Monday, 21 August 2017

Dramaturgy Abort: Therese Ramstedt @ Edfringe 2017

By Therese Ramstedt
directed by Claire Stone


Venue:    Gilded Balloon –
Rose Theatre Studio (Venue 76)
Dates:    2nd to 28th August 2017 (not 14th)
Time:     5.45pm (6.45pm)
Box office:  0131 622 6552

Therese Ramstedt is proud to make her debut at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the world premiere of her latest play Mission Abort – a humorous, honest and heartbreakingly human monologue about a woman’s experience of having an abortion.
Strong opinions on the legislative side of women’s reproductive rights are voiced on a daily basis, yet rarely do we hear the perspective from the women who have had to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Mission Abort confronts our taboos by telling the story of one woman’s journey – from discovering she’s pregnant, to making the decision, following it through and getting on with life afterwards. This explosive tragicomedy brings its audience on a laugh-cry rollercoaster featuring questionable life-modelling skills, the looming voice of Donald Trump and leg-dancing to Kate Bush.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
As with many creative ventures, this play started in personal experiences. Before I myself had an abortion, I had absolutely no clue what the implications would be on me and the impact it would have on me physically and emotionally, or the effect it would have on my relationship (both with my partner at the time and with friends). I came to realise women's (and men's) personal experiences of terminating pregnancies is a part of the discussion on female reproductive rights that is missing. We talk a lot about the legislation side of things, but hardly ever about the human beings behind this decision. And when abortion as a topic is addressed in arts and the media (which is rarely!) it is still very marginal, and often portrayed as something fairly shameful that women either regret or simply - in superhuman fashion - forget about.
So I wanted to create a piece that in an upfront, honest and accessible (which for me often means humorous!) way talked about this experience that one in three women in the UK have gone through at some point in their lives. And a piece where the woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy is neither a victim nor a robot - but a strong person who makes the right decision for herself, but still allows herself to feel and to take this big decision seriously.
For a woman, the life-changing moment comes when there are two purple lines on a pregnancy test - and contrary to what Hollywood rom-coms would have us believe, there are alternative choices that we have a right to make. And with this work, I wanted to be completely free of judgement either way but just shed some light on a relatively unheard perspective. Because I believe human beings empathise with and find understanding for other humans - so if we don't humanise the choice to have an abortion, and actually talk about the experiences, how can we expect other people to understand that choice? 
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I really would like to think so! I think one thing that performance does (or can do) which is unique to other forms of communication is to create an immersive narrative where the audience really can have the opportunity to put themselves in the character's shoes and perhaps understand their path and motivations. This, at least for me, I don't think happens to the same extent in lectures or talks - we might get to understand someone intellectually, but perhaps not laugh and cry with them in the same manner. What I really appreciate about live performance in particular is that there is no escape (cruel, I know!) - once the audience is in the space with you, they can't just hit the pause button if they feel too challenged. Of course, there is always the option to walk out but that is often much more of a statement than people are willing to make...  
How did you become interested in making performance?
I actually can't even remember a time when I haven't been making up stories for performance. It was always something that I knew I wanted to do, but I suppose if we are going way way back (as in, to nursery school!) it was often a way for me to create small worlds that were closer to the kind I wanted to live in. One where little girls could wear pretty dresses AND fight with swords saving villages from evil dragons (I didn't know it at the time, but I basically just wanted to be Daenerys Targaryen). And performance-making for me since has just become a way for me to say my piece, but without lecturing or in any way judging other people - I am generally much more interested in raising questions than I am in providing answers (even if I do take a great deal of pleasure in being right when it comes to quizzes and anything grammatical...)
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
A really important thing for me was to incorporate a lot of humour, as I think it is our responsibility when creating work on a "serious" or "difficult" topic to make it as accessible and enjoyable for an audience as possible - to make it a conversation people want to have basically! Also, without laughter there can be no tears and I find it very difficult to connect with any work that doesn't have both sides of the comedy/tragedy coin.
Another thing was to not shy away from my own personal experience, and exploring parts of myself that were at times quite difficult. While the play did very quickly become a separate entity to me and my story, even if the events have ended up being nearly exactly what went on in my own life, having my personal experience behind me made me perhaps more daring in how far I could take it and how much I could address in the piece.
And this, I think, is what has turned into what I now hope is a very overall "human" piece - the woman in the play is me, but she could really have been any woman who'd found herself in the same situation.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Exploring big human topics through humour and music is what I did with my Swedish theatre company, Annan Teater, so I think it does follow on quite naturally! Previous work I have made have dealt with topics like depression, suicide and sexism in the workplace - so it's probably in there. However, this is the most personal work I have made, and definitely the work that digs the deepest into one individual human's experience - it is also the first full-length work I am producing and performing in English.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that they will perhaps understand a little bit more about something they may not have thought of before, and to feel encouraged to openly talk about the experience of terminating a pregnancy. Or at the very least, maybe empathise with and understand the woman who wants to make this choice for herself.
(Of course, I would love for audiences to also experience a connection with the piece, to laugh and be moved - so far people are responding beautifully to it and hopefully there will be more of the same!) 
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I did debate a bit back and forth about how to best get the audience on the character's side, and one important aspect of this is the audience interaction I have in the piece - throughout it, I (try to) give them the opportunity to support the character and be directly involved in her choices and experiences (cheering for her when she finds out she is pregnant, hold her hand through the procedure etc)

But another important element was to not be too "in-yer-face" and to let the audience make up their own mind - this piece doesn't preach or judge, it is simply showing a woman at her most vulnerable but also at her strongest and most empowered.

I also want the audience to come out of the show with a positive, empowered feeling in them - so choosing to also share the positive elements of both pregnancy and being able to make the choice to terminate was always really important for me. 

Having previously touched upon the subject of abortion in one of her earliest plays with Swedish theatre company Annan Teater (which she co-founded and ran between 2012-2015), when Therese had to make the decision herself, she discovered that there is a side of the story that nearly always seems to be missing. What is having an abortion actually like for the woman who goes through one? Obviously deeply personal experience that is individual to all women, but with one common factor: not something that we talk about.
Mission Abort crushes the taboo around abortion and explores the ups as well as the downs, offering a truthful and direct account of a topic that is acutely current – and what better year to do it than the 50th anniversary of the UK’s legalisation of abortion?
Therese is a versatile writer, singer and performer who has worked across a myriad of art forms including film, theatre and music - as a performer, producer and PR - with venues including Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall and also at the Edinburgh Fringe and in her native Sweden. Humour and song are at the heart of her performance-making, and alongside her own creative work Therese performs extensively as a singer with ensemble London Contemporary Voices. With LCV, Therese has collaborated with artists including Laura Mvula, Nitin Sawhney and Imogen Heap, and features on the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Mission Abort is developed with the support of Soho Theatre, where Therese has been a Young Artist on the Comedy- and Writers’ Lab schemes since 2015, and is directed by Claire Stone from feminist duo Feral Foxy Ladies (I Got Dressed in Front of my Nephew Today and Balancing Acts). 

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