Many living in the Sarasota area have likely never seen it. They may wonder what it’s like, and whether or not the experience could change how they feel about, well, life –– or, more specifically, the roles that mothers play in the complex process that helps to safely usher it into our world.
Answers to these questions will be available soon, though, as the play is scheduled for performances on Oct. 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. at New College of Florida’s Black Box Theater, and on Oct. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center behind the WSLR studio. It is being directed and performed completely by volunteers, and all proceeds will go to support WSLR, Sarasota’s community radio station.
The play, written by relationship and sexuality coach Karen Brody in 2006, has been performed all over the world and is intended to challenge common conceptions about contemporary practices in childbirth and lead audiences to confront a number of questions that they may not have previously considered. Brody, who has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote the documentary-style play based on more than 100 interviews that she conducted with low-risk mothers across the country about their experiences giving birth.
Laura Gilkey, who hosts a talk show on WSLR entitled “Maternally Yours” that discusses pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, took the initiative to bring the play to Sarasota and has been in charge of organizing the three performances.
“It’s exciting … I’ve wanted to do this for years,” she said in an interview with This Week in Sarasota during a rehearsal last Friday.
Gilkey explained that she had brought Brody on her show as a guest in February to discuss motherhood and the media, and that Brody mentioned her hopes to have Birth performed on 30 college campuses in a 30 day time span. Gilkey was more than happy to help make the idea a reality. “I love this play and I’ve seen it done and I’ve never seen anything like what our director is doing with it.”
The director that Gilkey is referring to is Aurelia Nolin, a professional theater actress and director from France who is also the Artistic Director of the Paris-based International Institute of Performing Arts. She is working with a local cast that ranges from well-versed players to newcomers, with the eight leading roles of the show –– one for each mother and her story –– filled by Tara Allen, Catey Brannan, Sonia Castillo, Kassandra Devlin, Melanie Malefyt, Jaszy McAllister, April Noss and Autumn Venafro.
“It’s great to work both with people that have a lot of experience and people that have very little experience,” Nolin told TWIS after finishing up the rehearsal on Friday. “As a professional director, it’s very different from all of the experiences I’ve had in the past, because I’ve only worked with professionals,” she continued. “It’s a great challenge, because it’s kind of a rather complicated play.”
And Nolin is taking on that challenge in creative ways. This reporter noticed, while snapping photos as the director was guiding the cast a few minutes prior, that the scene being rehearsed involved a lot of moment. Take, for example, a scene in which two of the actresses alternately shout “push!” as they forcefully roll a yoga ball back and forth on the stage.
Nolin explained that this type of physical movement helps inexperienced players avoid nervousness. “Rather than being in your head and very static, it forces you to put the work in your legs and in your body,” she said. “You have to be in the moment, you have to respond to what’s really happening because it doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it … It’s physical!”
Gilkey also commented on this technique, stating that the direction choice has another function that fits in well with the theme of the play. “Birth is a very physical act and the act of labor is a very physical act,” she explained. This technique, she said, makes the resulting performance “very fast and upbeat.”
She added that she believes the play conveys valuable information and viewpoints, especially for a younger audience. “I’m really excited we’re showing it to college students, most of whom haven’t had babies yet, because childbirth in America has become institutionalized, overly interventive and not embraced as a normal event as much as it should be.” She explained that the play is “a way for people to look at birth as affecting a family for much longer than just one day. It’s an experience that changes your life, forever.”
Tickets to the performance can be purchased at www.boldaction.org or at the door. New College students who present a student I.D. will be admitted for free.
UPDATE: The cast of Birth has changed slightly since this article was written. Jaszy McAlister and Kassandra Devlin are no longer performing in the play, and Dhakeria Cunningham recently joined the cast.