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 speak with playwright Anu Yadav, author of DINNERTIME and WRESTLING WITH CHOICE, 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?
ANU YADAV: As a feminist, and a female actress and playwright, I have become increasingly aware of the stunning gender inequity around whose stories are told, produced, and supported in theater as well as arts in general. The more I developed these short plays, the more questions I had. Why haven't I looked at this before? Why did it feel 'not as interesting' to focus on this in my own writing prior to this? Why is a topic that affects so many people in the world given so little attention? The writing process was about noticing the silence more and understanding how the stigma has influenced me as well. That was revelatory for me in a way that I was both embarrassed by and also thankful for. I noticed how sexism as an institution of power limits our perspective as individuals. All of us have internalized those values if we are living in a society not yet free of sexism. It became very clear to me, by reading the experiences of women who have had abortions, that the topic of abortion is systematically invisibilized due to sexism. This had a direct connection to honing my writing. To me, art is about broadening one's worldview. If great writing and character development inherently smashes stereotypes, then part of my job as an artist is to have a practice of unlearning those biases in myself, to be a greater artist and observer of what is there, of truth. That's ultimately what I'm seeking as an artist. The truth of what is there. That for me was the biggest takeaway. Getting feedback from you, Jacqueline, and Marie, as well as Advocates for Youth throughout this process was invaluable.
JL: Tell me about the play(s) that you wrote? What inspired it?
AY: I wrote two short plays. Both are inspired by women I know. The first is about a teenage girl who tells her mother she is pregnant after having been raped by her boyfriend. I wanted to look at the idea of rape culture and how there was little language for sexual violence even a generation ago. In part because of the gains of feminism and women's movements, there is now more language for talking about it. The existence of words for a person's experience of an oppression allows the possibility for change. It's really about two women fighting for their relationship when the stigma around abortion and sex threatens to drive them apart. The second play is about deciding to have an abortion because of financial hardship. Right now I'm pretty poor and couch surfing due to some housing challenges. I thought about my situation, and how if I had children, how that raises the stakes for everything. It reminded me how most of the world experiences financial struggle, yet there are so few representations of this anywhere that are human. Usually people in poverty are depicted as either romantic, otherized, or to be pitied. People in poverty live nuanced lives, with complexity. Abortion many times is also very much also a question about money. We need to talk honestly about this.
JL: What was it like to turn this story into a play? What was your process? What research, if any, did you do?
AY: I really drew from my own life as well as the lives of women I know and work with. At first I didn't know how to relate to this topic because I have never had an abortion. But the more I allowed myself to reflect more deeply, the more I realized how abortion touches on things that are direct and personal for me. And it has been important for me as a writer to start from what I do know and be able to listen both to myself and to the personal experiences of others.
JL: What role does theater have in advocacy work?
AY: Theater inherently is an advocacy tool. It promotes messages. What those messages are depend on the playwright, producer, director, etc. The messages are always there whether or not anyone wants them to be. We all have values and codes by which we live and it shows up in our art. It's important we as artists recognize the advocacy role theater already plays in communicating an expression of values so that we can be thoughtful and intentional about the role we want it to play. The story matters. The characters, how they are developed. Who is the story about? Who wrote that story? Everything about the play - from choosing it to producing it - tells its own story about what the producers advocate for, what they deem important. The danger comes in not fully understanding the advocacy role theater already plays, with or without our consent.
JL: What are you working on next? Where can we follow your work?
AY: January 7-25 I'm acting in a play called In Love and Warcraft at No Rules Theatre Company in Arlington, VA. In March I perform my one-woman show Meena's Dream at the LA Women's Theatre Festival. I'm also currently building the tour of Meena's Dream. You can find out more at www.anuyadav.com
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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!