Like many comedic ideas, the initial idea to write a musical about abortion came from a cheeky, irreverent place: “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?” Often, that catalyst alone is enough to give momentum to a project. But as a feminist comedic writer, I find that even though I appreciate all varieties of comedy—from the base to the highbrow—I most enjoy comedy that goes beyond simple shock value to serve as a dagger to the funny bone of oppressive power structures.
The writing team for “Choice: The Musical” consists of three feminist women and one man who are very passionate about upholding a woman’s right to choose. As we began brainstorming for our writing process, it became apparent that the comedy could be easily suffocated in facts and figures. We wanted to tell an emotional story.
“Choice” follows the adventures of Ellie—a young, Christian woman who meets a trio of Women’s Health Clinic volunteers and is changed fundamentally. We infused Ellie’s character and the main thrust of the story with a common element of most religious and conservative communities—the element of taboo.
I grew up a closeted Atheist in a religious community. Even before I knew the word “atheist,” I knew that it was taboo to discuss my lack of faith with most people—other than a handful of secular friends who were like-minded. I realize now that I was lucky to have attended a public school in a metropolitan city, where I had the opportunity to meet a handful of open-minded friends to talk to.
In communities more rigidly religious and conservative than mine, a woman who is in any way different often finds herself alone. Being the first to speak on a taboo subject is a scary—and universal—experience. No matter what our background, all people can relate to a moment when we bravely pointed out the elephant in the room, or swallowed our words for fear of causing confrontation.
As progressive feminists, we are sometimes frustrated by women who aren’t as assertive, and yet the smallest rebellions often open the floodgates for massive dissent in conservative communities. The leaders of patriarchial power structures realize this and enforce taboos of speech accordingly. At one point in “Choice,” Ellie sings the inspiring song “I Choose Life,” which co-opts anti-abortion language in an affirmation of her budding independence. We took special care to humanize all of the characters of this story—even as we poked fun at the patriarchy.
Many American women have had abortions or have seriously considered abortions. I know many women personally who have faced this decision, and yet very few discuss their experiences freely. I had abortion decades ago—and this is the first time I have publicly spoken about it. I don’t have any regrets, nor is it something I am ashamed of. It was absolutely the right decision for me—and I was empowered to make that choice because I had been empowered by other strong, vocal women years before.
Society tells women that everything around sex and our reproductive choices are shameful and should be shrouded in secrecy. Most advocates agree that the key to coming together to reduce unwanted pregnancies is through education and community support. But this becomes impossible when women do not feel empowered to speak against taboo for fear of retribution.
With ridiculous antics such as a talking cowboy fetus puppet, “Choice” does not aim to radically convert anyone. We do hope to make people laugh and open the door to further, more relaxed conversations around abortion. Nothing eases breaking the stagnant air of taboo like laughter.
It would be inaccurate to say that “Choice” is fairly balanced on both sides—but I am proud to say that for such a lightning rod topic, it is a surprisingly thoughtful and beautiful piece of comedic art. I sincerely hope that “Choice” can one day find a way to stages across America and help women of all backgrounds find their voices to advocate for their own choice to speak up against all taboos in their communities.
“Choice The Musical” will debut in Chicago, IL on June 23rd at the Premier Premieres New Musicals festival. “Choice” is directed by Jeff Bouthiette, the head of the Second City Music Program and composed by Brad Kemp. Writers: Sheri Flanders, Joshua Flanders, Kimber Russell, Kerry Santoro. Assistant Director: Molly Todd. Music Director, Jacob Fjare. Cast: Amber Linde, Gary Fields, Miles Kopcke, Mo Phillips-Spotts, Jenna Steege, Sheri Flanders, Joshua Flanders, Kimber Russell, Kerry Santoro.