of puts a barrier between you and the people you want to get to come there.”
The goal of “Out of Silence” isn’t to persuade or argue or soapbox — it’s to start a conversation. They want to create a space for people to learn and understand and engage.
“I hope it gets people to think,” Norma said. “So, people don’t just come in, expecting it to be something they hate, and just sitting there the whole time feeling that hate without even actually sitting there and listening to it. I hope people come in with open minds and try to understand, at least; even if they don’t follow the same ideas.”
“If people who haven’t thought about this can walk away with a little different perspective, then I think we’ll have accomplished what we were working for,” Vines said.
She continued with a laugh, “I don’t think we’ll change the campus, but I think if we could just open some eyes, I would leave very satisfied and fulfilled.”
“Out of Silence” runs 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 and Sunday, Feb. 3 at Beckwith Recital Hall. Entrance is free for everyone. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page.