As we search the country for motherhood in content, the most moving topics and experiences come to our attention. Motherhood is not a cookie-cutter experience or achievement. From birth to adoption to fertility treatments to loss, motherhood contains within it worlds of experiences.
We connected with poet and playwright Lisa Grunberger to talk about her play Almost Pregnant featured in the Philly Fringe this week that tackles “longing for a child” and the need for fertility treatment and the meditation on that experience. If you’re in Philadelphia, check out this show, take a group, and support motherhood in art.
As Lisa explains:
Almost Pregnant is about the longing for a child and the willingness to use assisted reproductive technologies, meaning IVF, intrauterine insemination (the old turkey baster method) and really almost anything in order to get pregnant, and to become a mother. It’s about the crazy-making process that these biotechnologies often confront us with, given that for people who can afford them, they open a range of possibilities. Almost Pregnant is, on a more philosophical level, a meditation on longing itself, on waiting, on time, on hope.
I had the privilege of interviewing Lisa about this piece. Share her interview on social media and tag your friends in Philadelphia who could support this show.
What was your personal awakening moment/inspiration for writing “almost Pregnant”?
I was in the midst of my own struggles with infertility many years ago and I was sitting in yet another doctor’s waiting room, with its awkward silence and heavy tension, and I thought “I have to write about this moment, this room, these tender women.” That was the moment I began taking notes and interviewing women in waiting rooms and doctors, and embryologists and psychologists and sperm and egg donors — and amassing an archive of material to draw from.
What is the special relationship between music and your protagonist and the two manifested characters and your protagonist?
The music in Almost Pregnant, which is beautifully composed by a Temple student named Gabe Miller — helps to build a mood, a tone to the performance. Our director, Hamutal Posklinsky, understood my words. Coming to playwriting as a poet, I work a lot with silence, and blank space, what in theatre are beats or pauses. So the music can work in between those pauses, it can provide a kind of ironic comment on the action. During the rehearsal process last year, we realized that Gabe, our musician/violinist, should actually be involved in the action and be on stage. He developed into a kind of God-figure, a guiding light for Claire, who is wrestling with infertility.
Why are you excited to present this piece now?
I think it’s a timely piece as infertility affects millions of men and women, couples and singles, gay and straight and transgendered. My original impetus was to educate people about infertility through the show, to make people aware of what it is like to go through the harrowing process of infertility. When some couples just oops, get pregnant and you are struggling to have a baby. It’s heartbreaking. I also wanted to draw attention to the politics and economics surrounding IVF and egg-sperm donation. It’s a costly venture with one IVF cycle costing $15,000. To help families who cannot afford infertility treatments, I have partnered with local Philadelphian Eva Greenberg who started The Fertility Fund: A Gift from the Heart to help couples get access to treatment. This is through a partnership with the Jewish Family and Children Service of Greater Philadelphia.
Why do you think the Philly fringe experience is the perfect venue for your production?
The Fringe Festival is such a thrilling few weeks when the city is abuzz with exciting new productions. We wanted to be a part of the electric energy of these weeks. To be at the Adrienne Theatre, in the heart of the city, is just magical. And how my director, Hamutal, has sculpted something so unique, using physical theatre, gesture, slapstick, clowning — to tell a story about infertility — is aesthetically very exciting.
This is the power and beauty of art — it allows us to become an Other for a brief time, to suspend our own subjectivity, and the cage of our own “I” for a brief interval in a dark theatre — and become someone else.
What are some ways this piece speaks universally to everyone who comes, including audience members?
One of the mysterious premises of writing is that the more particular you are when you tell a story, the more universal your message will be. Think Anne Frank’s story, or King Lear, or Sula. You don’t have to have gone through infertility to empathize with our character’s struggle with her own body. This is the power and beauty of art — it allows us to become an Other for a brief time, to suspend our own subjectivity, and the cage of our own “I” for a brief interval in a dark theatre — and become someone else. Audience members emerge understanding more about infertility, about time passing, about longing, about desire, no matter what their prior experiences are.
What do you hope the audience walks away with?
I hope they are a little more educated about infertility and mostly, a lot more entertained! Theatre is about entertainment and pleasure and the suspension of time. Tears of laughter and sadness are good – and cathartic too!
Where do you hope this piece will go?
I think with more development there’s no reason why this couldn’t be produced Off Broadway! I’ve already had a lot of interest in developing the show around the country. Almost Pregnant is, to my knowledge, the only theatre piece that approaches the subject from a satirical, edgy perspective. As we re-imagine how to build families in the 21st century through IVF and donor egg and sperm, the ethical issues I raise in Almost Pregnant will only become more timely.