In preparation for Advocates for Youth’s world premiere production of Out of Silence: Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign, I had a chance to please with playwright Nicole Jost, author of two plays, MARIA and CHARLIE, about her writing process, inspiration for the play, and the power of theatre to serve as a tool for social advocacy. Please enjoy this wonderful interview!
JACQUELINE LAWTON: Why was it important for you to be a part of Advocates for Youth’s Out of Silence: Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign?
NICOLE JOST: As an artist, I have a responsibility to tell stories that aren’t often told. And too often, abortion stories aren’t told. We have a lot of pre-conceived notions about abortion – what kinds of people have them, for what reasons, etc. I was incredibly excited that the 1 in 3 Campaign provided a platform for real people to tell their real abortion stories, to complicate this simplistic narrative with the truth of their experiences. I was honored when you asked me to participate.
JL: Tell me about the play(s) that you wrote? What inspired it?
NJ: For the first piece I wrote, Maria, I really wanted to tell the story of a relatively young woman who decided to have an abortion simply because she wasn’t ready to be a mother. Not to minimize the other kinds of stories out there, women who were abused or going through any number of struggles that influenced their decisions, but just to insist that young women should have the right not to become parents if they don’t want to. That all we should need to hear is that they don’t want to. They shouldn’t need some other reason to convince us or justify their decision. So I searched through all the stories and found two that seemed to complement each other. Both women are young Mexican Americans living in Texas, and both talked about the difficulty of getting to a clinic, of pressure from family members, etc. For the second piece, Charlie, you and the Advocates for Youth asked me to write about fetal anomaly, and I was happy to take that on. Fetal anomaly is another facet of the truth of abortions – that sometimes there’s something so medically wrong with the fetus that it would be cruel to bring it to term. The two stories that I used as source material are heartbreaking, because both women desperately wanted to have a child. They had to make this awful, impossible decision, and I really came to see that it was their love for their unborn children that caused them to choose abortion. They didn’t want to see them suffer. One of the women said she felt grateful to live in a state where second term abortion is legal, because they didn’t know the extent of the fetus’s problems until the second term. That struck me. I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been if she’d been forced to carry her baby to term, just to cause it pain. I really admire this woman for being able to tell her story to so many, and for standing by the choice she made, even though it hurt her to choose it.
JL: What was it like to turn this story into a play? What was your process? What research, if any, did you do?
NJ: It was simultaneously easy and hard to dramatize these stories. Easy, because they were so inspiring to me. The women’s voices were so clear, so strong. The hard part was the pressure to live up to what they really said, to try to carry their spirits through in the text. I did some research, yes, but I got most of what I needed from the stories themselves. Another thing that happened, when I took on this project, is that some of my own friends started to tell me about their experiences with abortion. That was really eye opening. So that colored my writing as well.
JL: What role does theater have in advocacy work?
NJ: Theater is incredibly powerful. Sometimes, people just need to see and experience things for themselves to understand them. They can read articles or study an issue, but it doesn’t hit home until they feel like they’ve experienced it in some way firsthand. And that’s what theater is. It provides a human connection to a story. I really believe in the power of that communal experience. I’m also an arts educator; I’m the Artistic Director of Young Playwrights’ Theater. I see arts education as a form of activism, offering up the art of theater as a tool for young people to express themselves. Making art should be a right, not a privilege, and so I seek to give opportunities to young people that wouldn’t necessarily have access to these forms of storytelling.
JL: What are you working on next? Where can we follow your work?
NJ: I’m working on a play about sexuality and gendered violence called Slut – I’m very interested in how women’s bodies are policed and controlled, which is another reason I was happy to work on Out of Silence. I’ll also be participating in a writing intensive with The Inkwell this year, and the commitment is to write a new full-length play in one year. So look out for that! You can find me on twitter at @walkunafraiddc.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!