An activist group uses personal storytelling to increase discussion and empathy on the difficult and controversial topic of abortion.
By Sasha Barish '20
For a second year, the 1 in 3 Campaign’s play Out Of Silence presented a collection of short scenes on the theme of abortion. One of several performances on college campuses, designed to use storytelling to encourage social engagement, Harvard’s staged readings took place Dec. 2 at Fong Auditorium in Harvard Yard. Last week, I spoke with co-producers Caroline Goldfarb ’18 and Zoe Kibbelaar ‘18, both members of the Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective.
Tell me a bit about the show.
Zoe Kibbelaar: Out of Silence is unusual for a show in that instead of being one big script it’s a collection of vignettes, and each vignette tells a different story about abortion, with the goal of demonstrating a wide variety of the reasons that women get an abortion. In the media, we often get one narrative, and so it’s good to bring some empathy and compassion to the discussion by thinking about the different situations that women could be in.
Caroline Goldfarb: The Out of Silence play was inspired by Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, which was one of the first pieces to use stories and vignettes to humanize the issue of women’s health. The Vagina Monologues was about women’s anatomy overall, and the 1 in 3 Campaign wanted to use that style to highlight stories of people who have had abortions.
In what ways is Out of Silence apt for Harvard?
Kibbelaar: From my own personal experience with the International Women’s Rights Collective and from talking to friends about the issue, a lot of people feel that they have some passive opinions about reproductive rights but aren’t actively engaged with the fact that this affects real people’s lives. So I think that it is really meaningful for Harvard because using art as a form of activism allows people to engage with an issue in a way that they normally wouldn’t. I think last year we had a broad attendance, and people came into the show with various ideas of how they felt about abortion, and we weren’t there to try to change their opinions on anything. With Out of Silence we’re not trying to tell people that they absolutely have to support a woman’s right to choose. We’re just trying to bring voices and experiences to the debate.
How staged is it?
Goldfarb: The 1 in 3 campaign gave us a lot of leeway with how we stage it, and we wanted to keep it a reading because, as we all know, Harvard students are busy. Last year we played around with theatrical sounds, like sound effects, and looking back it was great, but the message of the show was strong enough without those types of theatrical input.
Kibbelaar: We wanted to get people involved without their needing to commit to hours and hours of rehearsal. We think that the message is the more important thing.
What does your group at Harvard do, other than this show?
Kibbelaar: [Among other activism,] we’ve also hosted documentary screenings, like Trapped, about trap laws in the south, or Vessel, about a woman in the Netherlands who has a boat that’s equipped as an ambulatory surgery center and she travels all over Europe and beyond to perform abortions in international waters for people who live in places where abortion access is limited or where abortion is illegal.