An Interview with the Producing Team of THE BUMPS coming to NYC!
One of the three tenants of PAAL’s mission is the goal to CREATE. That objective runs two-fold: create policy and create content. Creating content promotes developing material that provides dynamic representation of mothers and artists, especially in defining moments of life, that provide roles that inform audiences of the experience, validate motherhood in content, and create diverse dynamic storytelling with characters from life. By diversifying the casting process, the producers call attention to and get a chance to rectify their own biases, create stories for women otherwise forced to wait on the fringe, and discover a wealth of artistic and human generosity of experience by seeking out mothers to tell their stories. Perhaps most importantly, the ingenious team together deconstructed the traditional theatre obligations to create solutions. This interview is an unbelievable read for anyone hoping to make their production more inclusive and accessible for diverse groups. Check out how this team of women is creating meaningful change in theatre practice here and now.
“In what ways are you waiting for life to change? How do you sit with the unknown? How much are you looking at the future versus the present?” – Production Team, THE BUMPS
THE BUMPS is a play written for three pregnant women. While casting provides a tremendous opportunity in a practical sense for pregnant actresses – who should not be disappearing from our stages – it also proves that engaging with motherhood stories is not a niche exercise. Motherhood stories contain universal truths and relatable experiences that require empathy, imagination, and creation. In other words, powerful for the theatre. PAAL reached out to THE BUMPS for an exclusive interview. See the show yourself on August 14 & 15 in New York City!
“Someday, we hope to see a pregnant performer in a role or a project that isn’t defined at all by pregnancy. This means a world where a pregnant actor could play a cop, or Wonder Woman—and not just an expectant mom. This means a world where people aren’t second-guessing hiring a pregnant artist because the support is already in place. Because our institutions are designed with people’s real bodies and needs in mind.” – Production Team, THE BUMPS
Here’s our interview with Playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff and Director Deena Selenow:
All About THE BUMPS! What can you tell us about this incredibly relevant piece and why it matters to everyone?
The Bumps is a play about waiting, made for a cast of pregnant performers. The piece follows the story of three pregnant strangers in a waiting room, and then picks up a generation later to follow their daughters in a water aerobics class. It asks: How does each of us grapple with the unknown? What do we inherit from our parents? And why do people give unsolicited health tips? Interwoven throughout the play in atmospheric interludes, actors reflect on their present experiences. Behind the scenes, the play seeks to reimagine the infrastructure of theatre from the ground up – redesigning the rehearsal, production and performance processes to center around the needs of pregnant actors and families.
While The Bumps is focused on pregnant bodies, its questions are for everyone. In what ways are you waiting for life to change? How do you sit with the unknown? How much are you looking at the future versus the present? And, taking a step back, in what ways do we internalize discrimination when in fact, the problem lies within our infrastructure. How can we illuminate that brokenness? How do we imagine a better alternative?
The play has three roles, one for an actor in each trimester (give or take). It’s structured in such a way so that for an extended run, one actor can perform all three roles, and another can play two, before graduating from the piece. The play is unique in this way because it is built upon the reality that no one performer will be able to perform The Bumps for an extended amount of time, and we see this as an asset. It organically creates room for new people and bodies and approaches, so that the piece itself is constantly growing and evolving. We love that pregnancy invites us to explore what is actually theatrical, which is to say ephemerality.
We also like the idea that, for an extended run, The Bumps creates a small ongoing economy for pregnant artists.
How did the idea for this concept come about?
Rachel: I’ve always been interested in the body and performance, and had been working on editing The Feminist Utopia Project (Feminist Press, 2015) with Alexandra Brodsky. I wondered why I’d never seen a visibly pregnant performer on stage. Instead of just accepting, as most theaters do, that it’s too “challenging” to work with pregnant artists and new parents in the current theatrical model, Deena and I wondered: what if we we redesigned the model?
I love the Bell Hooks idea that art is “to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.” This is our idea with The Bumps, where we are enacting utopian vision on a small scale. The play is telling a story, but behind the scenes, the way that it’s told is a giant experiment. This experiment—and designing it together with actors and our collaborating artists—is where Deena and my practices meet.
So the first challenge was our own unconscious bias…The project as a whole is centered around how to create a feminist production process that actively responds to and reflects the realities of the people in the room… – Deena Selenow, Director THE BUMPS
What challenges did you face in first creating it?
Deena: For the first workshop, which would culminate in an intimate invited reading, our first thought was to just invite some of our usual suspect actor friends to work with us. We thought, oh we’ll never find pregnant performers just for this reading, it will be too complicated. Then the next day we realized that that was the opposite of everything we were trying to explore with the play. So we posted on facebook that we were looking for pregnant performers for a workshop and reading and had 12 responses within the hour. So the first challenge was our own unconscious bias. In general we try to look at challenges as opportunities. The project as a whole is centered around how to create a feminist production process that actively responds to and reflects the realities of the people in the room, so when we need to take lots of breaks, we take them. If we need to cancel a rehearsal because someone feels a cold coming on (and doesn’t want to spread it to their fellow actor-moms-to-be), we cancel. It’s all part of the process. That being said neither of us have had the experience of 9-months of pregnancy, so we’re flying blind in that respect and rely heavily on our collaborating performers letting us know what they need. We try to create an environment where people feel empowered to call for a break, even if we just took one, or to say okay enough with the dance break rehearsal, however we’re all so trained in “the show must go on” mentality that sometimes it isn’t until a day or two (or week or two) after a given rehearsal that the actors will come to us and say that maybe we should have taken things a little slower.
What surprised you in producing/finding talent for this piece?
Deena: Pregnant actors are not hard to find. You just have to be loud about your needs and reach out to wider and different circles than you may be used to. This principle goes for inclusive casting practices in general. You would be surprised how many people assume we are going to cast non-pregnant actors to play pregnant, and are flabbergasted when we clarify we’re looking for pregnant pregnant actors.
Rachel: I’m continually amazed by how generous our cast is in sharing their experiences, their fears, and their support for one another. Our last cast had a maternity clothing swap and was so dedicated to looking out for each other—for their health and for their relationships—on and off stage. I think there is something about pregnancy that encourages sincerity. Maybe because there’s no energy for false pretenses and you’re forced to confront what matters to you most. Working with pregnant artists, it doesn’t feel like working on a gig. Everyone’s realities are so undeniable, it feels more like we’re coming together as real people. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every play process felt that way?
“What if our needs became starting points for the imagination?” – Production Team, THE BUMPS
Can you talk about how you structured a play for pregnant artists?
For our residency at the Skirball, three of our actors were pregnant, our choreographer was also pregnant and our set-designer was carrying her newborn. So we had to rethink every element of the existing rehearsal process because we kept bumping up against it. We learned to ask a lot of questions: How can I reimagine a rehearsal schedule for you? How can I reimagine set design for you? How can I reimagine choreography for you? Can a script and characters be loose enough to allow for intensity of feelings—mood swings and energy dips—to inform and add texture to a performance? Can a heightened emotional state actually become an entrypoint for acting and heightened physical awareness become a guide for movement? How do you design costumes for a body that is continually changing? How do you drink water during a show? How do we make it clear that it is always appropriate to ask for a pee break, a snack break? How do you build a set while carrying a baby? And can we construct a set quietly enough that it doesn’t wake up a baby taking a nap? (The answer involves a set with a lot of carpets). And what if instead of picking up furniture from across town, we buy what we need from Amazon Prime so that everything gets shipped directly to the theater and you don’t have to carry anything? What if a venue offered free activities for children during the show so that we considered who we were including in the audience too? What if we stopped seeing the personal and our needs outside of the theater as apart from the theater? What if our needs became starting points for the imagination?
What did you discover/what excites you as this piece continues its performance life?
As this interview makes clear, the process and people behind the play and the play itself are very intertwined. We’re working now on incorporating moments in the play where we bring this forward in the performance. For the benefit reading and eventual production, the play will include several improvisational scores, envisioned by Jennie Liu, where the cast reflects on their present experiences. These moments will be underscored by Celia Hollander’s beautiful music. We’re excited for these moments and how they’ll be different every night.
What has been THE BUMPS past production life?
We began this project with readings at the Women’s Center for Creative Work and Moskowitz Bayse gallery in Los Angeles in 2016. We’ve continued developing The Bumps this year through a residency at the Hammer Museum and the Skirball Cultural Center, supported by the National Performance Network, which culminated in two performances.
In tandem to the play, we also organize events that expand the play’s questions. After our reading at Moskowitz Bayse, we held a panel discussion with theater makers Ruth McKee and Jennifer Chang and artist Emily Mast (with a special guest appearance by Emily’s toddler) on how to support parenthood in the arts. In conjunction with our performances at the Skirball, we curated and produced an evening of short original performances by six pregnant LA performers called Bumps/Works at the Women’s Center for Creative Work. This was our way of giving a platform to every pregnant artist that we loved who auditioned for The Bumps. Three were right for our play, but all of them should be sharing work. At the heart of it, The Bumps is about making pregnancy visible and centered. Through the many facets of the project, we are asserting that pregnancy and parenthood aren’t something to accommodate or a period of life to get over with, but rather, important to be working through and meaningful to explore.
“Together, we are all investigating how, by reimagining a production model for a pregnant cast, we improve the production process for all of us.” – Production Team, THE BUMPS
Who are the current collaborators?
Jennie Liu (movement), Shannon Scrofano (scenic design), Lena Sands (costume design) and Celia Hollander (sound composition) are all a part of our design team. Each team member has her own specialty, but we all work very collaboratively as a group. The piece has been very informed by all our previous cast members (aka “Bumps Alum”): Emily Alpren, Sarena Kennedy, Jennifer Neala Page, Sara Garcia, Deana Barone, Cristina Fernandez and Jeanne Syquia. Together, we are all investigating how, by reimagining a production model for a pregnant cast, we improve the production process for all of us.
Where do you hope to take the production?
Broadway. A 9-month run with a full rotation of the cast over the course of the run will suffice.
What do you hope to see possible for hiring opportunities for mothers in the performing arts?
We see a play like The Bumps as the first step. It mirrors any process of bringing the margins to the center. First, you have to explicitly create room for it. But someday, we hope to see a pregnant performer in a role or a project that isn’t defined at all by pregnancy. This means a world where a pregnant actor could play a cop, or Wonder Woman—and not just an expectant mom. This means a world where people aren’t second-guessing hiring a pregnant artist because the support is already in place. Because our institutions are designed with people’s real bodies and needs in mind.
How to get tickets/Details on performance, visit the links below!