Q&A: Within The Glass
Anna Chatterton on how a disturbing news story inspired her fertility themed play
Presented by Tarragon Theatre
Written by Anna Chatterton
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Playwright, performer and librettist Anna Chatterton questions what it means to be a parent in her new play Within The Glass, premiering this week at Tarragon Theatre. Inspired by a true story, the piece revolves around two very different couples who meet after a critical mistake at a fertility clinic. A fertilized egg has been implanted into the wrong woman. Over the course of an absurd evening, they fight to determine the uncertain future of their IVF child.
Here, Chatterton shares what she learned while developing this thought-provoking show.
Theatromania: Tell us about Within The Glass. What inspired this play?
AC: This play is inspired by a story that I read about in the newspaper about two couples in the states that went to a fertility clinic and the wrong embryo was transferred into the wrong woman’s body. The pregnant woman was given two choices- terminate or give the baby to the genetic parents. When I first read the story, I contemplated the two terrible choices the woman carrying the child was given, and I was plagued by one question: What would I do? I was inspired by the image of two mothers desperately fighting for one baby. This has since expanded to two couples fighting for one baby. Though the law in our province asserts that the fetus belongs to the genetic parents, my play still begs the question, whose child is it? What makes a mother, what makes a parent? So many couples and women struggle with infertility, this nightmarish dilemma is an example of what modern day science has given us. The play takes place on the night that the two couples meet for the first time, and the woman is nineteen weeks pregnant.
Theatromania: The topic of reproductive science is very timely. Did you discover anything that surprised you during your research for the piece?
AC: I actually knew very little about IVF (In vitro fertilization) before I started writing the play. So I was flabbergasted to find out how much work it is for the woman. She has to inject hormones into her body herself, every day during the cycle and have repeated visits to the clinic. Basically, if you are doing a cycle of IVF, you have to clear your schedule for at least three weeks. I also didn’t know how much the treatments costs, it is astounding how much people have to pay. So it is an emotionally, physically and financially draining experience without any guarantee you will get a baby in the end. I followed a lot of infertility blogs, and was very moved by the women’s stories and pain and love passed on to each other. I have a close friend who has been going through both IUI (Intrauterine insemination) and IVF cycles while I was writing the play, so it was helpful to check in with her about the facts, but also heartbreaking to watch her go through the process of hope and despair. I was also struck by the deep need for women to carry and birth their own child, the lengths women will go to, to get pregnant. The many sided turmoil of the couples involved (or single women), the shame, the pain, the drive and determination. There is also a lot of judgment towards those who choose to undergo fertility treatments. And yet so many people are experiencing infertility right now, this is our world.
Theatromania: What have you learned from this experience so far?
AC: This is actually the first time I have written a full length play on my own that I am not performing in, and so it has been a very new process for me. I have written many libretti for opera but the thinking process of singers and actors is completely different. The in-depth questions actors ask, seeing what works and what doesn’t and why, learning to hold my tongue and wait to see how something plays out, it has all been revealing , educational and truthfully, dreamy. We are currently in previews and I have been amazed by how connected the audience is to the performance, there are group gasps, huge laughs, side comments like –“oh no honey, don’t do that”, “not a good idea” and standing ovations every night. I feel so proud of all the artists involved and the actors giving it their all on stage. Audiences have said that they felt compelled or convinced by each character’s argument in the moment, and then confess who they sided with or agreed with most.
Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
AC: I hope audiences leave articulating opinions about where they stand in the debate, and what they would do in that circumstance, questions about what makes a family, and gain a new appreciation and empathy for infertile women and men, yet also have thoughts about reproductive technology and the miracles of science.
Theatromania: What’s next for you?
AC: In February I start rehearsals for Gertrude and Alice at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It is a co-production with my company Independent Aunties with Evalyn Parry and Karin Randoja. The three of us created the play, and Evalyn and I co-wrote and perform the show. It runs from March 5-27th. In May I am performing in a dance-theatre adaptation of the short story Yellow Wallpaper, presented at Theatre Aquarius Studio. Also in May my opera Rocking Horse Winner is being produced by Tapestry Opera at Berkeley Street Theatre. So, a busy time!
Within The Glass runs from January 6 to February 14, 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre. Visit tarragontheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.