New Play Makes Abortion ‘Remarkably Normal’

New Play Makes Abortion ‘Remarkably Normal’

The twentysomething college student who’s sure she’s not ready to be a mother. The 18-year-old daughter of a crisis pregnancy center volunteer in rural east Texas. The compassionate nurse practitioner frustrated by the bureaucracy her patients must navigate. And others: a supportive boyfriend, a provider who remembers life before Roe v. Wade, a pastor.

These are just a few of the real-life abortion stories adapted for the stage in Remarkably Normal, a play written from the perspectives of the estimated one in three American women who will have an abortion in their lifetime, as well as their loved ones and doctors.

Evelyn Sphar, Shanta Parasuraman, Joshua Everett Johnson, Gisele Chípe and Tracey Conyer Lee perform real-life abortion stories in ‘Remarkably Normal,’ a nationally touring play about abortion stigma.  Courtesy of Remarkably Normal

Remarkably Normal features five actors who perform the true stories of 11 people — from patients and partners navigating their way from a positive pregnancy test to abortion, to providers who lament barriers to the procedure put in place by anti-abortion lawmakers. Rather than interacting with each other, the actors perform monologues as if they’re being interviewed by someone else, a decision that director Marie Sproul said was meant to evoke the honesty, diversity and truth of the real people behind the actors.

“For us, it was important to be able to take it directly from people’s lives … that would be more powerful than just making stuff up,” Sproul told the Observer. “That was really important to help break the stigma.”

Remarkably Normal’s narratives come from the 1 in 3 campaign, a storytelling project by Advocates for Youth, an organization that  promotes sexual health and reproductive rights for young people. What began two years ago as individual “mini-scenes” performed on college campuses is now a full-length play touring the country through June.

Remarkably Normal walks its audience through moments that are radical in their ordinariness — the positive pregnancy test, the decision to have an abortion, the decision to hide or share it.  We hear the bewilderment in patients’ voices as they’re forced to undergo state-mandated counseling and ultrasounds. We hear anguish as some describe discomfort during their procedure, while others are pleasantly surprised at their quick, painless experience.

And the audience is there for the aftermath, too, as the characters express relief, happiness, and, for some, sadness.

Remarkably Normal‘s cast tells real-life abortion stories adapted from the narratives of the one in three women who will have an abortion in their lifetime.  Courtesy of Remarkably Normal

I’ve been covering reproductive rights — which in Texas often translates to “abortion” — for years. The stories on stage echoed many of the stories I’ve written, and the people I’ve met, in the course of doing this work. In Remarkably Normal’s energetic Planned Parenthood sexual health educator, I saw my friend Guli Fager, who for years taught Texas college students how to properly use condoms and talk to another one about sex. In the play’s 60-year-old provider, I saw Dr. Pedro Kowalyszyn, an OB/GYN who performed abortions in 1970s at what is now the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in South Texas. And in the young, frustrated nurse practitioner who often assures her patients that abortion is extremely safe, I saw Dr. Bhavik Kumar, the abortion provider I interviewed last year who travels between two major cities to provide Texans with care.

The play gives its audience the chance to rise above the political fray and to focus on the personal, putting voices to a powerful number: One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. As one actor declares toward the end of show: “There’s no good abortions or bad abortions. There’s just abortions, and people need them.”

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